sand mandala (agnostic’s prayer), a poem

illustration sand mandala agnostics prayer

Sand Mandala (Agnostic’s Prayer)


I. Candles, Burning


The world is not important. The world is an illusion.

My daughter’s shoulder blades, ivory carvings under

the warm, silken blanket of her skin, might as well be

made of wax. Her hair, its smell of cherry-almond


shampoo, is no more than a flame, consuming tissue

paper. She will be gone before the universe notices her.

Today I saw Tibetan Buddhist monks creating a sand

mandala, a round picture made from layering different


colors of sand. Shimmering, resplendent and complicated,

a yard in diameter, it took three unbroken days to make it.

Tomorrow at 11 a.m. they’re going to sweep it away.

This creation of beauty then its eradication is symbolic.


II. Lessons, Learned


My tears are irrelevant. My suffering is insignificant.

The monks believe our material existence is transitory,

well-nigh unimportant. They were relatively young

though it was hard to tell because of their shaved heads.


They all wore plain maroon pants, sleeveless maroon

tunics. I walked by them, entering the building, shied

away, tried not to look. But they seemed to radiate

serene alertness, a lack of angst. They didn’t flinch


but gazed at me, through me, beyond me, plainly,

readily. As a little girl, I wanted to be a nun.

Discipline of the flesh is holy. To contradict desire

is sacred. The world is a sickening dream we long


to wake from. I dressed one year as St. Theresa

for Halloween. I was in Catholic school for kindergarten

and first grade, and came home one day to tell my mother

I couldn’t wait to die and go to heaven so I could be


with Jesus. She put me in public school the next day.

She was dismayed. I had seen dead animals

in the kitchen, plenty. One time I saw a chicken

roasting in the oven, asked what it was. “A chicken,”


she said. The earth is not significant. The earth

is an hallucination. I got hysterical, pleading with her

to take it out of the oven. She fibbed, told me

there were two kinds of chickens, one with feathers,


for running around outside, the other for eating.

It relieved my frenzy, then. What about now?

My life is an illusion, my life is empty. I shovel food

into the mouths of other unfulfilled beings. Ceaselessly,


I’m on the horns of a dilemma. Doesn’t every suburban

housewife secretly, in her heart of hearts, want to run off

on spiritual pilgrimage, at least each and every time

the dog vomits on the rug? Yes, I live like a spy.


III. Emptiness, Filled


I feel like an undercover agent most of the time.

I just don’t get the whole show. Something’s not been

explained fully to me. I’m waiting for my operating instructions,

but my contact is nowhere to be found. I don’t know


if I’m religious. I never have the strength to decide

if I believe. From that first plump, naked chicken in the oven

I cried for, at five — chickens have their own heaven,

my mother lied, bright with love — from that first dark


lamentation over the insolence of death I wanted only

to understand the enigma of creation, to fathom the depth

of my intimate source. Fitted out as Saint Theresa

it felt sinful to accept candy, I wanted more than anything


to sanctify those hands moving with meek generosity

toward my outstretched pillowcase. Yes, I saw myself

with bright blue skin, leading pale cows to drink.

Or robed in red, a fluffy hat atop my head; a hesitant crown.


I could easily put fragrant powdered saffron in my hair,

eat nothing but fruit picked off the ground, sweep the earth

bare before my steps with a handmade straw broom.

All creeds appeal to me inside the inquisitive casement


of my brain: a fickle twitch of nerves, chemicals, proud

of its weak pulses of electricity. The difficulty dwells

deeper, amid blood, bone, sinew: a sad hollow space,

never filling up. Afraid to give over to a thing I can’t control —


or at least charm. I want to dance in green meadows,

wrap ribbons around a pole, follow the golden ring.

I imagine flinging myself into cool grass, crying from joy.

The world is unimportant. The world is an illusion.


IV. Waiting, But Not Endlessly


Everything will be all right, the melancholy quietness says,

as I lie solid on the ground. I feel resigned to my fate,

steeled to endure the torments ahead — that one last breath,

that one ultimate moment of longing. Have I received


the divine gift of faith? I still sit for hours, eyes closed,

waiting for that voice, those words, to lift the roof

of my skull and cleanse my fears away like silvery water.

I will, after all, be gone before the universe notices me.



1 Comment

Filed under mysterious, poetry, science

One response to “sand mandala (agnostic’s prayer), a poem

  1. That’s the trick, isn’t it? Sneak in, move about unnoticed, leave something of yourself behind, if only in another’s memory of what you did or did not do, and sneak away unnoticed…is The universe remiss in not having seen your effect on it; small in comparison to the whole, but significant in your effect on changes caused in others, starting a never ending chain of events, all because of a single thing you did. The universe to busy to recognize your contributions.


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