What We Did Not Do Following Thich Nhat Hanh into the Forest, Mississippi, 2014

Wear a Fitbit to count our steps


Take selfies and post them to Facebook with the title 
Me doing walking meditation with Thay at his retreat!

Forget the silent witness of the trees

Or the sound of the bell

We did not hurry 

Or imagine the impending earthquake in his brain

Or crowd around him as he took his seat unaided
simply folding his legs and sinking to the earth
as he’d done every morning and evening 
for nearly eighty-seven years

We did not grow impatient as he sipped his tea
so slowly we could hear our own hearts beating

Or wonder, even once, what time it was

Notes:  Thich Nhat Hanh passed away in January of 2022. For the rest of my life, I will be marked by the experience of sitting with him at Magnolia Grove Monastery in northwestern Mississippi in 2014, among a thousand other retreatants, in a clearing in the forest. I will always be grateful for the opportunity to witness his absolute openness and stillness, to receive the generous gift he made of himself. What did he do as we sat with him in that Mississippi glade? He sipped tea without a shred of hurry or anxiety. He taught a small group of children how to strike the small bell for the most beautiful sound. It was not what he did but how that remains with me.

About the Author

Kathy Nelson, recipient of the 2019 James Dickey Poetry Prize and twice nominated for the Pushcart, is author of chapbooks Cattails and Whose Names Have Slipped Away. Find her work in The Cortland Review, Five Points: A Journal of Literature and Art, LEON Literary Journal, New Ohio Review, Tar River Poetry, Twelve Mile Journal and elsewhere. Visit her at https://kathynelsonpoet.com/.

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