On a shelf above a wide bed
sit two Chinese-green jade Fu dogs;
Shishi, lion dogs, Japanese people call them.
As centuries drifted by, pairs replaced
a solitary guardian, protector
of Buddhist altars, temples,
graveyards, Imperial thrones, prosperous homes.
This is a special pair:
His mouth is open and
he cries, “A. . . U. . .,”
Her mouth is closed
over, “. . . mmm. . . .”
Alpha and Omega.
Below the Butsudan, the Buddha shelf,
Where the green Fu dogs are guardians of
a time and incense-darkened image,
a man and wife forgather at day’s end
on their book-strewn bed. Blankets partly
cover them and two owl-eyed shih tzu,
descendants of Peking’s flat-faced dogs,
artists inspired by stone colossi,
original protectors of lonely tombs.
According to tradition, the woolly lion-dog is
Years unfold. No longer do
the shih tzu quietly shred
cheque books, important letters, comfortable shoes.
No longer are maps of anticipated
journeys spread among blankets
and resting bodies upon the bed.
One autumn evening, reminiscences
wander to distant family; to
the Austrian Wortersee, the man’s birthplace.
A gathering of cousins
in the shadow of the church at
Heiligenblut. Holy Blood.
An open knockenhaus.* Skulls, arms, leg-bones,
in careful piles, face all visitors.
“Ich komme. Ich komme
schnell,” ** murmurs a young man
with a smile.
The couple sleep.
The shih tzu are alert, mindful.
Police sirens rip through
the open window.
On their shelf the
Fu dogs whisper
* Bone house
** “I’m coming. I’m coming fast.”
Time eats more months, more years.
No longer do green Fu dogs guard
their master on the Buddha shelf.
Composed of precious, but brittle,
jadeite, a fall has scarred
female Fu dog’s face.
The pair have been replaced; now
a single wood-carved shishi
bursts through cracks in his ball-shaped
egg. He greets this incarnation
with open-mouth, and paws that
strain towards liberation.
In the wooden egg, the ball,
that was his world, the Buddha’s dog
already has heard,
One night, gravely ill,
the man is propped on pillows, eyes closed.
His sight has gone.
His hearing too.
Suddenly his eyes open and he tries
to leave his bed.
“I must get out—
get out of
this damn hospital.
From the foot of the bed, one
old shih tzu rushes
to his side.
She briskly paws his
shoulder, licks his ear.
Impervious to human
reassurance, the man smiles.
In hospitals, he knows, no one licks
a world-deaf ear.
He pats his friend
That night the shih tzu do not
eat and remain at the foot of
the bed of their departing friend.
But in their wide-open eyes,