built to serve the expanding suburbs
of this great modern city of Taichung
it is a humid ninety-three degrees
a sweltering day in central Taiwan
without the mercy of a cooling breeze.
Crossing the wasteland to the temple
which sits there in splendid isolation
a jewel glimmering in the midday sun
I am Coward’s archetypal Englishman.
In the courtyard several stray dogs doze
owing their lives to the care of the monks
benign masters to whom all life is sacred.
This venerable temple is deserted today
though it hasn’t always been this way
for three centuries ago it was the heart
of a community of farms and villages
long since vanished and the worshippers
who once toiled in surrounding fields
lie beneath the soil in unknown graves.
I enter and pausing before the shrine
stand under the statue of Mazu’s gaze.
As her ever open eyes meet mine
I have a sense the goddess smiles
compassionately and welcomes me
with the serene look of eternity.
Leaving the temple the distant city
shimmers insubstantially in the haze
the world now seeming impermanent
and my daily life unreal and transient.
The whole afternoon and beyond
I am haunted by this lonely temple
and imagine the goddess Mazu
looking forever on day after day
long after I have passed away.