Juliet in the Temple Kitchen

Catherine Gammon


She serves as tenzo at the temple, head of the kitchen. I show up with her to do that work. She gets embroiled in all kinds of difficulties: budgets and food policies and conflicting views people have about what's healthy and not, what they and we need to eat, or not eat. I cut tofu and listen to the birds outside the kitchen, outside the library also when she studies, or outside the zendo, in the minutes when we sit. She worries. She makes menus and recipes and crew schedules and organizes plans for work and days that rarely go as she imagines. I change my mind, her mind, she gets the blame. I respond to the food, she reacts to problems. She also or once upon a time had a life before and will again after this life of being tenzo, but before, during, and after, I am the same—that is to say, the same by being nothing, not her, not her stories, her worries or her joys, her perceptions or ideas, just the movement here and now of this thought in her mind or this voice in her body or this pen on this paper. She's here, an instant after, an instant before. Not even an instant. How do I know her? I see her effects, on others and on herself. Sometimes she's quite mad and so far beyond my reach, I don't know how to help her. Even so, sometimes she will hear me—can only almost hear me, because after all I'm the hearing one, she's a little out of phase—it's more a semblance of hearing than hearing itself. Still, whatever that barrier is that separates us, sometimes it dissolves, she dissolves, and knows she is not any of that activity or any of those stories or worries or concerns, is not and never has been that illusion she and the world call Juliet—and almost at once, that dissolution reappears as another story, a story that belongs to Juliet again and is not who I am. I listen to the birds. I move pen on paper. I feel the tenderness of movement in her hand. Outside, the frogs begin to sing.