Brian Komei Dempster

Eightfold Chant

Church of broken toasters and singed fuses,
church of the dripping roof and chipped chimney stack,
of the flooded garage and its split door,
gas-hissing pipes and sibilant water heaters,

church of piss-poor light and shaky ladders
where I unchoke windows and dislodge chopsticks
from pipes, smooth curled-up wallpaper and key the locks,
fix clocks sticking or ticking with different times,

church where wings of dead flies drift like petals
from cobwebs, ghosts sift through floorboards
and the homeless sleep in compost, steeping like tea bags
pungent from the leaves’ damp weight.

Church where I am summoned by the door’s clatter of brass
to the brown-toothed vagrant who spreads open
her overcoat; to the chattering man
who communes with pines and brooms the stairs;

to the bent old Japanese woman who forgets her keys,
waits for me to twist the lock free so she can scrub floors
with Murphy’s wood soap and a toothbrush,
wobble atop a ladder and polish the two-ton bell.

On this path I could be my uncle setting cubes of cheese
into jaws of traps, or my grandmother stirring peas
into a pan of fried rice, or just as easily my grandfather
padding the halls in slippers and gloves,

the cold globes of his breath a string of prayer beads
weaving me, a mixed-blood grandson, into them.
By walking in their spirit, undoing decay,
I am born into the ink swathes of their less

foreign voices, hewn to the spine-cleft texts
with bold slashes and mnemonic seduction,
healed by the monosyllables of sutras, our lives
turning beyond these pages, withstanding ritual.