Zen

by Holly Kelso

Almost three decades later and I can still evoke

his face with ease: sagging cheeks, sallowed eyes,

he was almost bald, entirely, the top of his head

shone, and around the perimeter gray hair strayed,

unruly, the coiffe of a sad clown.  He was, 

of all things, my Zen meditation teacher, 

he carried wood

comparable to a yard stick, but numberless, 

devoid of a unit 

of measurement, and when he sensed

our focus strayed, he slapped our backs with his stick, 

diagonally, shoulder to waist, he’d thwack 

the young women

in my freshman class, leaving a stripe as red 

as the back of a throat.  And one day, his lip snarled,

he told us the reason a woman paints her mouth red

is to conjure a vagina on her face, to attract 

men, he used the words vulva and seduction

and I was 17 and horrified, I didn’t paint my mouth

that color again for almost 20 years, when I left

my first husband, I realized the inexorable malignity

a man can harvest, and then I remembered him-

Dr. James Whitehill- a small man afraid of having

his cock snapped off, his stick broken

by a woman awake for her own birth.

About the Author

Holly Kelso is a career educator, and has made language and literacy her focus for twenty-four years. She has taught kindergarten through adult education to native speakers and non-English speakers, and has enjoyed being present in the epiphany when someone learns to speak or to read. An English Literature major from Stephens College, she published a chapbook of poetry in 1993, and has written intermittently about life and family. Holly resides in Boulder City, Nevada, the town that built Hoover Dam, where she teaches reading to middle school students.