Standing Buddhas of Bamiyan Kept Watch

By Dianne Bilyak

The temple bell stops, but the sound keeps coming out of the flowers. —Basho

They stood in place for over 1500 years,
carved directly from rock
and shaped into body.
The size of buildings,
these ample doses of optical impact
have witnessed countless eyes hoisted up in reflection.
They once had painted robes,
and gilded heads and hands.
Eventually their charisma
was defaced by vandals,
and weather faded them back
to the color of the surrounding stone.

When an American museum heard
about the imminent destruction
they offered to divvy up the statues
into moveable cargo,
adjusting devotional icons into artifacts.
Imagine the glossy brochure
they would have made for that exhibit.
Curators brainstorming with trustees
over which font to use, parchment or papyrus.

The word Taliban is the plural
of Talib, which means “religious student.”
But it’s a flock against memory and spirit,
proving with rapid brutality
the Buddhist assertions of impermanence.
Putting irony and semantics aside,
in the spoils of careless war,
they’re just killing something
that’s already dead.

But is that any comfort to those Buddhas?
Or any of us, as our own voices clench,
dumbfounded in disbelief and awe?
In the past tense now, they rest in pieces,
the deliberate seeds of cause and effect
force-fed into them as palpable ammunition.
Estranged by artillery,
A stray ear is pressed to the ground,
it listens to the bulk get sidetracked,
hears the deafening koan of a new age,
hears the sound of one hand,
fully loaded (and clapping) as it strikes
the forest of sand below.