By Sam Allen
I hated southern Idaho.
I had to go there.
A few years ago, with my dad, for a full six weeks.
Desert, high desert, little podunk towns, an occasional art gallery by a lake. Nothing to do. Of course, my dad wanted to do it all!
We’d drive into Sun Valley, a fastidiously designed Aspen-like area but in Idaho. Swiss chalets and 100-degree heat. We’d both grimace at the commercialism of it. It was all beyond our middle-class grasp. So, we’d drive.
To Ezra Pound’s childhood home. In a long procession into town for a 4th of July gala. Two towns, one center.
And to a contemplative garden the Dalai Lama has blessed. Garden of Infinite Compassion in Ketchum. Dad notices the flowers from the side of the road. I’m game to go in.
My point-and-shoot camera (nice zoom lens included) documents everything. I’ve whipped it out wearily, repeatedly, incessantly.
I’ve turned to documenting everything to get out of experiencing the humdrum of this vacation, except for the crappy Chinese buffet in Coeur D'Alene where the eggrolls were too greasy to risk photos by my shiny-new camera. But suddenly something happens, and my camera will not work.
I have just refreshed its batteries. I halfheartedly try checking it again.
But it won’t even cough for me; it’d dead.
So, I wander with dad through the front part of the garden. We stroll through sea of labeled roses in this high-altitude, surprising, habitat for flowers.
The pagoda beyond the flowers teases my imagination. I look at the roses and think, I look at the roses and don’t think. I look at the roses and my mind wanders.
Did I mention that I love Leonard Cohen?
I take refuge in his songs, particularly those from the film Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man.
His Judeo-Buddhist—“Juddhist”—prayers resonate, but especially at this spot.
Embarking on an MPA program means finding faith that I can once again, write.
I approach the temple section of the garden. It’s the shaded prayer wheel stands still, tranquil, waiting.
After ten years of dryness and sad wandering—I pray.
If it be your will, I pray:
Ahnoni (another trans person who’s had a name change, like me.)
If it be your will, I touch the spot that the Dalai Lama touched.
If it be your will, I notice a cat!
I move to the small pond at the tip of the pagoda.
I shall ring your praises, no matter what.
If I fail, I will fail.
If I speak, I will speak.
I’m taken back in time, to all of the quiet, fastidiously designed moments in my existence, to the small mid-city Chinese garden in Portland, to the flowers of the rose garden by the zoo, to here, to now.
I notice the bees in the garden behind me and turn a small corner.
I remember a book that I reached out to in refuge—Learning to Breathe by Priscilla Warner, another “Juddhist” like Leonard Cohen and who, also like me, was left without a camera.
Warner witnessed a mandala being fastidiously designed by Tibetan monks. Those monks showed the greatest attention to each and every grain of colored sand that they placed down to create the mandala. When it was complete—and after it had sat for ten days in a chapel in New York City—the monks lovingly spilled it—let your mercy spill—into a nearby pond.
Warner had ventured back to the pond to witness the ceremony. But, like me, her camera stopped working when she was there.
Be in the moment, the moment seemed to say. Let it be.
Our lives, our own ponds, and the ponds of those we have not met—may mercy spill into theirs as well.
If it be your will.
My mom is starting to call me by my real name. The name that resonated with me since I learned in my early twenties what it meant.
Sam - the space between - in Indian Kathak dance.
And the blessing of this morning when my “Auntie” addressed me in my birthday card as Dear One and wrote my Real name on my card’s envelope. And draw us near, and bind us tight, in swaddling clothes.
We will grow but we’re still babies.
Dad and I quietly return to his lavender car. I return to my camera. We both return to Idaho. Later that day it works. I snap pictures and forget our dinner that night.
Sam Allen is a poet and writer from Stockton, California. Their work has been published in the 2023 Poetry Planner (Bell Press Books) and Trans Bodies, Trans Selves, 2nd edition (Oxford University Press). They won the Outstanding Student Award (Spring 2022, San Joaquin Delta College). They live with a rambunctious cat named Scout in West Stockton and is currently a Content Writing intern for San Joaquin Delta College.