The word mala is Sanskrit for garland. It is a string of prayer beads. You always wore one wrapped around your wrist.
These bone beads
Did not go up in smoke—
You were a Zen priest, and when you died you left shelves of books and records but otherwise very few possessions. In some ways you really were unsui, clouds and water, a Japanese word for monk. Although you were also my husband.
A mala has 108 beads. You told me this was to insure a hundred minimum. But I read that it is also a mystical arrangement—twice the fifty letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, plus eight magical amendments. One bead is called the guru bead. You left a string of wooden beads marked by one of crystal.
When we were courting, you came down the dirt road to visit me. You held one wrist aloft—I thought it was wrapped in bodhi beads. I ran towards you to greet you and stopped dead. A snake was wrapped around your wrist.
jewel eyes, darting tongue
the snake you found
wrapped like a mala
To pray. To count. To keep track of what is passing. You didn't leave much behind besides the malas—bone, wood, crystal, snakeskin.
by Miriam Sagan
Santa Fe, New Mexico
first published in Contemporary Haibun Online V2, N1 (2006)