Sujata: The First Disciple of Buddha
One morning, a tall lean man
stumbled towards me.
His large eyes: half closed
as if he were seasick;
his thick black hair full of dead leaves and bumble-bees
grew wild as weeds and fell way below his hips.
His beard swayed gently as an elephant’s trunk.
“I’m hungry,” he muttered.
I took him home, fed him fresh yogurt and bread.
Then, I bathed him, shaved his face clean and smooth,
coconut oiled his skin soft again.
It took four hours
to wash and comb his long hair,
which he refused to cut.
For four hours he bent his head this way and that
while I ploughed through his hair
with coconut oil on my fingers.
“And how did you get this way?” I asked.
“I haven’t slept for years,” he said.
“I’ve been thinking, just thinking.
I couldn’t sleep or eat
until I had finished thinking.”
After the last knot
had been pulled out of his hair, he slept,
still holding on to my sore fingers.
The next morning, before the sun rose,
before my father could stop me,
he led me to the wide-trunked, thick-leafed bodhi tree
to the shady spot where he had sat for years
and asked me to listen.