by Karin Temple

Take an empty space.
A large empty space,
like a gym. With
basketball hoops,
a noisy heater, posters
pitching milk. With
a security lock system
and a barred equipment room.
A gym in a prison.

A guard lets in two women with
the basic ingredients
to a planned activity:
a heavy folded cloth,
battery candles,
recorded chants.
And the ceremony of unfolding
takes place, revealing
turn by turn
the ancient geometry
of the labyrinth,
purple pattern on white.
The women walk the circumference
holding and lifting hands
in waves of blessing.

Now the guard brings in
seven young men in prison grey,
single file, orders them
to line up against the wall
and take off their shoes.

The women greet them,
eye to eye, hand to hand,
exchanging names, and gesture
them to sit with them on the floor
forming a circle.
They talk about the strangely
winding path of the labyrinth,
the path of life, about direction
and detours, meaning and mystery,

Each at their own time
and pace, seven men
and one of the women
enter the labyrinth
and abandon themselves to
the circling and turning,
meeting and parting,
standing still, beginning again
on the path to the center,
alone and together
on a slow and quiet journey
of remembrance and regret,
of prayer and hope.

Come and see:
they reach up to heaven,
they bow down humbly,
one twirls in the middle
of the crowded rose petal
center. Then they retrace
their steps, still unhurried
and reverent, one boy
walking backwards.

Emerging from the labyrinth
words are whispered of
calm and peace,
of childhood,
of failings, discoveries,
and resolves.

This miracle
is repeated with
four more groups
of seven troubled youths
who enter their prison gym
and encounter
a sacred space
full of grace.
On their knees
the last seven help
the two women roll up
the large canvas, turn
by turn secreting
the sacred pattern


From Chalice of Tears: poems by Karin Temple