Offering Apples at the Statue of Confucius

by Brandon James O’Neil

A picture of railroad tracks in an underground tunnel, two tracks merging.

Visiting the Great Temple, Confucius asked about everything he saw. Someone said: “Who says this son of a simple villager understands ritual? All he did in the Temple was ask questions!” When he heard this, Confucius replied: “Yes, because that is the ritual.” (Analects 3:15)

What is the ritual when the statue is
in the open air and my offering is
an apple that slid out of my bag
and rolled along the subway floor?

Six stops from my apartment on 59th
to Grand, then walk three blocks
to the plaza that bears his name where
Confucius in bronze faces Bowery

What is the ritual if my apple is taken
and eaten by a hungry woman who slept
beneath Manhattan Bridge last night?
Am I robbed of the Master’s blessing?

Perhaps this is a double joy of giving
to both the Master’s bronze and the unseen
hunger of my city. Perhaps the ritual is not
what we suppose:

As you walk in the city carry your apples
and do not let them bruise
on the subway floor

to those who ask you give apples give
money give recognition give

Then when your pockets are empty and
you have no apples left to give, take
the subway to Grand Street

walk three blocks
and read my inscription:

“When the Great Principle prevails, the world is a Commonwealth”

Brandon James O'Neil
Brandon James O'Neil is a poet and scholar originally from Rochester, Michigan. He has recently relocated to Scottsdale, Arizona after living on Manhattan's Upper West Side.


  1. What a wonderful poem, Brandon! Using ancient wisdom to bring compassion to the modern world is a poignant lesson. Thanks for sharing!


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