TO A POET, TO THE WEST

Richard Wilbur lives in Massachusetts
and in Key West, Florida according
to his dust jackets. If you set sail westward
from San Diego you may find your dream
of China, of the endless wall which draws
the stares and wonder more foreboding
more forbidden even than the city,
which you visit to sate yourself of lights,
sirens and the blood heat of steam grates.
It is far easier than digging and far less
dirty, and the walls of the sea rise
more slowly. Once it was a risky journey
the danger of the edge looming over the horizon,
but then digging was no option, pushing deeper
with your crude shovel, knees bloody,
until, at last, you broke through
with dreams of the dragon as you fell
into the limitless void. Now you sail
with dreams of the Pacific sky, although
water has no need of names. The poet
has grandchildren now, and it is to them
to dream of the China that was.


First appeared in Midnight Mind, Number Two (2001) and again in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press, (2008)

JOSHU’S FOUR GATES 正法眼蔵 四十六

If you ask who I am
I will have you close your eyes
and walk behind you,
or I may step to your left
and take your right hand.
If you are perplexed,
I will ask you, do the four
gates open into the city
or out to the world beyond,
and if I stand still sideways
under a gate
in which direction
am I headed?


A reflection on case 46 of Dogen’s True Dharma Eye (Shobogenzo).

THE SKY ABOVE

Only in New York will you find a giraffe looking up at taller buildings
and not thinking this the least bit strange. People always look up at
buildings and it is never strange, but people know that giraffes must
be different and their looking up is by its very nature strange. Giraffes
look down at people as well. This is not strange, and people accept this
although they are usually not pleased. People do not like being looked
down upon. Not even by giraffes.

URBANITY

Walking down this road
I would like to see a rice field
golden in the morning sun
with a great mountain rising behind it
just around the next bend.
I would settle for a town
its lone Temple quiet, awaiting
the morning bell, the call to sit,
with maybe a cat at the base
of a statue the Bodhisattva.
I am ready to bow deeply
to the first monk I see this day,
but my reverie is broken
by the barely dodged wave
thrown up by  city bus
running late and fast
down the crowded street of
this upstate New York city.

RIVERS

I have never been
particularly one for rivers.
Like everyone, I’ve walked
along their shores, listened to them
gurgle under remote bridges
but otherwise never
paid them much attention.

There’s an old Buddhist saying
you can’t step into
the same river twice,
but that presupposes you
step into the river the first time.

I remember city rivers most
no banks, concrete walls from which
you cannot step
so much as fall.

Once rivers were different
they sounded different
calling out clearly
if you would only listen
but we were all
Siddhartha then.

Rivers are borders
easily crossed, the Genesee
walking the railroad trestle over
the Upper Letchworth falls
the girls faces frozen in fear
until we stopped, mid bridge,
and looked down
at the water careening
over the rocks, carrying off
the bravado and childishness.

The Schelde, with
great ships down stream
at its receding docks
leaving only Antwerp’s
waterfront bars
where it is easy to stumble
one drink or many
on the cobbled streets, where
the ancient words muttered
in the old Synagogue
are mummified, placed
in sarcophagi of religious fervor.

The Sumida, four blocks
from Senso-ji, and the incense
burner from whose joss smoke
I rubbed my heart,
bowed before the temple
and, at the saffron robed
monks urging, wrote her name
on a thin paper copy
of the heart sutra which
he folded into a crane
and dropped from the bridge
watching it drift slowly
toward the sea.

 

The Afon Dwyfor, more creek
than river, where I sat
next to Lloyd George’s grave
outside, barely, Llanystumdwy
overlooking the churchyard
and we’d laugh
at the absurdity of it all,
he long dead, I in love
with a woman whose lips
I could taste from a single kiss
on a second date, and
the river whispering “tell her.”