The life of priest-poet Daigu Ryokan provides endless inspiration for the writing of poetry and the modeling of faithfulness to Zen-sitting
practice, poetry, and solitude. A replica of his hut, Gogoan, with the plum tree adjacent as a symbol of Buddha Nature, stands on the grounds of Olympia Zen Center and provides constant reminder of the way of virtue.
On the One Hand
Consider the posture of the hands
How age has moved from the universal mudra
To the free formed position on the lap
Palms facing downward, calming the aging pains
That roll across the body like a parent
Easing the startled life of a newborn
held against the breast at night.
How the hands have reached
To celebrate snow dropping on the fingers
To gather in the cupped palm.
How they have tied the cords of kesa
Securely on the heart side,
Or sensed the intricate nubs of incense
in an offering to the Buddha.
Where hands have rolled the globe
Like a ball tumbling through space
80 times around the sun
46 billion ,724 million miles
too far to comprehend.
How the lifeline cuts a circuitous
Path across the palm creased by events
Of loss and the power of work,
Of blisters, burns, and loving touch.
These hands have shifted soil
Mended dresses, counted money
held the hands of partners in dance
Clapped to music, spooned rice
Met palm to palm in prayer and entreaty.
Who the hands have touched,
Have touched these hands
Shaken and aware of grip and callous
The bowl lifted in reverence and handed
To another and to another
A chain of touching and grace that
Lingers in the curves of design and fold
Of fabric and wood formed into art.
One palm open, one palm closed
Like one ear hearing the distant cry
Of owl, the other listening to
The mind divine meaning in the presence
Of a cry at midnight.
Like one eye seeing; the other eye dark.
As now, one hand curls in on itself
Clenching the remorse of a nation
The stupidities of human deceit
The smallness of greed and power
roiling in a single fist.
While the other hand open
Rests simply on the lap
Warm, confident, free
Light in weight and feeling
In the clear floating moment
holding the moon.
January 6, 2021
eido frances carney
Turning to Light
The grey-framed window in Wyeth’s painting
opens to the settled field. Nothing moves.
Only fragrance of grass.
There is a sense that even the painter is absent.
Only a rustle of water making its crawl through the mill.
Wyeth calls this, “Love in the Afternoon.”
I could stare out the window all day
different from sitting out of doors.
Cave-like it seems to have darkness
within, slant of light over the sill
the only speech.
A shafted flicker crashes into the window and lands
on stone, its head limp. Later, miraculously, the bird
is gone. Left behind: a dot of bright blood
like the perfect red circle at the center of its eye.
From the window I saw you come this way,
stop on the path before you reached the gate,
silent in the shadow of cedar. You drifted on the ten
thousand trails that led through snow, the lamp
unseen, no footprint or trace.
If I turn on light, I see myself reflected back
in glass, the storehouse of goods
surrounding as if marching forward
to envelop me. Too lonely, I draw the shades.
And what are windows in the night when
all the world looks back at us, huddled
in the common roots of grief, when all
we are is nowhere to be found.
Everything must be opened like
Wyeth’s window that invites
the soul beyond the threshold
of some imagined safety. As if
the in or out held a protective
measure to guard against change.
Why do we put in windows if not
to let the world in as well go out?
My window faces east where I watch
my bones wither in the grace and color
of moonrise and morning light.
At night, ghosts pass through
these panes and dance in space
above my bed while I curl
in the ancient cocoon of sleep
the transparent universe that
cradles the ten thousand things.
Soon I will look up and see
my own body turning to light
passing through the transomed
frame into the mixture of daylight
of moonlight of passing years.
Perhaps that’s all we are, a single
body of illumination, a wavelength
equal to something visible
reflection of a bright dawning
a look of recognition
in the Buddha’s eyes.
Meditation on Three Paintings of
The Wilderness Colors of Tao-Chi (1641—1720)
Enter this painting with words
poem chiseled above a moon so small
we are drawn to its essence.
Wild geese lead away a mournful heart,
But mountains bring back a full moon in their teeth.
What has changed in 300 years?
Not the formation of geese
or the circular moon.
We are not so careless to forget
the rise and fall of light.
Mountains and rivers compel me to speak for them:
they are transformed through me and I am
transformed through them.
This valley of Tao-Chi is forgotten,
innocent in its mountainous geography.
Lake Tung-t’ing uncluttered by industry.
A moon rises above a grove,
illumines geese in casual flight.
Were we to stand on the balcony of
the tile-roofed outlook, we would hear
rronk-rronk of the gaggle, silence of light.
But our feet rest in the 21st century
ravaged by dust of coal,
sorrow from clutter and waste
lurching vibrations of invention.
What landscape can we detail that does not expose
our appetite and acquisition? Should our canvas
tell the truth of vast construction, mountains
chewed by machinery, forests razed by greed?
What stories do we tell the future, what paintings
do we contrive to say, as Tao-Chi,
we knew the subtle shape of moonlight
the grace of old growth trees.
Ha! Fat, hairy root lying in elephant ear leaves!
What is unseemly may serve us well.
An offering to the gods.
A simple thing, this painting, the ordinary vegetable
its child and grandchild stem from the parent.
Buddhist monks find this tasty;
eat it raw at their own peril!
Poor Tao-chi wrote:
...I ate them all partly raw. Can you guess
what the temperature is inside my stomach?
The hot taro burns all our complications, mops
our muck fields, takes off water on the knee.
Use the leaves as an umbrella in the rain.
Or, just get wet and slop along
like the brush thrubing its way to describe
coarse skin and root hairs on white paper.
Riverbank of Peach Blossoms
No one to witness the peach blossoms clustered along
the river save these eyes from now. Parrot Island in
the distance all in blue seems to float in a sunny sky.
Tao-Chi has penned the words of Li Po:
The mist parts, and the fragrant breeze from
the orchid leaves is warm;
The riverbanks are lined with peach blossoms,
rising like a brocaded wave.
No boundaries in this boneless method, no lines
to circumscribe its point in history.
A resting place for the soul. I come to this
window from the 21st century and ease my heart
in joy of blossoms on a summer’s day. No details
of the island but its heavenly blue luster. We are
saved by simplicity and moist hues of peach
that keep us from unwise involvement.
Tao-chi bides his time; he is free.
By how many names shall we know you? Stone Wave,
Friar Bitter Melon, The Old Man of Ch’ing-hsiang,
The Blind Abbot, The Purified One.
Whose mantle of ancient painters do you wear
whose teeth cannot grow out of your brow, whose
eyebrows cannot be planted on your forehead?
Still one or two of the masters draw near as if
dancing in the smoke of incense when you take
one brilliant stroke out of emptiness, brush-hairs
dripping with black ink exploding on paper.
You are your own man, just going the way of no-way.
Did you think those old men shouldn’t nod from Heaven?