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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.

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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)


  • Moonlit Geese


Enter this painting with words

poem chiseled above a moon so small

we are drawn to its essence.


    Moonlit geese

    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.


  • Taro-root


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?

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