Monday, April 14, 2014

Notes along the way...

The thin curve of moon echoes.
Owls chorus dark-soaked streets.

Fogs advance to the edge
of the thirst

of grass,
offer just enough.


I once visited Ryokan’s hermitage,
where poems with names of simpler times
came alive with the sounds of cicada,
thumbnail frogs, humid shade and moss
covering the stones.


Shimmering pools
light intersections, passing tires

whisper warnings no one hears
but me.


Damp with the hum of solitude,
rains arrive in the night,
confuse the sleeping streets.


True self

Like the almond tree in the front yard
blossoms fully in late February
because it’s warm.


Learning early on
we couldn’t control her spirit,
we tried all we could to manage
the world about her
and couldn’t do that either.


The lights at night in the hills
never speak aloud, never call for more
than those who turn and who linger
with those lights, lingering back.


Delhi, the Sikh soup kitchen

25,000 mouths a day,
seven days a week,
come rain or come shine.
No one pays, no one paid,
no one turned away.


Jamba, Northwest India

Sometimes it hurts, almost,
to not sing long, melodious sighs
aloud. Like now,

as the sun sets clouds to silver, to grey,
the desert finally to shadow,
the sky from blue to black,
to silently stud itself
with stars.


Mumbai, at the Taj Hotel—the tour brings us here,
along the bay, across from the famed Gateway
to India, down the street from the corner
where families sleep on the sidewalk,
babies bare-assed in the dawn.


Kochin: what Westerners often miss…

the mist along the shores of the Arabian Sea
that lifts with light’s arrival, leaves puddles
to drink last night’s dusty streets—

tropical birdcalls, slippered feet
and harboring ships that sound
in morning’s warmth 

like a lover’s breath,
moist and pulsed
with heart.


How nightmares are made:

In the dream I write a poem
they want me to tell;

when it doesn’t go well,
they want to help…


Udaipar reflection

The sun drops, river waters silver
in changing light

and foolishness announces itself
by leaving.


Prompted by the ever-unfolding face
of personal circumstance,
the primary conversation
is always the internal—even
in the collective, we choose alone
how to live—this, who we are,
is our freedom.


“What does it mean.
This is not a question,
but an exclamation.”

                   Kenneth Rexroth,
                     The Same Poem Over and Over

The collective is one
of primal kin—not singular one
but wholeness in relation,
meaning in movement realized
in connection—no one thing ever lost
to another—like stars to sky, earth to heaven,
like gravity, foot-fall. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Tradition of All Experience

Before what we call morning,
there’s another that lives
where dark turns,

where doubt finds room
near the surface, 
or along the shore

where light weighs time,
lays claim to all experience
as its own.


And so, I’ve taken the pen at times,
at different times so many times
that the weight and heft

often remains un-discerned,

nor separate a charge from heartbeat
or the lift and rise of pulse—such it has become
of its own so thorough, so as to

reframe the world, steady the step
and simplify the things that need be carried.


“…because every syllable counts.”
                                       Cid Corman

The thrust of our living
letting loose our careening way

propelled and re-propelled millions
of little moves—is who we are—countless

the triggers off those little moves:

the greater mystery
               of who we will be.


Words—swarms of bees and honey—


It would be,
it is,

enough to say 

I don’t know…


Blue ink
marks the page
a way
beyond black
and yet
close akin
to remind
one of
the other

as tracks
swirls and
broken lines
make their
own way

there on lines
that now here

hold weight and light:

a single point
in all time.


To turn
right there
and meet
the eyes

of the friend

you’d been
for all

don’t let go
that look…


The glint of moonlight
  on the rim of the bowl
     on the table at my feet

—at times a lonely way,     
         but never alone.


Fog collects thick as doubt
this morning. Even the closest trees,
rootless, shadowy slips, like distant cousins,
reliant upon familial resemblance.


One rejects nothing, the other
accepts everything.

Different times, different tongues,
linked on the lure of language in line.

And for each,
though treating margins differently,

each day begins
a blank page, listening.


Answering the last hours of dark on the mountain’s trails,
sitting among the chilled stones, watching light
begin its work,

earth’s textures, what night holds safe, why stars
lean so close, how morning returns
already full.


There are days when utterance crumbles
as it meets the air, when the most careful intention
stays jagged and torn and reliable lies just beyond reach.

On these days, let grip slip to those slower movements,
to those recesses deeper than doubt, return to that refinement
where inevitable resides.


And what if the world arrives,
full distance of all time, present
at your doorstep?


Mist and low-hanging clouds.
The moon, a luminous smudge.

But the owl calls, quick to scold
those who turn away too soon.

2014 Notes along the way…

2014 Notes along the way…
January 2014

Words and names
ride breath

being spent,
sound the edge

of having been
and will be,

each return
and no return,


in currents
of timelessness.


There are the hours where light sleeps,
rests in the velvet of original voice, 
waits the slightest quiver.


For me these days,

flashes in the periphery
catch the glance 

of something known,
given again,

intimate, intricate

in the luminous folds

of solitude.


For A. D.

Tell me of this temple
of the open sky,

this not-so-secret sanctuary
of hills and byways, this tradition

of all experience. Speak to me
of this heritage of the heart, of your kin,

your patron saints, the spirit
of the lowest bow.

Tell me your living aspiration,
your favored prayer

for the lips.


But I went ahead and lied just the same.
It was closer to the truth, that lie.
Told as the last of the sun’s rays passed
into shadow.     I told it   
so she could smile.


No one knows I’m here. And with you now gone,
who will speak with me of the stars, of the lights in the hills
that glitter where the limbs of the great eucalyptus once gathered
the whole of the night. A warm cloak of unknowing, buffer
against the chill of unwanted distance.


Heat rises with the dust,
lays like a yoke across your shoulders,

an oxen in time, ever thirsting, ever forward,
but at whose bidding?


River of Words

Along the river, one can travel light,
for all that’s necessary is given—early whispers
illumine shadows, direction takes, flow determines
and breath holds true for sound—all else,

just added weight.



And as it does, the world and all that it is shifts

and all about us again accounts for itself anew.


On the road in Chiapas,
under a near-full-moon,
fired sugar cane.



Here, arrived here today, where
every star holds space sacred, where
every breath ever taken returns, where
notions of must and ought
are rendered superfluous—here.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

September, October, November

It’s not poetry as such,
though I’ve read some and will again,
but the poets themselves

and what they’ve become
through the search implied
in the poetic—

shadows of movement
before explanation, the curve of words
as formed in the wind

and the wonder and heartache
extended in lines

of questions never closed…


Reentering the world
from half-slumber into daylight
delights returning senses.

Awakened crossing back,
tenderness precedes every thought
and remembrance affirms

the resonant sky
with the gladness
of love.


It came as at the breaking edge of a restful dream
that just as morning makes its familiar way, I too
know how this is done—the ground of the earth

is always prepared, the air responds as asked;
light meets eyes, birdsong the ears
and myriads of skins speak to touch.

So let questions dance, let thoughts make their run,
for I too know how
this is done.


He leaned forward, just a bit,
you know,
like a little bow,

and said
in a soft voice
that the world is always giving…


Each morning, wading the stream,
the current’s ebb and flow, till evening
time to rest, 

like a fish facing upstream
into all it brings, ever watchful
of hovering shadows.


With gratitude

Often as not, I wake in confusion,
long-nursed doubts surfacing
refreshed, a’swirl.

But each day comes
not so much with a plan,
as with its own breath

that we ride, a’swirl in our dreams
or awake—either way is OK. 


Jet lagged

11/11 seems to have been misplaced somewhere
on the couch where I lay most of the day delirious

engrossed in speaking images graciously passing
the glowing screen—without pause.

This morning though, 11/12, is right where I’d have it
here under the pillow next to my head, waiting and ready

to roll over the edge to outside and in…
to the drizzle-wet streets

of proper coming home—everything in its time always
all we need.



Shadows spill across the page
and onto the floor—only to be wiped clean
by passing clouds.



Morning winds clear the way for light,
muscling clouds aside
along with the dark.

Free of the need to signal,
the last two stars
leave too.


Early night—early morning.
Dark, star-studded sky.

With Orion right there, how far
from home can we really be?



Leaves on vines
in the orchard rows
have begun to yellow.

Burnt by summer,
weathered in passing rains,
some lean closer to orange

to whisper of the coming fall.


To Frienz

Hard to tell what’s being sung,
but railroad songs in any tongue
are as clear as the tracks are long.


Our method for learning
Rome’s bus system: confusion—we succeed,
get to where we got,
and back again.


Traveling through Tuscany with a GPS
named Emily, I become quite attached.

Over and over I ask, “Where am I?”
And over and over again

she patiently replies:
“You are here.”



Under the moon-like light
of the street lamp, the intersection
opens its silence

to the swaying shadows above

and a single






Cordona—lighting candles with Marghareta

From the remains of the old Roman wall
overlooking the spreading countryside,

along the steep, coble-covered path,
muraled images

of the stations of the cross
leading the way,

the street-clothed priest
motions us in

to the sun-patched sanctuary—

leaving us alone
with the Sant.


As the conversation turns to “art”

I find myself thinking of people taking time
for morning coffee together
at tables at the edge of sidewalks
on traffic filled streets,

seemingly wanting to be right there.

That canvas.

Monday, September 23, 2013

September's End

We sit with our backs to the east.
A small house in a small town, overlooking

a small valley,

homes on the opposite slopes
looking back.

Mornings—if early enough—you can trace
the sun’s progress by looking west—hill tops first,
the softest touch. Then the slow pushing down
of shadows out of the way reveals
flashed signals of the sun’s rising presence
igniting east-facing windows like bursts of light

shining out from the earth itself.

There was a window out there
morning last

with strength enough to light the whole of our interior
with warm-glow—made me to turn and to smile
in silent amazement

into the source. The sun, you know,

has its own sense of time, its own sense of space,
its own sense of our individual contours. And although
we are a part of its broader concerns,

the best we can likely do is as best we can to attend
to its finding us. And to rest

in that attention
to where we are and to when.


Ah, good friend, you’ve set me free
in sun-soaked by-ways, along wind-stroked hills,
and narrow corridors of shadow graced with light.



There is intensity of focus that comes of us
as natural and as certain and as easy as winds

that drench the face and the edge, the back
and the very end point

of every needle of every pine
within their reach—and then to all the rest,

they breathe the wish that blows behind
their rivered and rippling kiss.


Vows we find we’ve made:

looking back, I’d have to say,
a long-standing inclination toward silence
and the solitary, from birth even, yet always as these
are drawn through the intimacies of the few, the nuclear

and as carried on within the broad strokes and patch-work
of the greater quiet—the urge to acts of mutuality,
of respect and consideration and the wish to understand

these enduring visions of love at play
in the daily comings and goings that define the ordinary,
the universal, the connecting groundswell of commonness

that is our collective humanness—and this,
it seems for me, is the center-less center to which
I have leveled my most heart-felt claims
of citizenship.



Near-ecstatic revelation

The lift of our living within
              the firm embrace of holy name

is found

not on the in-breath,
                    but of the out-going.



After far too long a time
trying to prepare for seventy,
I’ve somehow come to let it go
to itself—this turning grace
called aging—and, 

as it does what it does and what it is,
to use the best of all I have as such,
and as I am, to see it through
all the way through its grace filled,
self-fulfilling way.


Whose voice is it
you think
you hear,

And so
of the words,
yours too?


Often after the fact, I pull back in wonder
at the somewhat frantic nature of the search
for that which I already know to be there, yet
nonetheless continue to need to reconfirm,

like seeking out the earliest cast of the sun’s rays,
as if to assure myself the warmth remains
there in the light where last left—and for us,
the spoken name is like this too,

the emergence and re-emergence
of the warmth of embodied memory
made manifest; no less a flicker
than passing thoughts, but tangibly so.



implies connecting and also connection,
it implies greater numbers of, and so,
addition, so then, progression
and causation, relation and variety—

it implies abundance…

and so in such a world
might well then serve
the preferred expression
of gratitude, of praise

and of prayer…and…


the deep


in this one


of our


John Muir Wilderness
                   Fleming Lake--Elevation 9,700 feet

The mountains here drop their shadows
just as the rays of the coming sun begin to arrive,

water offers ripples to the first gentle gusts,
and pines ruffle and wave. To follow the urge

to sit at the edge in a place like this is an act of faith,
a free-fall ride on the wakes

of star-streams—birds swoop and twitter, answers
brittle and fall, frames and reference shift

to the boundless possibilities of the humbled few
who discover the truly praiseworthy.

Here, it’s not asked, how old one is,
but exclaimed: How far we have come!

Here, the wise are those who hold their tongue.
Listen to the rest.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Friend to Friend

Arrogance—yours or mine no difference—

always misguided, rarely instructive of anything
other than itself, and often simply meanness
cloaked in good intentions,

like building character, in someone else.
Though at the lake that day, it clouded
crystalline waters so, what might have been

rebuke, instead glowed with the clarity
of genuine kindness, a flash amongst shadows,
not so much unexpected, as from one unfamiliar,

now known from the inside, out—a gift.


We cannot know for certain,
but the effort, beyond all reason,
the effort so fruitless reveals nonetheless
continuous, even uncalled for delight
and richness—reason enough then,
reason enough.


Take your teacher by the throat
and listen—it’s the gurgle
that’s most important.


We think

as we live, the promises
we make ourselves, vows,
intentions, grand plans, sweeping vistas,

like so many heart-felt leaves blown
to tremor, even before their saying is done—
bud to spread to color to mulch,

all returned to the earth sustained
and richened within the blanket embrace
of the myriad workings of the sun in its sky.


Place specific, local,
as in heart beat—how the universe conspires
continuations of each and all throughout their time,
questions of purpose, intention, of direction,
value added, or allowed, all implode
right here—seamless, seem-less wholeness,
each complete in place and time, rightful roles
forever fulfilled—inevitable—amen.


They say, just before death arrives, life
sometimes surges, energies push the furthest
reach, new horizons replace the old, space awakens,
shadows fall, imagination stretches to follow the light
to the other side...


In the steadied silence of a Sunday morning
begun before the promise of a spoken sun, the roses
on the altar slump, and the two of them, cloaked in clouds
of circling smoke of incense burned to dust,
take their turn to cry—for Buddhas forever gone
and for those about to come.


The way it is

There are times when, despite myself, I raise my voice,
when the thrust of my heart pushes through the words and past,
leaves them limp on the empty air, only to fall
to the floor, ill-spent.

And I know, it’s the breath
that words ride that makes them all they are
and its absence that undoes them.
I know.


On trust and praise

It’s the urge to engage through syllable and sound
the shadowy horizons of awareness
not simply our own.

It’s the desire to use all that we have
and all that we cannot hold, to articulate the wish
that we cannot speak.

It’s the depths of our need, though not so clearly seen,
to affirm the connections, to return as community,
as is already given.


Thresholds of sorts, arise
as we identify what is no longer essential.

Letting that go, of itself lightens
the next step and wherever it may lead.


As the chest rises and falls
almost imperceptibly, we conceive
the body alive with the flow of breath—

Buddha’s Name as utterance
makes real the potency of language
as a vehicle of awakening…



The desire to make something happen
will make

something happen—while all the while,
the world

inevitably delivers
the inevitable, 

making us wonder,

which end of the effort
we’re really on.


The ancients speak
of clear and certain vision
amidst that most certain ambiguity
that is the foundational reality of our humanity.

How to live unruffled in a ruffled universe?

Allow each answer its flutter
before letting go…


Morning fog rolls in over the ocean
that lies west of here,

shoulders inland hills,

then tips and pours toward the bay,
leading puffs tinted pink.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Notes to myself--August 2013

Notes to myself—August 2013

To say “forty years” now is no stretch, saying Buddha’s Name, inside and out, steadily sporadically, at times spontaneously, one way or the other all these years, as so this morning along empty streets, nembutsu readily rides each breath through to release, leads place specific into this body-moment that leads to the unknown next, all held and all moved, single breath on single breath carrying living voice homeward.

My Dad used to speak of the “second wind” that long-distance runners experience, when body overtakes will and running turns into a kind of riding, a place of effortless confidence in something other—today it feels like that might feel, in it for the duration, never alone, somehow easy.


I’m American in the sense that I have no definitive link to any soil other than this, no family memory of any “mother land” outside North America. Whence then, the powerful influence of nembutsu ?


Reading selections from Albert Saijo’s, Outspeaks to the poetry workshop at the jail last week, the men loved the power and simplicity of his work.

Some have said of Saijo, an American original by my way of thinking, that he always looked both ways, then went straight ahead—by “both” they must have meant inside and out.

Saijo went from the camps into WW II, from the war back into his country. He traveled it. He chewed peyote, as I recall, sat Zen and fasted. In later years, he lived on the edge of a volcano (so as not to take up too much room). And although he eschewed literary recognition, he was a writer by vocation—all caps and dashes, no other punctuation. In  his own words, he wanted to be a “field preacher,” in the way of John Muir’s father.

And it works. I mean, I can only imagine a field preacher, but Saijo’s words are anything but indecisive—he was a slight man, small of stature and photos suggest, quiet. But his words, the thinking and passion that pushes them, are large and clear—no equivocation here—he knew where he was headed, and that’s where he went.

Look out, look in—then keep going. Kind of like a life of nembutsu.


Once a motel, the b&b sits off the main road below grade, under trees, adjacent wide spread ranch-like work buildings. Plentiful green and blue, a pleasant place, where water running through the walls signals the neighbors showering, and each closed door resonates through several units either side. But it’s quiet. And a slight adjustment to the vertical blinds on the sliding door, lights the room with morning, lets the ordered shades of beige pateo stones just outside extend a sense of comfort and calm, both sides across the sill.

I remember a journal entry by Cid Corman, ex-pat American poet living in Japan in the 1960’s, capturing the moments of an entire day as he sat overlooking the garden space outside his kitchen. He observed, and he wrote his life, the day unfolding in shifting tones of light.

And comments by William Stafford, on the way it is for him in writing. Not writing poems, but writing, the active engagement of giving oneself over to the process, poem or prose.

The difference between the two for Stafford is a matter of signals; neither content, nor form, so much as certain signals from writer to reader that a poem is underway; the lack of such, signaling prose—grammar, syntax, line length.

And for Stafford, the poem is not just about signals sent by the poet, but certain signals the poet receives and transcribes—a poem then is not merely personal statement or  personal expression; at its best a poem speaks to, speaks of, source rather than sender.

This subtle shift demands of the writer certain careful but easy handed attentiveness to his or her own intentions in order to determine whether the nature of engagement is prose or poetry, or both, and to send it out as best they can, as such.

The ambiguity here rightly defines the writing way Stafford enjoyed, as a humble one.


Shinran, prolific writer, unwavering in the certainty of the source of his liberation, at age 86, cites Honen: “ ‘Other Power means that no working is true working.’ ‘Working’ is the calculating heart and mind of each practicer. As long as one possesses a calculating mind, one endeavors in self-power. You must understand fully the working of self-power.”

Thoreau: “Good writing as well as good acting will be obedience to conscience. There must not be a particle of will or whim mixed with it. If we can listen, we shall hear. By reverently listening to the inner voice, we may reinstate ourselves on the pinnacle of humanity.” 1-26-1841 And: “We are constantly invited to be what we are, as something worthy, and noble. I never waited but for myself to come around; none ever detained me, but I lagged or tagged after myself.” 2-3-1841


Awareness, inner and outer, careful listening, learning and consideration. Appreciation for all received; for the continued receiving, wonder and praise. And the personal determination to attend the quietude required to continue this way of humility and gratitude.

Borderless, boundless, all and ever-inclusive.

Every question, any question, indicative of too much self--Namuamidabutsu.