Sunday, December 28, 2008

Fall Poems--2008

                                Putting myself in various spots

                                and observing the mind that happens there—

                                I want to meet myself.


                                          From Haya Akegarasu’s poem, Wind of Early Summer



 On the exchange of prayers

Showers Lake, by way of Carson Pass, 9/7


In deep night

high mountain silence,

the surge of hardened earth

in open-domed dark,

close whispers of mutual turning,

of stars’ most careful approach.




Tamarack Lakes, under Sierra Buttes

Late September


Awake well before the sun

touches the highest reaches

of south rising buttes,

we watch in chilled shadows

the quiet waters,

slow building clouds,

waiting the day to tell our turn

in full light,

where a pilgrim’s footsteps might fall


and to be gone, then, before

the turn of darkening skies

absorbs again the myriad forsaken dreams,

leaving us awed, yet lonely

for steps not readily taken.




San Bruno Mountain, late September


There are no choices to be made

Breathing deep into steady steps

the labored hills in pre-dawn light

edge at early autumn’s promises


The green return of spring

spoken and sung

in brittle tones

through nights long with winter




A birthday offering 9/29


I know only Buddha’s name.

I know, even on this day, at this age,

of no answers,

can only guess the calamities

of choices made of darknesses given

of limited, yet trusted vision.


I know, even on this day,

of no answers,

save those

the Masters proffer:

that this knowing of not knowing,

this presumed confusion,

in light, is clarity,

confusion turning in light,

the truth, there heard,

then sung;

the song of not knowing,

set free.




In my quiet way,

I do my utmost 

to control life;

but slowly,

only slowly, relent.




Buddha speaks

of turbulent encounters

in free-flowing streams

and sparkling sunlight.

Without end.




Five Poems of  Polska (Poland) 10/08


Soft light rolls hills in autumn colors,

gently belies the harsh and heavy history

of these ancient people of the meadows.

The tide. Darkened murmurs

of windless cries of the many bare down now,

the great unquiet not ever quelled, never-still silent movement

against the utmost edge, the unendurable

evoked, unrestrained, splayed raw.

Such pains, to mute moon and stars.

Toward Warsaw, trees thin, meadows spread to swells

flattening within a sky grown so steadily larger

even the coming night cannot hold it fast.

Of Warsaw, they say,

nothing was left; yet

today, aside the road, in October,

yellow blossoms.

In the pre-dawn light of Warsaw, while others sleep, 

we stand, mute at the tomb, 

two sentries, the flame and me,

each attentive in our own way

of the eternal.

From the steadiness in her eyes,

we learn of the sanctity of resistance, of resilience

and of rededication to voice

found only in enduring sadness and irredeemable loss.


The third season here, she says, is golden autumn.




Home, November


First winter rains come warm

on light filled currents,

sky-heavy droplets

gently falling

to so many gladdened ears.




Saturday, December 20, 2008

The way it is

I cannot give up the flower of this world
which sooner or later scatters—
though I go to Enlightenment,
I cast backward glances.

Haya Akegarasu

As Buddhists we often speak of detachment, generally understanding that to mean breaking free of our attachments, “transcending” our attachments and the accompanying suffering. People we love die; we suffer loss and grief. The liberated personality, we suppose, somehow glides past this more easily than we. Fair enough, if life were a movie. But it is not. And life recently clarified this for me, pulling me close, deepening my appreciation.

Today, November 30th, is the fourteenth anniversary of my brother in law’s death. We learned of this just last week. Yes, last week, fourteen years after his passing, we learned he was gone.

While still a young man, Eddie was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic. On medication, he was fine; off meds, he was delusional and unable to function normally. When things were good, he loved to work and to be with people. When things were really bad, it was not unusual for him to wander off. He once wandered as far as Phoenix, where he was picked up and committed; we last heard from him upon his release in the summer of 1994—he was happy to be headed home. We know now he made it as far as Los Angeles, where, apparently homeless, he was killed.

At that time, the police had only his fingerprints to go on and were unable to make a match. Eddie became John Doe #216 and so family efforts to locate him over the years, including hiring a private investigator, were all for naught. Early in November, expanded Homeland Security database information allowed LAPD to make positive identification and the family was contacted.

The grief we are experiencing over Eddie’s loss is, as you might expect, different from anything we’ve experienced as a family before. My wife and her sister are deeply troubled because Eddie was “alone” when he died. But I believe something different and more is weighing on us. Eddie was without family at his side at the time of his death. He has also been without family grief and remembrance for the fourteen years since then. And we in the family share with him in this latter aloneness, because through that whole time, we didn’t know.

Not knowing, we have not been able to remember him as we would have wanted; not knowing the loss, it has gone un-grieved. But now, in our awareness of our not knowing, the doubled depths of our mutual aloneness with Eddie have become tangible, a deeply marked wound of emptiness in our hearts.

It is as if we’ve been naked all these years and, just now finding out, we’re not so sure how to digest this news, not at all sure what is happening, why we feel so disoriented, even cheated. And, but, here is the light: not knowing truncated, effectively denied us our need to engage loss, to grieve and, over time, to find meaning. This need, not fully appreciated, yet shared by all peoples, was enabled to surface only through awareness.

Being un-aware of loss, being detached from this painful situation, did not relieve us of suffering; it stripped us of a fundamental and meaningful human experience, without which, we are…less.

Buddha teaches us that there is no liberation without the awareness and recognition of the suffering and pain inherent in human life. It is not that we transcend suffering or leave it behind, but that we transcend and leave behind the false idea that suffering, grief and loss are to be avoided. This is not only the starting point of Buddha’s teaching, but also where it stays.

With as full awareness as we can muster, we are encouraged to turn toward our suffering and the suffering of others. And by virtue of that turning awareness, we are freed. Freed to go more deeply into the heart of our own humanity, freed to come to know who we really are and to find true and sustaining meaning and joy.

For me and my family, this turning awareness allows us to once again hear Eddie’s voice, to respond in kind, to recognize our broken and fractured hearts and to begin on our way to becoming healed and whole.


For Eddie

Tides of silenced tears
Of lost grief
Of years of unknowing
—you’d died—
Alone amidst our unknowing
Stripped of the gift of ache and grief
We are lost

Winter Poems, 2008


Teacher as Teaching—Listening to Joanna Macy
Land of Medicine Buddha, Soquel, CA

The maple aside the outside deck
creaks softly, bumps the surrounding rail,
large yellowed leaves turning in their falling,
as in their living, even if unseen;
singularly certain reminders, as such
as those drifted past her turned back
as she spoke her living, her working
singularly flowing windowed segue
to that there opening
just beyond.



Turning is toward

not away, toward the tumultuous,
true to what is then,
there the fountain of which the stream flows,
seeing it as it is, resting easy
at its edge.



The Link

How long I have overlooked this. How long.
That the poems are praise and that praise
is everything.

Callings, voices heard, bell-tolled words,
blurred dreams’ retreat in drifts of currents
of sounds of human longing.

Ephemeral as moon beams
cast first to carpeted floors,
dissipating darknesses,

the natural consequence
of the greater turning
carrying the songs.



Can’t tell at first glance
if they’re coming or going;
big tumblers of rolling fog
along the ridge at dusk,
unfurling lighted street lamps.



Just talk…

of one rag-tag-bag of a sentence
thought after itself,
spilt like a wave in space, silence taken
rhythmed nuance and hidden rhyme,
just so much nonsense, just the same
as wild birdsong
rising from behind the backyard fence.



It must be Tuesday

say scattered high clouds
adrift in broken sky speaking,
a world emerged
of Buddhas’ whispers.


The Acetone can
speaks to window-let sunlight
warming the work bench.



Of Naomi Shihab Nye

Her words shift and slide
inside my heart, just as if
they’ve always lived there.



With the grand daughters

Nutcracker takes precedence
this day of preparations and expectations,
of baths and hair,
of watery steps and sidewalk sculptures,

of so many maybe’s and someday’s.



Where I come from

I once followed my Grandfather
behind a mule-drawn plow, turning the Carolina earth
into brown skinned potatoes

and peered, for what seemed hours of awe,
into the cavern of his workshop and all its cacophony of stuff
needed to bring a thing to click
with its intent.

I’ve followed that redolent turning,
season over season, for the whole of my adult life

and have come to believe, of those
who made me, he’d be first pleased I’ve lent so much of my living
to bringing poems to light.



For Hayden Carruth

                          "The next thing could have been tears"
                                                 Naomi Shihab Nye

Ex-pat poet, Robert Lax once said
making peace is saying what is true
for you,

for so, so many have come that way too.

Not so much a matter of same or similar steps,
nor even of specific words spoken and heard

—so few of us ever come to meet that way

No, to learn of your passing now is to recall
the settled fullness of the quiet of the hours,

the familiar feel and press of silent rivulets,
the imprint of breath imbedded wishes

broken and scattered, and the matter of regathering,
of commonly held prayers, poised in reach
on the opened page,

this knowing you are no longer there…


A poem by Hayden Carruth, from his collection, Scrambled Eggs & Whiskey:

What to Do

Tell your mind and its
to the white bloom
of the blue plum tree,

a responding beauty
of the one earth and ground,
for real.

Once a year
in April
in this region
you may tell
for a little while.