Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Of this earth

It cannot save us

from ourselves,

but it will

salvage the pieces.


It’s not the bad things that happen. It’s where someone reaches out in a human way

to someone else that seems to be charged.

I’m concerned with work that lets us be passively engaged with it because right now there’s enough in the world that does that.

I don’t think that’s what poetry is about.

Nick Flynn, interview, citation misplaced


The point of connection is always the same,

thought aside that is—we connect

essentially in action, in exchange, in movement,

spontaneous, unique, shared

even in difference, co-extending

currents of connections.

The poem, says Bill Stafford,

is that group of words

that catches the reader’s attention,

just so…


Getting it “right is not about thought.


The priest performed the service at the shrine of his deceased child

every morning, at dawn

…for years. He did not ask

for any comforting but said

the printed words of the sutras

and poured fresh tea

into the images’ cups, then looked

out at the sea and sky

and turned to his daily work

of telling the living to live

and the dead ones to rest in peace.

Edith Shiffert, from The Kyoto Years


Aspen leaves quiver

in thin morning light, practice

before the sunrise.


I can’t say if this

is what my teachers had in mind,

only that it is mine.


I believe what my whole life says.

William Stafford 2/16/82

Is this vocation?

Seems lately that all I’ve left is words

that lead me endlessly,

albeit beautifully,


run their course, leave me

naked, a singular pulse

in the world spread large,


in the close-abiding silence

some call home

to the poem,

with nothing left

but to give myself

to it.


Butterfly wings, white

on white, flutter the courtyard—

shadows illumined.


Afternoon lies bright

on the deck overlooking

the high end of this small valley,

carrying light

the children’s voices

from the field aside the school,

organized play

made reckless and free,

affirmed as such.


San Pedro County Park

My path or yours?

The question was never posed.

The cat, lying large, center trail

in the sun, simply rose

and disappeared, leaving me there,

alone and glad.


The poet Buson

laments any day empty

of poems—possible?


Dreams are stories not yet lived.

Recollections sometimes speak of authentic innocence.

Each can be weighed in stories

now being told, adjustments made in their living.


First principles

The first principle at work is joy,

straight-forward residual of doing willingly

for others--the heart spreads, the mind rests,

each feeling more true

the matters at hand.

Though I’ve sympathy

for many named movements,

these I trust most.


It’s the light touch

that does us well, steady,


doing what it does,

as it does, we right there

at the rise of every breath.


Attentiveness is

not what we lack,

but who we are, bundles

of attentive receptors

responsively learning our way

the current shows

across the myriad pebbles,

among the rocks

against the smoothing banks,

the truest of our voices

always rising forth.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Owl Canyon, San Bruno Mountain

It’s a soft gateway, slow rising slopes to either side,

winter wet-lands, now an easy stretch of dulled thatch,

a cushioned bed for the softest surprise of beige-green

blends of grasses, topped specific

with rich chocolate nuggets.

An artist’s pallet, to be sure, well beyond the range of this tongue,

and I wish for my daughter-in-law’s presence,

her depth of color-sense, to hear her words

over this familiar meadow, making itself

made known anew.


Dropping into the gully where the big bay lives and the stream,

I disturb some crows at rest in the high branches, who without showing themselves,

start up scolding and complaining back and forth in the shadows.

Startled myself, I say I’m only passing through, that I come empty handed

and will leave the same. But it continues, they continue.

The webs that grabbed my face along the trail

suggest few visitors of late, even the winter rains have run their course,

the stream dry now, gone—I have intruded.

I speak again, to offer a song, a prayer, and sit on the limb of that oak

in the deserted camp of the hermits. I chant so they can hear,

melodic as possible, but the crows remain unconvinced.

It’s only when I add the wish of peace

for all things living that they calm, only when I’m done with that

that they quiet and take wing,

leaving me alone to care for the silence of this place.


Coming out of the summer hills, where color

traces among mixed grasses, flies on petals and wings,

I arrive at the edge of the industrial park,

face to face with the red, white and blue, fully blustered

in the wind, beautiful, in its way

under the sun—I nod, so as not to offend,

but pass quickly,

quietly keeping my distance.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Sierra poems

blowing along

blowing along...

a little butterfly

-Issa, 1804

From the Sierra…

good news, a breathtaking abundance of wild flowers, now at its height in this late starting season. Just returned from two nights and three days in the Carson Pass area of the El Dorado National Forest, a few miles into the wilderness, off Hwy 88.

The flowers were stunning, walking through garden after garden of color beyond words; and at both of the peaks we managed to scramble, just below 10,000 ft., we were met by the joyous dancing of high mountain butterflies.

Lake Winnemucca,

under an arc of illumined star dust

--the Milky Way

flows over our heads, tossed

and turned by night winds.


Well, it was light,

before the sun, the sky clear

of everything.

So I went to the lake

to bathe.

Night winds

pushed the last of the ice

to rest against snow covered out crops

rising a thousand feet


the rushed and dimpled surface

now coming, as I,

under the early reach of the sun,

in witness—a kind word

for this kind feeling,

not to explain or capture,

but to respond in kind

to the love

therein extended.


All throughout the day and the night,

snow-melt cascades,

its mark, the silent stretch of granite

into the waiting sky.

Marmots appear with the first fall of sunlight,

young and old, each atop

a single of the scattered rocks,

each alone, to sit and listen.

A place of ancient prayers, a time

of refuge—wishes are sung here, hearts

offered over the lake in the many tongues

found in the winds—whispers, here received.

And as the birds, two of them, call out

three times, then turn to take their leave,

I turn to my bowed shadow to vow

not to go back to sleep.


Back in the low-lands, again…

Becoming not so certain

at all, of most things, any

thing, tentative steps become

the certainty, a certain

kind of dance, light, attentive,

wondering where the music

falling itself off the tongue

will lead, wondering whose heart

directs the next joyous step.

Friday, July 29, 2011

From where I stand

From where I stand this morning

…clouds bank every horizon lower, every

suggestion of clear movement hemmed and dimmed,

even the surface waters of the bay, even reflection

lulled to dispersions of histories of agitations

…the child raises the parent still unresolved,

still searching the roughened patchworks

for silvered slivers of light, for the breakthrough

the child must find for itself

…after the darkness, doves

sheltered among the leaves, collect

stories of distance

caused by pain claimed as one’s own

and of the healing wanting there.


All things ever, pass.

Yet, even the slightest shift

or pause is the whole.


Crow calls free a sky

trapped in the lamp-lighted room,

taking me along.


For the long haul, how it works

is something answered by each

life as it is being lived,

that living the transmission,

the only transmission that’s

needed to complete that life.

Though residual signals

stand to benefit

every one within their reach.


Solitary life?

Open a window—ideal

as oxymoron.



the bigger picture,

the one just so as it is

beyond the limitations

of perceived needs

the one

we are lived by and always

in relation to,

that remembrance

that living

of spontaneous care

of just what has been given

to one.

“Everything in my life

is my life.”

Ogui Sensei


Of liberation and grace

A fundamental principle

of liberated living

is expressed in the awareness that the larger questions

of context, of direction, of the conditions and time

for death, are beyond our control,

hands and heart set free

to care for and to tend to what needs to be done right here,

right now.

The fundamental principals

in the life of grace are

me and you.


Often, not always,

what needs most to be done, calls

a name not for ears.


Heavier worries,

like dead leaves, drop with each step.

Face into the wind.


Before its leaf life, what was it

I wonder, was it tree,

could we say limb or seed,

what of bud or root, or

those fine veins that stretch its tips

reaching for sun and sky?

What was its life before

this browned and crumpled one

that bounces and jumps

and calls out, its thinning voice low

across the roughened surface

of the street?

What before,

and what next?


Delightful. When all’s

been cleared

of the extraneous stuff

and dust

collected in the drift of


Positively delightful.

Once asked

the benefits of chanting


as practice, the old man


his forehead a bit,

brows up,

Its like taking out the garbage,

he says,

let it go too long,

and things

begin to stink.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Calistoga poems

Calistoga, off the main roads

To rest, delivered in the page, to deliver

to the page the mind making sense to itself

in words making sense of the world

making peace with itself

in words seeking ease,

tensionless harmonies

of sense and sound,

cured on the curl of the tongue

turned back around

to silence.

July 2


It’s a settled quiet, that of this place

of oaks and shrubs and sun-covered hills,

where the spread of wings claims currents

that cannot be seen,

where among the trees the only trace

trails the longest of the moss,

and that, imagined

before believed.

The perpetual push to peace

is of the mind.

Simply to notice, is enough

for the heart to know.

July 3


I could study, but morning openly invites such silence

as it layers dusts of light over brittle grasses, as it softens roughened barks

with its breath. I could study, I think, then know

that this that I do studies

what’s being done, not what we’ll do,

tends to the going, not to the where, follows

the quieted heart again

to the truth

of who we are, is

who we are with.

July 4


And further considerations, after the fact…

Curves, dots, straight lines linked

together, nothing holds true

enough to hold me--

even when sounded, words don’t

justify the felt.

Yet I keep at it,

day by day, pushing words out

into an always

receptive silence that takes

all that’s given, suggests all held back.

No wrong position,

no stance unacceptable,

free to move about

within an ever-changing

world, where the only password is yes.


Summer blooms,

despite the stretch of mists’

moist blanket, low

along the northern coast

--summer scents

and jacaranda blossoms--

multi-layered metaphors

for the unnamable magic, calling

the many things that are not

that, enabling the mind

to taste anew

what senses already know.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

While moving...

Memorial Day…

flags flap

the languid currents

of an empty breeze

and the count continues


Although it is where we live,

we are not our thoughts.

Think about it.


Across the distance,

streaks of white.

Green hills and pigeons



Awareness of the first

comes with the falling of the second,

to the floor of my heart.

With the sharp shock of recognition

of denial—all that presents itself

presents the way.


We slip into the airport without a hitch,

only to find our flight delayed--

the cheek-to-cheek dance

of successive connections

bringing us face-to-face

with patience.



Recalling, along the canal

this morning, the rising tide

of Buddha’s name

pushing past my lips.


We are our response

to the world.

Up close and personal,

always we.


Jet-lag overtakes us

as Amsterdam takes us in,

hovering, just outside

closed curtains, glistening

about the edges.


The sun multiplied by bees equals honey.

Joseph Stroud

Perception cleared is Wisdom,

the pure feeling of living appreciation,

the world in us, we in it, and it of itself

one continuous moment in movement…


These days the canals are murky,

but along with time

carry the beauty of human purpose

--determined serenity

for the morning walker

and the sky revealing its plan

to anyone happening



Of canals, and of water

The city begins

in a single circle, and

like a stone in a pond,

says our guide,

expands in sweeps of liquid ingenuity.


Morning gulls glide

the empty quiet

drunken young men

seem intent to fill.


I’ve walked this stretch of canal before,

but not like this, after night rains,

the calmed surface collecting light

from the cloud-broken sky

to hold the shining faces

of surrounding buildings

that peer

over its edge.


Holland is in the Netherlands

From the downside slope of the dike,

we listen to the waters of the River Lek

flowing above our heads.


The Church of the Beguinage, Brugge

Originally widows of the Crusades, the Beguinage gathered in small, walled communities

to live in silent devotion. Neither taking vows, nor joining orders, they made good, simply, their intentions to create cities of peace, islands of inclusive kindness

within the greater ocean.

The hushed center compound is shaded by tall, high-crowned trees that watch over

the chapel and its almost invisible, white-clad Benedictines. Any who would come

in silence, are received in silence. A place of warmth that spreads throughout the limbs,

a place made to be so.



And the world is not such a strange place

after all, light begets light, warmth absorbs cold

and leaves of every color fall

in their time.

The important work is to befriend the mystery,

for the distance perceived

is of our own making, our own



The city bustles with modern high-rises, business centers, ancient central squares

and narrow cobblestone streets, where statues of little boys pee

into fountains, for photo ops.

And Spring arrives full blaze, burning the skies into blue, as the sun

draws aside the chill, to lay down its work, without so much

as a wrinkle’s difference.


Brussels to Paris

Large with rivers, this land sings

all the varied songs of water,

and then some.

Joseph Stroud speaks of Earth as Language.

And answers, in a breath, the essential question

of poetry, of poets,

of all mankind.


And about you and me…

Forty-four years,

if counting, and if not

a life-time, and even then,

tonight in Paris.

May 19

Albert Saijo

For Albert Saijo 2/4/26-6/3/11

Learned today, June 6th, of Albert Saijo’s passing, today,

I recall as I write the number, my father’s birthday

—gone at 48, well over forty years ago—

and what I remember most now

is the beauty of the day

we buried him.

Out-right resistance was not an option for the son of a man

of his time and experience—a bond shared with most

of my boyhood friends—expectations were as hard

and fast as our fathers’ hands, neither of which

could be avoided, both of which

had long, long reach.

Sublimated resistance truncates and so carried and digested,

festered and reflected upon over time and over time


The city of Amsterdam, I’ve learned, began with a single canal,

a circle, like a stone in a pond.

Nanao Sakaki passed last year, earth wanderer, witness to the final planes

of the Pacific Theater, sometime poet whose intended reach

was the universe, once said a circle big enough to sit in

and to sing, is enough.

And now poet Albert Saijo, having encountered them both only within

the circles of their poems—not more than enough, but enough.

Saijo began in camps reserved for citizens of the wrong color, lived

later solitary years at the edge of an active volcano,

so as to not take up too much room,

saying, all we can do is something with our personal lives,

something “to take energy away

from the madness.”

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sound of a calling voice

When I walked this morning,

cloud-cover was heavy, and even now,

so short awhile later,

some earlier breaking reversed,

the sense of rain returned.

But for a moment,

ascending the lower slopes,

light broke the horizon silver-white

--so luminous—

breath caught my throat,

my body stilled right there,

feet to pavement—it passed,

as I said,

but in that moment, it was there

and I there with it.

Our sense of self, sense of world, co-arise as simultaneous movements mutually imprinting seemingly separate surfaces of being—but only seemingly separate, our teachers tell us. World transformed is self transformed, and vice-verse. The problem then, not them, but me.

I, as do you, ache often these days, despair at the pain, frustration and horror of conditions in immediate surroundings and in the world at large. And in the face of it all, the counsel to focus on self, seems, well, ludicrous, self-serving, even non-responsive.

But no matter how legitimate, how compelling the call to relieve the suffering, to do something, political, social or religious, our collective failure to attain sustained resolution is obvious—we live, have lived within the results of such failed efforts our entire lives.

Unless the self is seen clearly, the world remains immersed in cloud-cover. And self is seen most clearly in immediate relation, not in the abstract. Think of it. Buddha lived over 2,500 years ago, awaking in a world of human relations and conditions very similar to ours. He found, like us, that he could not ignore the confusion he witnessed, but he did not start a movement. He turned to those around him, those who he could touch, those who were within the reach of his voice, whose voices reached his ears, and he spoke with them, walked with them, lived with them. That’s all.

Movements are fine, as long as our individual movement, up close and personal, emanates clarity and integrity—this is the most valuable contribution we ever make. This work doesn’t do for good sound bites, cannot be tallied or twittered or measured. And it is never finished. It’s the real work. In and of itself it resonates in ways and in time far beyond anything we can imagine. Think about it.

Cold Light

Cold Light

Diamond-like clarity travels cold

the manifold currents, cracks self-concern,

reveals self-suffering, crumbles

the crooked walls of the darkness

of presumed otherness

This far-reaching indifference of wisdom

vision unfolds an always lurking compassion

only when fused in communal warmth,

only by passage in the movement of breath

Breath, the reach of hearts,

the rhythm of living and dying,

the reach of solitary voices

meeting in the night.


Looking west to cross-valley slopes,

street lamps blink and disappear in the mist.

Yet even at this waking hour,

except for one or two, the many homes there

remain strangely silent.

The small, framed light

emanating from my own, I realize then,

is a certain signal of life

to even the most casual glance

from the other side.

Amazing, my teacher would say,

even as we go along our own selfish way,

we shine with possibilities

only others will see.

The Circle

He’s turned sixteen today, early this morning to be exact

—his great grandfathers, both of them passing before their own

were born—and I now sit and prepare to sit in circle

a first time, with a grandchild sixteen years full into life.

That it will wax and wane, the sense of it, the fullness of it

always remains, and it is of this I wish to tell him,

of the fullness, of receiving and of giving, of reciprocity,

of the flow that sustains.

And that it is the most simple acts, the acts of recognition

of participation as the gift that fulfills, as the gift that speaks

of the character and of the direction

of true human being.

This, my wish, I told him for his living,

the very same I hold for my own

and too for you

who hear.

The tree in front of Starbucks

The tree in front of Starbucks

Berkeley mornings are not like others,

I think to myself, waking earlier

than usual to unfamiliar sounds, lightly

traced dreams leaving

only as I relent and rise.

The wispy slip of tree has survived,

still bent but taller, leafless

this time, this time

of year.

It was spring

I believe, last time I looked out

from this window, the morning sky,

building tops, looking down

on the street.

And the tree

bent, in a bow perhaps,

to solitary passers-by

who offer in exchange, perhaps

a glance.

As for me, of course

I remember this tree, look for it as I walk

strange streets away from home, for a signal

in the distance, a signal of something here,


and found, an intimacy

rekindled in the warmth of recognition

of simply what is,

and all there is,

right here.


I watch the light

as it comes in the front

of the house in dulled hues,

blunt against the tree’s leaves,

the windowed bamboo.

Different from the back’s expanse,

across the small valley

still and asleep, breathing


It moves as it will,

answers in its own time and manner,

always full, but to conditions

as it sees.

Changes as it sees fit, and in the end,

of its own accord,

it leaves.

I’ve never heard anyone

speak of it as selfish.

Other poems from the month of March, and before

A chance meeting with the neighbor

opens a community garden project

of pears grafted to pears, to apples, and apples

to apples, and more plans

in the offing—after a year or so

of cooled communications,

we’ve stumbled into watching together

for the coming work of spring,

over both sides of the fence.


I’d not heard it like this before, as morning woke

the upper slopes across the way, it spoke

of time’s whispers—death, it said, is but a change in light.


Our teachers,

sometimes disguised

as friends,

often slip by unnoticed,

leaving gifts behind

just the same.


Did he say,

as we hunched

over lunch,

did he say,

We’re not grateful

for this food,

but for

that great heart

that loves


we cannot.


Poet, Cid Corman, counted

syllables, because, he said,

syllables--every one--count.


While everyone talks

of the cold, the coming snows,

fruit trees push petals.


Dialects of light

The sky starts toward blue,

then slips into the high cast gray

of coming rains—in the garden

daffodils hold to their own.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

February Poems

An angel came last night

to my ear and whispered “love.”

I whispered back, Buddha’s name.

Last night in a dream an angel said,

“love” and Buddha’s name came to me

over and over, it went on

like this: whisper—name,

name whispered; love—Buddha, Buddha’s love.

Just a dream, I knew, but in the dream

I smiled, and was glad.


Songs come, they come

from where they come—so

sing, just sing

as the children do.


Stay with dis-ease, as long as

it stays, that is—

sometimes it lingers sometimes

not—of the many gifts of light,

shadow is



Of this life…

The challenge lies in the fallow fields

of the wintered heart, hardened by promises

hidden beneath its own cold crust.

Probed by the simple persistence

of the pen, turned, over time, to reveal

the multi-flowered faces,

the myriad silent poems released into voice

at the singular touch

of sunlight.


Not surrender, no, not closing

down; but realizing, an opening,

a fallen away.


As night’s blackness retreats, horizons

first emerge dark

against thinning ribbons

of salmon-pink, and morning wakens

across the sky-spread face

of the bay.


I’ve come to notice in the morning hours

before light or just as light breaks, or

in the evenings past sun down and the air

settling, Buddha’s name

rises readily

to the lips,

and that this is not so for me

in between, in the sun’s time, as if

Buddha’s work is more fluid

closer to dark, and otherwise moves

as all but silent…bubbles



From past notes

The abiding silence often spoken of, carries—it’s not

the reverse—it carries us, coaxes,

encourages along an inner current of vulnerability

that remains quieted, unless exposed

to lighted air, in an out-rush release of joy.



a certain sadness

seems appropriate enough

for it does indeed end

but sadness motivated by joy

is no barrier



So close a companion for so many years,

the writing, the poems,

I’d almost never have guessed it my way

or that so many would so readily see

it that way too—such sparkling newness

at this late age.



North coast forests crowd right down to the bluffs

overlooking the breakers

and the distant horizons of their coming.



All along the road, California Lilac sing

by their common name—blue-blossom.



“From here on out,”

wrote Issa…beginnings…

From here on out,

I will live this life, as given

in the poetry that is nembutsu.

No more “abouts”—that

I’ve done, can leave to others

—but the living, as given,

that’s for me

from here on out…