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. 

Heart Beats

The Heartbeat Sutrafor Sandino,
                                                  July 2013

I’ve heard it said, Grandson, that Buddha once said,
as he sat at sun’s rising, that heartbeats transmute
and all else follows—and in that gathering

of waiting leaves, of night let go, Buddha paused
to watch the words and all they were
return to the wonder of beginnings,

then turned his hand to raise a flower 
to meet the gaze of eyes been raised
to meet the bluing sky.

And so it is with you, in the ease and offering
of your infant sleep, the same
throb and promise.

As half-finished darkness holds silent the house
and all around us has paused,
the gentle curve of your open-cupped palm

reveals the assurance, the articulation
and the wonder of the beginnings
of our beating hearts.



Silence allows hearing,
stillness permits sight and touch
and the generous capacity to speak
enables navigation of the oceans of words
that define our humanity—left, right,
up, down, beginnings and ends—where
would we be without this ?


Turning in ever-tightening circles,
trying to site the source of the blinding cacophony,
I finally find its voice 

to be my own—and in this startling release,
relief and ease, begin to discern
its song…


flowers dance…

stems bend to winds
afloat with fogs

and dew
that gladly coat

the needled pines,
got drunk

on the breath of gods…


About attitude

Not so much to write poems,
but to write to see what comes—music or dissonance,
though not the same, are of the same mouth
and worthy of similar considerations.

Like time, the time to trace,
the time to witness the turns the words
will make to reach the page, line by line,
word by word, the world revealed, itself remade.


And of writing the day awake,

watching the light come in
where none had been,

unfolding across the sill
and on to the page poured over all over

with lighted words,
writing themselves awake

in the way of the coming day.


there’s been this voice

--all along I suppose,
         low-toned, unobtrusive, 
a most constant companion
         I’d taken to be my self,
and rightly so, I’d say—

but not the one I’d had in mind


Bodhisattvas everywhere

Slowly rising out
of the swirl of indecision,

of seemingly interminable
bait and switch,  to view

through the window
soft pink petals

atop stems some five feet tall 
and perfectly still, paused

as if to wait, to hear
my heart beat.