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The Journey to the West

Though we journey to the West We pray to the East More or less that's the way Each day begins and ends It’s a tale everyone ...

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Speaking About Chan (by Bai JuYi)

Here is a poem by Bai JuYi that I translated today. This will likely be one of the poems that will be included in The Poetry of Awakening, an anthology of Chinese poems about the search for enlightenment that I am preparing for publication later this year. 

Full of paradox and word play, this poem is something of a departure from Bai JuYi's usual plainspoken style.  It was written late in life, as Bai JuYi immersed himself more deeply in the study of Chan Buddhism.  When it comes to enlightenment, being plainspoken will only get you so far.

Speaking About Meditation


What you must know is

Nothing is as it seems

What appears lacking  

Overflows in abundance


Words soon forgotten

Words clearly understood

In a dream to speak of dreaming

Is profound and void of meaning


How does emptiness blossom

To provide a double blessing

How does a searing flame

Transform into a fish


Disturbance comes amidst

Meditation’s stillness

Meditation is movement

Not meditating

Not moving

Such as it is



须知诸相皆非相  若住无余却有余

 言下忘言一时了  梦中说梦两重虚 

 空花岂得兼求果  阳焰如何更觅鱼

摄动是禅禅是动  不禅不动即如如

Sunday, August 16, 2020

A Paroxysm of Green Delight

 In front of the Weesuck

Long in the tooth clinic

There's this hearty patch

Of milkweed thriving

In a sunny spot from which

My wife brought home a sprig

The other day so pretty

On our windowsill and

There to our surprise

We noticed three small caterpillars

Affixed to the velvety

Underside of the leaf

And the next thing I know

She spoke to our neighborhood

Shaman who advised us to put

It in a large mason jar

Cover it with gauze

Affixed with a rubber band

And wait for a week or two

To behold the holy liquefaction

And paroxysm of green delight

From which a Monarch is born

You don't really know

Why the basil failed to thrive

This year while the milk weed

Has thus transformed

But at least we have all winter 

To try and figure it out

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Summer on the Brink

Whether you’re one of 

Those ultra-fit  gentlemen 

Who are more like the hydrangea

Or day lily preferring to stay

In the background blooming

All summer long

Not the greatest blossom

Not the least


Or more like the hibiscus

You own two weeks

At the height of summer

In their entirety

Throwing all your glory

At the sun without

Rival in your peak


Or like the snow ball

Pointing longingly

Westward at sunset

So well intentioned

Summer brings us all

In various ways

Right to the brink

Photo by Carrie Welch

Monday, July 13, 2020

Magpie Bridge

There's a beautiful and mind-bending article in Sunday's New York Times about galactic walls.  Vast as the Milky Way is and hard as it is for us to comprehend space in such magnitude, it is really just a small bounded enclosure; and like a garden fence, it obscures us from the view of much vaster domains beyond.  If we could only peak over or around the Milky Way, we would glimpse all these other galaxies strung out like jewels on an endless necklace.  Here's a link to the article in case you haven't read it yet.

The article reminded me of the Chinese legend of the Cowherd and Weaver, which is basically the Chinese version of Pyramus and Thisbe set against the backdrop of the Milky Way.  When the Chinese looked skyward on a summer evening, they saw Vega and Altair positioned on either side of the great Milky Way as the celestial embodiment of these star-crossed lovers.  Magpie Bridge is how they described the band of darkness that spans the celestial river of light flowing between them.  Much as I admire the explanatory powers of modern astronomy, I find the ancient legend equally compelling in providing a way to comprehend the boundlessness of the summer sky at night.

As companion to the NY Times' article, here's my translation of Magpie Bridge, by the Song poet Qin Guan:

Magpie Bridge of the Immortals

A filigree of cloud drifts by chance
A star sends its regrets as it shoots across
The luminous flow of the Milky Way
In the vast skies of autumn
Cowherd and Weaver meet
For their brief rendezvous
Equal to ten thousand trysts
In the earthly domain below
Supple and yielding as water
The fleeting ecstasy of a dream
To stand and mutely gaze across
The span of Magpie Bridge
The route of eternal return
When two hearts unite forever
A day or night together is of no concern




Thursday, July 2, 2020

A Dream of Death

Death comes to me in the guise

Of an old friend who long ago

Traveled beyond but now

Has returned seeking

A means of ingress

It's his apartment really

That we have barricaded

Ourselves inside

Plushly furnished yet

Fearfully we hide

By the service entrance

By what right I wonder

Having renounced

Our friendship besides

Such intimacy we can't abide

So it is we have drawn  

These false boundary lines 

Hoping to segregate

Those of us still clinging to life

From all those who have died

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

First Bird of Morning

As if back from the dead
The first bird of morning
Sings its song sweetly
One voice to carry us all
Though long before dawn
And yet night has been
Banished completely

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Oh Yes ( in reply to Robert Creeley)

If you sit long enough
You will come to it
And when you get there
They will give you a place to sit
Except you'll be sitting already
And what you'll really want
Is to unbend your knees
And rise up in song
And then you may see no difference
Between arrival and moving along