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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 ...

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Spring Scene (by Du Fu)

This Du Fu poem (written in the mid 8th century) captures the mood of the moment for me -- the return of spring in a world that has not yet emerged from a period of disruption and ruin.  Why write poetry at a time of seeming social collapse?  Is it a sympathetic fallacy to suppose that a millennium or so hence someone may understand that much better how they are feeling?  

Spring Scene

The country lies broken though
Mountains and rivers remain
As spring returns to the city
Grasses and trees regain
The depth of green

But in the mood 
Of these days
Dew sprinkles the flowers
Like tears on the cheek
And the heart knows only regret
Watching the sparrow take flight

For three months 
The beacon fires have flared
Making a letter from home
More precious than gold

And my white hair grown
Thin from constant scratching
Won't even hold a pin


Thursday, February 11, 2021

Ode to My Tinnitus

Oh tinnitus
Boon companion
Through all these years
Harbinger of headache
Sentinel of joy
How you dissipate
When I meditate
How you follow me
Walking along the shore

One of life's constants
Yet only a figment of
My perceptual apparatus
No less barometer of my soul
Coeval and coequally formed
An auditory shadow
That can never be ignored
Persistent and cloying
No one celebrates your arrival
Or will mourn when you're gone
Much as self-awareness itself
The atman and anatman
Together entwined 
Being an effect undeniable  
Still without discernible cause  

So pleased at last to encounter
Your mercurial nature
In slightly more fixed form

Marcelo Zissu's Brain

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Singing Alone in the Mountains (by Bai Juyi)

Everyone has their habits
Mine is composing verse
Everything else has faded away
But this weakness alone 
Has stayed with me

Whenever I come across
A beautiful scene
I want to do right
As I would with friend or kin
To sing aloud or make note
About this encounter
With divine mystery

Whether I'm floating down river
Or resting half way up the mountain
When a new poem
Presents itself

Or alone on the path
Hiking up the eastern cliff
Resting my body
Against the white rock
That overlooks the precipice
And clinging to the branches
Of a laurel tree

My wild song
Shatters the peace
Of the ravine below
The birds and apes
All cry in response
Whether they're
Scared or laughing
I can't be sure

And the suddenly
The world seems
As if I'm the last man
On the face of the earth


Friday, February 5, 2021

Four Poems by Rose Ausländer

 Plum Blossoms

Why do my people love the plum blossom?
My people are plum blossoms themselves

When winter storms with snow and ice
It brings forth the pink and white blossoms

When winter rages and road is forsaken
Undaunted, the blossoms forge ahead

Their tender leaves drunk with courage
Dance quietly to the wind that howls

It's more than luck, amidst the storm,
To show pluck against such mighty power

Seven told tales of the common folk
Sing praise of the plum blossom's quiet power

And wisely teach all seven tales
With iron fight but love gently

Or by the wisdom of the Chinese sages
From strength comes tenderness and
And from tenderness strength

When terror descends upon the earth
Such that all other blossoms hide in fright

Then you bloom in your still and quiet light
Bringing confidence to the world anew

Mother Tongue

I have myself
Transformed into myself
From moment to moment

Into pieces splintered
Along the way of words

Mother tongue
Put me back together

A human mosaic


Love (vi)

We will find ourselves
again in the lake
you as water
me as a lotus blossom

You will carry me
I will drink of you

We will belong to each other
for all to see

Even the stars
will be filled with wonder
how two here have been
transformed back
into a dream
of their choosing


The Heart Unheard

I hear the heart unheard
In my breath
A clock made of air
The melody in the music box
Alive inside the temple
With muted tones
Like spinning spheres

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Standing Alone (by Du Fu)

High above a hawk soars
On the river a pair of white gulls
Windswept, squabble over their prey
So easy it seems to roam far away

The grass heavy laden with dew
Beaded still on the spider webs too
Heaven's mysteries feel close at hand
Amidst ten thousand worries
Alone I stand

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Midwinter Dreaming

Last night
In the depths of winter
I dreamt of a blue butterfly Landing on the page of the book I was reading and I wondered Is this a message from The future or the past

For it was just as
I had once sat with
My brother who read to me
Holding a book in his lap
Before I could read for myself
And the butterfly flitted
About on the page
Never quite settling down

But if only I could learn
To read deep at last
Perhaps like a butterfly myself
One day I could become incarnate
Within the text and yet
Still somehow flutter
Around the page


This poem is based on a dream I had a few night ago. I might not have written it down if not for inspiration provided by David Starzynski (@sfourstarz) who wrote this tweet that I came across in my feed earlier today:

If a butterfly appeared
in the dead of winter here,
it would be so special.
Just sayin'

Funny, because that is exactly how the dream had made me feel. So this poem is my response to David's tweet, with a tip of the hat to Zhuang Zhou of course who holds an eternal copyright on this theme.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Gazelles Upon the Hillside

I heard the falling hooves
Of gazelles upon the hillside
Yet the temple bell
Remained still and quiet

How the spirit starts to tremble
When it can reach no higher
Then silence becomes a cave
Into which such loneliness retires