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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 ...

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Untitled - 1 (8-24)

Many thanks to Susan Saunders who hosted us for a wonderful week in Nova Scotia where this poem was written.  What inspired it was an apple tree growing in the middle of the backyard just outside our bedroom window. Now it turns out that apple trees grow all over Nova Scotia, literally with abandon and seemingly receiving little or no care, certainly without the benefit (or detriment) of any sprays, organic or otherwise, yet these trees from older root stocks nonetheless bear hearty and delicious fruit, showing no evidence of bugs or blight. How remarkable is that?

Late one afternoon
Just before sunset
We partook of the fruits
From the Tree of Life
In the bedroom overlooking
The apple tree in the backyard
Present prescient and reminiscent
 Became one and the same time
So all knowledge begins locally
Grows situationally and expands
Through further experience
As the entire cosmos
Comes into view
Starting from
A single bite

photo by Susan Saunders

As common a site as apple trees are in Nova Scotia, the one in our backyard was particularly comely, as you can see for yourself from Susan's great photo.  I had a chance to write a few more poems up there (including this one) which I will try to get around to posting in the next few days.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

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 can comprehend
A cosmic frolic on the primal side
About an enlightened primate
Wielding a golden cudgel
A story two parts antic for every
One part pious with a dash
Of the discordant thrown in besides

So I am pleased to announce publication
Of Monkey King's complete adventures
In an all new verse translation
Which provides a full and accurate account
Of the development of Monkey Mind
It thus not only portrays Monkey's story
But your's as well as mine

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Ode to an Old Birch on the Edge of the Meadow

The old birch has lodged
Itself right between
The poplar and the willow
In its disposition
Towards life
Up and down to and fro
Maybe that's what makes
Its leaves tremble in the wind
Knowing how much there is
That can go wrong
And yet remaining open
To every possibility
In every wind
Its spinnaker
Billows out

Watercolor by M. Bridge

The poplar and willow are an important concept or symbol in Tang poetry and Daoist cosmology.  The pairing is significant (I believe) because the two trees represent the opposite forces of Yin and Yang at work in nature: the upwardly thrusting poplar tree being the embodiment of Yang energy and the yielding willow the embodiment of Yin.  

While enjoying the late afternoon sun in our backyard up in Nova Scotia for the last week, I noticed this beautiful old birch tree growing on the edge of the meadow and I realized it had achieved a perfect compromise between the two extremes of the poplar and willow.  Perhaps that's why the birch has always been one my favorite trees and I hope this poem serves as a proper tribute. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

A Blossom Falling on Water ( by Qi Ji)

The connection between silence and poetry runs deep.  This is a discovery that can be newly made every time one of us slows enough and settles on the mat.  What sometimes emerges from quiet contemplation is a meditative poem, as our thoughts gradually lose velocity and trend towards stillness.

Here's a fine example of a meditative poem by the Chan monk Qi Ji which was written in the late 9th century/early 10th century.   Instead of calling this a poem (诗) or using one of the many other standard Chinese synonyms for poetic writing, Qi Ji describes this piece with the phrase 怀 which I have translated as words inscribed in the heart.  This strikes me as a very apt way to describe a poem that serves as a bridge leading us to a place where words no longer suffice.

Along the path to the forest temple
Words inscribed in the heart

There’s clamor enough
When a blossom
Falls on the water
In this remote place
Residing in faith
Night and day

Whoever comes to
This mountain temple
Can grasp it
If first they take
Broom in hand
To sweep pine needles
From the front gate

These are the matters
Which should remain
Unsaid except for the poem
Still unformed and
Wordless in your head
Rumor and innuendo
And good news
From the world
The countless desires
That burden us
Along with the cries
Of the forest apes







Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Ode to a Vestigial Context

From dust to dust
And from bit to bit
You know one day
Not so long ago
They used to give you
A paper receipt
At the grocery store
But now we are so
Much further adrift and
Manifest only virtually
As every day a little less
Gets affixed to the page

*  *  *  *  *  *

This poem is noteworthy in the means of its composition inasmuch as it represents one of the few times I have completely dispensed with the initial step of writing the words down in one of my little black notebooks (which for the last four or five years I have been in the habit of carrying everywhere around) and instead I wrote it on a handheld device as I was standing in line at the supermarket and posted it directly here to the blog.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Newly Planted Pines (by Qi Ji)

This is a poem by the poet-monk Qi Ji who wrote in the late Tang period, as the dynasty was settling into terminal decline.  This is the first of his poems that I've translated so I don't yet have any idea of the range of his work.  But I like the simplicity and understatement of this poem and his thoughtful way of describing cultivation in terms of both the inner and outer landscape.

The Newly Planted Pines

By a field near where
The monks have taught
Things grow in accordance
With Buddha’s law
Luxuriantly sprouting forth
When disheveled then weeded

In a hundred years
A man grows old but 
It will take a millennium
For these pines to
Attain their full stature

Peaceful and proper
In a thick stand they grow
Among bamboo and rocks
The wild apes hiding
In the forest nearby

A day will come when they will
Cast thick shade behind
And when the autumn wind blows
They will sway like an ocean wave