Friday, February 24, 2012

complete unknowing

Happy Birthday, Jane

Awareness and self-consciousness are delicate matters. Trying to examine more deeply what poems are and how they work has informed my life and brought me great joy. I don't think that attentiveness ever diminishes experience. There are times, however, when you don't want to be self-conscious. One is while writing the first draft of a new poem. At that stage too much consciousness is limiting and therefore damaging. It can wall off the permeable, the mysterious, everything you don't already know. When I write, I don't know what is going to emerge. I begin in a condition of complete unknowing, an utter nakedness of concept or goal. A word appears, another word appears, an image. It is a moving into mystery. Everything I am and know and have lived goes into a poem. I hope I'll never be governed by theoretical knowledge when I set out to write. Poems are born in part from the history and culture of other poems, but in writing I hope to learn a new thing, something fresh about what's going on in that moment, in my own life and in the world. Craft consciousness is essential to the finished poem, but comes later.

~ Jane Hirshfield
 from a 1997 Atlantic Monthly interview

straw dogs

Heaven and Earth are impartial;
they treat all of creation as straw dogs.
The Master doesn't take sides;
she treats everyone like a straw dog.

The space between Heaven and Earth is like a bellows;
it is empty, yet has not lost its power.
The more it is used, the more it produces;
the more you talk of it, the less you comprehend.

It is better not to speak of things you do not understand.

~ Lao Tzu
from the Tao Te Ching
translation by j.h.mcdonald
art by van gogh

Thursday, February 23, 2012

words do not come

words do not come
there is no need for profound utterances or
deep truths
here is an ordinary evening
why spoil it with dramatic overstatement

the silence amidst the noise
the gem at the core 
of every experience
is polished by simple attention
into shining magnificence

~ Nirmala
from Gifts with no Giver: A Love affair with Truth

the tower of spirit

The spirit has an impregnable tower
Which no danger can disturb
As long as the tower is guarded
By the invisible Protector
Who acts unconsciously, and whose actions
Go astray when they become deliberate,
Reflexive, and intentional.

The unconsciousness
And entire sincerity of Tao
Are disturbed by any effort
At self-conscious demonstration.
All such demonstrations
Are lies.

When one displays himself
In this ambiguous way
The world outside storms in 
And imprisons him.

He is no longer protected 
By the sincerity of Tao.
Each now act
Is a new failure.

If his acts are done in public, 
In broad daylight,
He will be punished by men.
If they are done in private
And in secret,
They will be punished
By spirits.

Let each one understand 
The meaning of sincerity
And guard against display!

He will be at peace
With men and spirits
And will act rightly, unseen,
In his own solitude,
In the tower of his spirit.

~ Chuang Tzu
translation by Thomas Merton
sketch by Thomas Merton

the frontiers of language

Where can I find a man who has forgotten words? 
He is the one I would like to talk to. 

~ Chuang Tzu

But before we come to that which is unspeakable and unthinkable, 
the spirit hovers on the frontiers of language, 
wondering whether or not to stay on its own side of the border, 
in order to have something to bring back to other men. 
This is the test of those who wish to cross the frontier. 
If they are not ready to leave their own ideas and their own words behind them, 
they cannot travel further. 

~ Thomas Merton
from No Man is an Island

The unconsciousness
And entire sincerity of Tao
Are disturbed by any effort
At self-conscious demonstration. 

~ Chuang Tzu

In The Way of Chuang Tzu, Merton is communicating his own joy from his spirit’s tower. He has found a new friend who has taught him the irony of words as well as the value of irony. Like the best of Merton’s words, The Way of Chuang Tzu points to an experience of contemplation, while it reverently and wisely backs away from providing or insisting upon such an experience. Just as Merton kicks away Chuang Tzu like a ladder after experiencing the unknowing Chuang Tzu describes, Merton invites us to climb his own words and to forget them as well. 

~ commentary from slow reads

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Gods are everywhere:
war between Koshi and Izumo
tribes still rages.

The all of All, the One
ends distinctions.

The three thousand worlds
are in that plum blossom.
The smell is God.

~ Shinkichi Takahashi
translation by Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto
from  Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter
art by Zheng Faxiang


The universe is forever falling apart --
No need to push the button,
It collapses at a finger's touch:
Why, it barely hangs on the tail of a sparrow's eye.

The universe is so much eye secretion,
Hordes leap from the tips
Of your nostril hairs. Lift your right hand:
It's in your palm. There's room enough
On the sparrow's eyelash for the whole.

A paltry thing, the universe:
Here is all the strength, here the greatest strength.
You and the sparrow are one
And, should he wish, he can crush you.
The universe trembles before him.

~ Shinkichi Takahashi
translation by Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto
with thanks to poetry chaikhana

Anouar Brahem

أنــور ابـراهــيــم Anouar Brahem (oud) • Klaus Gesing (bass clarinet) • Björn Meyer (bass) • Khaled Yassine (darbouka, bendir)

with thanks to Chemin faisant

Saturday, February 18, 2012

a voice of love

Every second a voice of love 
comes from every side. 
Who needs to go sightseeing? 

We came from a majesty, 
and we go back there.

~ Rumi
translation by Coleman Barks
from Rumi - Bridge to the Soul

Thursday, February 16, 2012


虚空(高画質版) koku (High Quality)
眞玉 和司 matama kazushi, 尺八 shakuhachi
2008/02/11 四季の音50回 shikino-ne 50

snowed in again

Snow has been falling for three days.  The horses stay in the barn.   At four I leave the house, sinking to my waist in snow, and push open the door of my writing shack.  Snow falls in.  At the desk there is a plant in blossom.

The plant faces the window where snow sweeps past at forty miles an hour.  So the snow and the flowers are a little like each other.  In both there is the same receiving, the longing to circle slowly upward or sink down toward roots.  Perhaps the snow and the orangey blossoms are both the same flow, that starts out close to the soil, close to the floor, and needs no commandments, no civilizations, no drawing room lifted on the labor of the claw hammer, but is at home where one or two are present.

The two people sit quietly near each other.  In the storm, millions of years come close behind us.  Nothing is lost, nothing is rejected.  The body is ready to sing all night, and be entered by whatever wishes to enter the human body singing.

~ Robert Bly
from Reaching out to the World
New and Selected Prose Poems
art by Daoji, c.1695, Qing dynasty


I looked into my brother’s eye
and saw a tree there waving. 
I passed beyond a garden gate 
and heard a mountain calling. 
I walked a long a stony path 
and tasted waves a–spraying. 
I looked into my brother’s eye 
and felt a fire – burning. 

Deep beyond the black, black sky, 
I looked into my brother’s eyes 
and saw myself there waving.

~ John Lavan
more at Real Poems

Elizabeth Peratrovich Day

Civil Rights Leader
Elizabeth Peratrovich


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is remembered as the great civil rights movement leader during the 1960s. Elizabeth Jean Wanamaker Peratrovich is remembered as Alaska's great equal rights campaign leader for Alaska Natives in the 1940s. Elizabeth's moving and dramatic presentation before the Alaska Territorial Legislature on February 8, 1945, was responsible for changing the views of biased senators on the "Equal Rights" bill. The bill passed and immediately became law, thus beginning a new era in Alaska's racial relations.

Forty-seven years ago, Elizabeth Peratrovich championed the cause of civil rights in Alaska and silenced the voices of prejudice and discrimination.

It was February, 1945. The Territorial Senate met as a Committee of the Whole to discuss the equal rights issue and a bill prohibiting racial discrimination in Alaska.

The bill was assailed as a "lawyer's dream" which would create hard feelings between Natives and whites. Many senators stood in turn to speak against equal rights. Their arguments are, by now, familiar ones in this country.

-- They said the bill would aggravate the already hard feelings between Natives and whites.

-- They said the bill was unnecessary -- that Natives had made great progress in the 10 centuries since contact with white civilization.

-- They said the real answer was in the separation of the races.

Those are the ideas we have come to recognize in the last 20 years as the public face of private injustice. The opponents of racial equality have always refused to recognize the problem. Refused to recognize the injury done. Refused to recognize the jobs lost, the poverty incurred, the blows to self-esteem sustained every day by those who have done nothing to merit such injury.

Those voices of prejudice were reduced to a whisper, 47 years ago, by a woman who spoke from the heart.

According to the legislative custom of the time, an opportunity was offered to anyone present who wished to speak on the bill. Elizabeth Peratrovich was the final speaker on that day in 1945. After the long speeches and logical arguments were over, Elizabeth rose to tell the truth about prejudice.

"I would not have expected," she said "that I, who am barely out of savagery, would have to remind gentlemen with five thousand years of recorded civilization behind them of our Bill of Rights."

She talked about herself, her friends, her children, and the cruel treatment that consigned Alaska Natives to a second class existence.

She described to the Senate what it means to be unable to buy a house in a decent neighborhood because Natives aren't allowed to live there.

She described how children feel when they are refused entrance into movie theaters, or see signs in shop windows that read "No dogs or Natives allowed."

She closed her testimony with a biting condemnation of the "Super race" attitude responsible for such cruelty. Following her speech, there was a wild burst of applause from the Gallery, and the Senate proceeded to pass the Alaska Civil Rights Act by a vote of 11–5.

On that day in 1945, Elizabeth Peratrovich represented her people as the Grand President of the Alaska Native Sisterhood. She was a champion of Alaska Natives and of all people who suffered from discrimination.

In the years since Alaska statehood, we have had too few women and minorities elected to office. But their presence has been felt, just as Elizabeth Peratrovich's presence was felt that day in 1945. In naming Gallery B for Elizabeth, we honor her today for her vision, her wisdom, and her courage in speaking out for what she believed to be right. She symbolizes the role the gallery plays in the legislature and the importance of public opinion in the legislative process. She reminds us that a single person, speaking from the heart, can affect the future of all.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


The one close to me now,
even my own body -
these too
will soon become clouds,
floating in different directions.

~ Izumi Shikibu
from The Ink Dark Moon
translations by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Aratani

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Placido Domingo and John Denver

for the Lobaria, Usnea, Witches Hair, Map Lichen, Beard Lichen, Ground Lichen, Shield Lichen

Back then, what did I know?
The names of subway lines, buses.
How long it took to walk twenty blocks.

Uptown and downtown.
Not north, not south, not you.

When I saw you, later, seaweed reefed in the air,
you were gray-green, incomprehensible, old.
What you clung to, hung from: old.
Trees looking half-dead, stones.

Marriage of fungi and algae,
chemists of air,
changers of nitrogen-unusable into nitrogen-usable.

Like those nameless ones
who kept painting, shaping, engraving
unseen, unread, unremembered.
Not caring if they were no good, if they were past it.

Rock wools, water fans, earth scale, mouse ears, dust,
Transformers unvalued, uncounted.
Cell by cell, word by word, making a world they could live in

~ Jane Hirshfield
from Come, Thief

Monday, February 13, 2012

A land not mine

A land not mine, still
forever memorable,
the waters of its ocean
chill and fresh.

Sand on the bottom whiter than chalk,
and the air drunk, like wine,
late sun lays bare
the rosy limbs of the pinetrees.

Sunset in the ethereal waves:
I cannot tell if the day
is ending, or the world, or if
the secret of secrets is inside me again.

~ Anna Akhmatova, 
born in Odessa, grew up in Tsarkoye Selo, 
the imperial retreat outside St. Petersburg.  
Unhappily married to Nikolai Gumilev, the well known poet.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


A string of jewels
from a broken necklace,
scattering -
more difficult to keep hold of
even than these in one's life.

~ Izumi Shikibu
from The Ink Dark Moon

Saturday, February 11, 2012


I love to lie down weary
under the stalk of sleep
growing slowly out of my head,
the dark leaves meshing.

~ Wendell Berry
from Farming Poems
art Rembrandt

the waking

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.
Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me, so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

~ Theodore Roethke

~ Kurt Elling

Friday, February 10, 2012

overly bold


When people become overly bold,
then disaster will soon arrive.

Do not meddle with people's livelihoods;
if you respect them, they will in turn respect you.

Therefore, the Master knows herself but is 
not arrogant.
She loves herself but also loves others.
This is how she is able to make appropriate choices.

~ Lao Tzu
from the Tao Te Ching
translation by j.h.mcdonald

Thursday, February 9, 2012

a one-man revolution

I bid you to a one-man revolution -
The only revolution that is coming.
We're too unseparate.  And going home
From company means coming to our senses.

~ Robert Frost
from Building Soil
art by Frida Kahlo

should I

Should I leave this burning house
of ceaseless thought
and taste the pure rain's
single truth
falling upon my skin?

~ Izumi Shikibu
from The Ink Dark Moon
translations by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Aratani

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

quiet and secret

Keep quiet and secret with your soul-work.
Don’t worry so much about your body.
God sewed that robe. Leave it as it is.
Be more deeply courageous.
Change your soul.

~ Attar of Nishapur (1145-1221)
translated by Coleman Barks
photo by eliot porter

Attar's Tomb - photo by Nik Pendaar

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

what things want

You have to let things
Occupy their own space.
This room is small,
But the green settee

Likes to be here.
The big marsh reeds,
Crowding out the slough,
Find the world good.

You have to let things
Be as they are.
Who knows which of us
Deserves the world more?

~ Robert Bly
photo by Shreve Stockton

not the flower

As I dig for wild orchids
in the autumn fields,
it is the deeply-bedded root
that I desire,
not the flower.

~ Izumi Shikibu
from The Ink Dark Moon

man born in tao

Fishes are born in water
Man is born in Tao.
If fishes, born in water,
Seek the deep shadow
Of pond and pool,
All their needs 
Are satisfied.
If man, born in Tao,
Sinks into the deep shadow
Of non-action
To forget aggression and concern,
He lacks nothing
His life is secure.

Moral: "All the fish needs
Is to get lost in water.
All man needs is to get lost
In Tao."

~ Chuang Tzu
translation by Thomas Merton
art by Bada Shanren 
who lived during the beginning of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911)

the sorrel filly

The songs of small birds fade away
into the bushes after sundown,
the air dry, sweet with goldenrod.
Beside the path, suddenly, bright asters
flare in the dusk.  The aged voices
of a few crickets thread the silence.
It is a quiet I love, though my life
too often drives me through it deaf,
Busy with cost and losses, I waste
the time I have to be here - a time
blessed beyond my deserts, as I know,
if only I would keep aware.  The leaves
rest in the air, perfectly still,
I would like them to rest in my mind
as still, as simply spaced.  As I approach,
the sorrel filly looks up from her grazing,
poised there, light on the slope
as a young apple tree.  A week ago
I took her away to sell, and failed
to get my price, and brought her home 
again.  Now in the quiet I stand
and look at her a long time, glad
to have recovered what is lost
in the exchange of something for money.

~ Wendell Berry
from Farming Poems
photo from hopes creek ranch

some like poetry

that means not all.
Not even the majority of all but the minority.
Not counting the schools, where one must,
and the poets themselves, there will be perhaps two in a thousand.
but one also likes chicken noodle soup,
one likes compliments and the color blue, one likes an old scarf,
one likes to prove one's point,
one likes to pet a dog.
but what sort of thing is poetry?
More than one shaky answer
has been given to this question.
But I do not know and do not know and clutch on to it,
as to a saving bannister.

~ Wislawa Szymborska
with thanks to parabola

Original painting by
Caspar David Friedrich
Digital adaption by 
Simon Max Bannister 2012

Monday, February 6, 2012

the yellow dot

God does what she wants. She has very large
Tractors. She lives at night in the sewing room
Doing stitchery. Then chunks of land at mid-
Sea disappear. The husband knows that his wife
Is still breathing. God has arranged the open
Grave. The grave is not what we want,
But to God it's a tiny hole, and he has 
The needle, draws thread through it, and soon
A nice pattern appears. The husband cries,
"Don't let her die!" But God says, "I
Need a yellow dot here, near the mailbox."

The husband is angry. But the turbulent ocean
Is like a chicken scratching for seeds. It doesn't
Mean anything, and the chicken's claws will tear
A Rembrandt drawing if you put it down.

~ Robert Bly
in memory of Jane Kenyon-
from Morning Poems
art by georgia o'keeffe

Sunday, February 5, 2012

to know the dark

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

~ Wendell Berry
from Farming - A Handbook