Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Autumn Prayers

Above me,
beneath me,
falling to earth,
Autumn prayers.



You will gain little from these words set adrift from my emotional ebb and flow.

This afternoon a crack of lighting woke me from a dream. Out of the darkness a blinding flash lit stone slabs and mountain peaks. I'd found the stone tablets on a mountain. They were 21 century copies but I was impressed as the writing sizzled in the rain but it wasn't the tablets that were important. It was the illumination by lightning.

I had been reading, 'Kokora' by Soseki and its fatal pessimism clung to me. Empathising with the characters had the effect of recalling in exquisite detail the lives of tragic characters in my own life. It was as if a spotlight, out of my control, illuminating them, all unhappy and insane, one sadly dead.

A spotlight can light up many things. I once worked a carbon arc spotlight at The American Ice Show in Istanbul. I was so ill with dysentery that walking to the show and following the skaters round with my arc light was all my conscious life. The hissing arc light would sometimes even wander off randomly and illuminate someone in the audience until an American voice on the headphone woke me.

That arc light has given me hope, a vision beyond human kind. We can choose what we shine our light on, what we focus on and what we see. Our whole vision can be transformed. In Van Gogh's case an 'ordinary' young girl was significant.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Bothy in Scotland Part1

We arrived at the bothy and I looked in the window to a dark interior. On my mind was "The Hill Farmer Speaks" by R. S. Thomas. I saw my reflection with the mountains behind, 'reflections of the way life used to be', farm buildings in ruins and this last house, long deserted.
"I am the farmer, stripped of love
And thought and grace by the land's hardness;
But what I am saying over the fields'
Desolate acres, rough with dew,
Is Listen, listen, I am a man like you....."


Sunday, April 17, 2016

"Umeniko" Cherry Poem

Snow flurry
melts on "Umeniko"
Snow flakes melt
on cherry blossom.

I am honoured with this translation into Japanese by Hitomi Sato. Thank you!

我が庭の 愛し桜の 花びらに 積もりし雪の 解けししづくよ

waga-niwa-no itoshi-sakura-no hanabira-ni tsumorishi-yuki-no tokeshi-sizuku-yo

About a year ago I enjoyed visiting the hills and gardens around Kyoto and Yoshino. I already had some Japanese cherry trees and have planted more, including three Yoshino. This photo is of my new "Umeniko" just blooming for the first time and next day there was a little snow and I took this picture after the snow flakes had melted to drops.

My wife says the flowers look like ballet dancers.

"Sleeping under the trees on Yoshino mountain
The spring breeze wearing Cherry blossom petals"


木のもとに 旅寝をすれば 吉野山 花の衾を 着する春風

ki-no-mo-to-ni tabi-ne-wo-sureba Yoshino-yama hana-no-fusuma-ni kisuru-harukaze


"the breeze is fresh,
the moon is bright;
come, we shall dance till dawn,
and say farewell to age"

e wa kiyoshi                              
tsuki wa sayakeshi                          
iza tomoni                              
odori akasan      
oi no nagori ni                        

Jakuran (1139?-1202)

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Woodcock - poem

Walking through my one wood
often at the edges I surprise a snipe or woodcock,
whose jagged path
 defies my ageing eyes.

Every day this happens
but today it's fatal path 
flew towards the house 
where striking the window
instantly it died.

Beautiful plumage,
and most prized game.

Three days it hangs.
I pluck it.
Roast it.
Carve the breast.

And in that flight,
of vulnerability and surrender
we share
the Kingdom of the Air.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Dark Matter and Seamus Heaney

....an event, never the less, a collision between the present and dark matter of memory.

I had never read Seamus Heaney's poems, put off by his popularity and his Irish problems, until a few days ago, for first time, I was reading extracts of Heaney's poem, 'Station Island' in a book by Guite and that same night a travel program about Ireland included a visit to Station Island.

(The poem parallels Dante's, 'Divine Comedy', a book I'd bought in search of Beatrice and when she didn't appear I realised I had only bought the first volume, 'Inferno and Purgatory', paralleling the night's next program, the persecution of Christians by ISIS; ritual beheadings and a sea literally red with blood.)

I used to dive in 100ft dark waters alongside the Weaver's Castle. Sinking through the sea dark with plankton, seeing nothing, suddenly the sea bed of another world approached.  Sometimes my air ran out unexpectedly and surfacing fast have learnt to appreciate the joy of being on land and breathing freely and deeply.

In the poem the spirit of an IRA soldier and bomber describes his own death:

"When the police yielded my coffin, I was light
As my head was when I took aim."

There is much more on "the night waters"

"And I cried among night waters, 'I repent
My unweaned life that kept me competent
To sleepwalk with connivance and mistrust.'"

He has a vision rising out of the dark water:

"...A lighted candle rose and steadied up
Until the whole bright masted thing retrieved
A course and the currents it had gone with
Were what it rode and showed. No more adrift,
My feet touched bottom and my heart revived......"

Now I am thinking of the drowned lives of those in the Mediterranean, some clinging to the dead to survive.

There are few happy endings, at best we glimpse with imagination, finding "the visible alive with what's invisible"

(The Image is of a Dark Matter simulation by the San Diego supercomputer. Dark matter is the invisible 85% of universe and all around us)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Floating World

All was in order in the shack where the window framed a long deserted beach.

Black paper was neatly stacked, two bamboo brushes of fine brown hair rested in a rack alongside a bottle of white ink.

The wind had been increasing for days and though the moon was full, as night closed in  we lit a single candle.

The flame flickered nervously.

 We watched the lines of waves breaking in bright contrast to the black sea, lines too long for a poem, too complex and seen only in their breaking. But their message was loud, loud and repeated above the roar of the wind. We sat a long time watching.

When ready we began, a third down the paper and as the wave broke with loaded brush and firm pressure we drew the ink across the page till withdrawing our touch the breaking wave tapered to a distant fine line.

There were several lines of waves.

When we had finished I read you poems by Ryokan and you read me Teishin.

Kaze wa kiyoshi
tsuki wa sayakeshi
iza tomo ni
odori akasan
oi no nagori ni

"Was it really you  I saw,
Or is this joy  I still feel  Only a dream? -Teishin

In this dream world
We doze
And talk of dreams -
Dream on, dream on,
As much as you wish. -Ryokan

Here with you
I could remain
For countless days and years,
Silent as the bright moon
We gazed at together. - Teishin
If your heart
Remains unchanged,
We will be bound as tightly
As an endless vine
For ages and ages. -Ryokan

After that, Teishin didn't get back to him for a while, So he wrote:

Have you forgotten me
Or lost the path here?
Now I wait for you
All day, every day.
But you do not appear. -Ryokan

The moon, I'm sure,
Is shining brightly
High above the mountains,
But gloomy clouds
Shroud the peak in darkness. -Teishin

You must rise above
The gloomy clouds
Covering the mountaintop.
Otherwise, how will you
Ever see the brightness? -Ryokan

Seems that they didn't see each other again for a while  after that, but when Ryokan was dying, Teishin came to be with him  at the moment of death. They again exchanged a few poems.

"When, when?" I sighed.
The one I longed for  Has finally come;
With her now,  I have all that I need. -Ryokan

We monastics are said
To overcome the realm
Of life and death -
Yet I cannot bear the  Sorrow of our parting. -Teishin

Everywhere you look
The crimson leaves  Scatter -
One by one,  Front and back. -Ryokan

And his last words were:

My legacy -  What will it be?
Flowers in spring,
The cuckoo in summer,
And the crimson maples
Of autumn..."

Saturday, September 27, 2014

autumn poem

birch leaves softly fall/
from another world/
and sleep opens my eyes


Welcome, traveler, to a long ago time in a far away place. The time is the 1600s, before America became a nation; and the place is Japan. Our story is about Basho, a gentle poet who was a master of a style of poetry called "haiku". Today he is much revered in Japan, and around the world. The Gentlest and Greatest Friend of Moon and Winds Basho (1644 - 1694) Many years ago there went wandering through Japan, sometimes on the back of a horse,sometimes afoot, in poor pilgrim's clothes, the kindest, most simple hearted of men...Basho, friend of moon and winds. Though Basho was born of one of the noblest classes in Japan, and might have been welcome in palaces, he chose to wander, and to be comrade and teacher of men and women, boys and girls in all different stations of life,from the lowest to the highest. Basho bathed in the running brooks, rested in shady valleys, sought shelter from sudden rains under some tree on the moor, and sighed with the country folk as he watched the cherry blossoms in their last pink shower, fluttering down from the trees. Now he slept at some country inn, stumbling in at its door at nightfall, wearied from long hours of travelling, yet never too tired to note the lovely wisteria vine, drooping its delicate lavender blossoms over the veranda. Sometimes he slept in the poor hut of a peasant, but most often his bed was out-of-doors, and his pillow a stone. When Basho came upon a little violet hiding shyly in the grass on a mountain pathway, it whispered its secret to him. "Modesty, gentleness, and simplicity!" it said. "These are the truly beautiful things." Glistening drops of dew on the petal of a flower had voice and a song for him likewise. "Purity," they sang, "is the loveliest thing in life." The pine tree, fresh and ever green amid winter's harshest storms, spoke staunchly of hardy manhood; the mountains had their message of patience, the moon its song of glory! Rivers, forests, waterfalls, all told their secrets to Basho, and these secrets that Nature revealed to him, he loved to show to others, for the whole of living of life was to him one great poem, as of some holy service in the shadow of a temple. "Real poetry," said Basho, "is to lead a beautiful life. To live poetry is better than to write it." And whenever he saw one of his young students being rude, in a fit of anger, or otherwise acting unworthily, he would gently lay his hand on the arm of the youth and say; "But this is not poetry! This is not poetry." Note: This story is from a children's book titled Little Pictures of Japan, edited by author Olive Beaupré Miller and beautifully illustrated by Katharine Sturges. It was originally published in 1925.