January 10, 2010


For many years now at Olympia Zen Center, we've celebrated the New Year with a reading of our own poems on the first meeting when we come together after New Year's Day. This evolved because of several influences. Ryokan is our virtuous model, and he speaks to us through poetry. Ryokan's Death Day is January 6th and the proximity to this date is a way to honor and celebrate his life. Dogen Zenji was also a poet. Zen practitioners typically take up an art as part of their practice. It is customary in some Zen temples for the practitioners to offer a poem once a year to give expression to their practice and to the Dharma. But, it isn't necessary to justify writing poems or to give reasons for writing them, we simply do it because it is what we do.

I'm including a few poems here for some of you who cannot get to Olympia Zen Center and participate and for those who have asked to see some of the poems. It was a wonderful evening together, rich in spirit and insight, and this year it happened to fall on the anniversary of Ryokan's Death Day. With deepest gratitude to all who came and participated.

Open Window

In Wyeth's painting, the grey-framed window pushes
open to the settled field. Nothing moves.
Only fragrance of grass.

There is no sense that even the painter is here.
Only a rustle of water making its crawl through the mill.
Wyeth calls this, "Love in the Afternoon."

I could stare out the window all day
different from sitting out of doors.
Cave-like it seems to have darkness
within, slant of light over the sill
the only speech.

A shafted flicker crashes into the window and lands
on stone, its head limp. Later, miraculously, the bird
is gone. Left behind: a dot of bright blood
like the perfect red circle at the center of its eye.

From the window I saw you come this way,
stop on the path before you reached the gate,
silent in the shadow of cedar. You drifted on the ten
thousand trails that led through snow, the lamp
unseen, no footprint or trace.

And what are windows in the night when
all the world looks back at us, huddled
in the common roots of grief, when all
we are is nowhere to be found. If we turn
on light we see ourselves reflected back
in glass, the storehouse of goods
surrounding us as if marching forward
to envelop us. Too lonely,
we draw the shades.

Everything must be opened like
Wyeth's window that invites
the soul beyond the threshold
of some imagined safety. As if
the in or out held a protective
measure to guard against change.
Why do we put in windows if not
to let the world come in as well
as all go out?

My window faces east where I watch
my bones wither in the grace and color
of moonrise and morning light.
At night, ghosts pass through
these panes and dance in space
above my bed while I curl
in the ancient cocoon of sleep
the transparent universe that
cradles the ten thousand things.

Soon I will look up and see
my own body turned to light
passing through the transomed
frame into the mixture of daylight
of moonlight of passing years.

Perhaps that's all we are, a single
body of illumination, a wavelength
equal to something visible
a reflection of a bright dawning
a look of recognition
on the Buddha's face.

Eido Frances Carney


at the end of the line—that's you and me
just before gunshot or car crash or
just lying in bed, we step over the line
now revealed as radical fiction.

Moments before the light of the blast
crushing impact or breathlessness
we are laughing or worried, angry
preoccupied by what we will never remember

and now

there is less than a second to notice
through shock's leaden embrace
how quiet the world has become
and relieved of our burdens


all that lies underneath.

You and I, we thought we were safe; we did
everything we could to be safe.

Look at us now.

Allyson Essen

Sewing the Robe of Buddha

Sewing the robe of Buddha,
stitch by stitch, an upright life,
with each refuge a new commitment
to live the Eightfold Path.

Sewing the Eightfold Path,
step by step a noble life,
with each life a fresh intention
to become the Buddha Way.

Sewing the Buddha Way,
gate by gate, a compassionate life,
with each gate a deeper urge
to share the Buddha's Truth.

Sewing the Noble Truths,
vow by vow, a virtuous life,
with each vow unwavering will
to wear the robe of Buddha.

Sewing the robe of Buddha,
thread by thread
engaging the past
creating the future...
Namu kie Butsu...
Namu kie Butsu...
Namu kie Butsu...

C.J. Jikyo Wolfer