Poetry

If you find poetic expression adds meaning, this page may interest you. Some of these are taken from two anthologies: Tomorrow’s Moon and Travels in the Middle Land. Both of these can be downloaded from Dhamma Moon, which posts contemplative poems from a number of writers. Travels is also available through commercial outlets.

*****

Temple on A Hill, Thailand

the bell’s measured booms
meet their riotous howling
temple dogs at dawn

***

market-girl crouches
to offer rice and mangoes
feet squashing a rat

***

orange flurries
boy-monks zig-zag Kosi Road
with giant alms bowls

***

enough of weeding:
in the Bodhi tree’s shade
two old women squat

***

my poor attention:
plastic bucket sails away
snatched by the monsoon flood

***

long hot afternoon
ant carrying a grain of rice
across the cracked path

***

neon tubes flicker
through the night’s warm smother
a flash of lightning

****
Summer Night

The warm night gives all the time
to speak quarter-truths and quarter-lies
about things that are not here.

Daubenton’s bats flick the lake’s full moon
with sudden dark kisses.
Most of us is madness.

****

Cloud-island

trek in the mountains:
to learn the old ways of earth
take eight days’ dried food

***

paddle drips sun-drops
warm glints lick the quiet lagoon –
only the rippling

***

old Fox Glacier
sprawled across the ground-down rocks
dribbles at my feet
***

Lake Glenn’s utter cool
thirsty, I dip my mug –
green mountains shiver

***

flash of flung droplets
paradise duck climb the sky:
white-black, white-black – blue!

***

snow peaks, cloud-rooted
over Lake Pukaki
afloat in milk-blue

***

collie-dog statue
stares across open hillsides –
McKenzie Country

***

night ferry, onwards:
black water black sky black hills –
moon-sheen on the wake

 

****

Camping in the Wilderness

I come here through the stars
born from their fires

sparks from the dark furnace
meshed into becoming
Sirius Orion the Bull
then flooded by street lights
stuffed behind roof tops

their burning prods me
to spit rust from my mouth

to break step and scramble
along the maimed streets
where hard lights on patrol
order night’s traffic
pinning a van to a corner

to sell hot dogs and burgers
for one or two lingering

until trusted wheels drive them home
past road blocks and fencing
past the glowing ATM and shop windows
the gawky mannikins frozen
casual gestures motionless eyes

the long stare onwards
this big sky looks down

so I’ve cut through to a tent
testing guys against the darkness
and what it will throw up
to huddle in my sleeping bag
taut membrane between me

and the face of sheer listening
is there even a journey

my breath is alone
just this heartbeat
why am I small and grateful
held on this hard-backed Earth
cradling warmth against clarity

the next the last
the dawns wade through me

when the sun will warm ground
birth a world of rainbows
that licks mist off its senses
with soft gusts and gypsy chirps
as light blinks through a cluster of trees

and my time comes stumbling here
its papery wings open

over squeaky wet grass
a small patch pressed down
where the tent had crouched
my nose dripping my hands
slap themselves into life

with the river roaring its truth in the canyon.

*****

Night Prologue

Warm at centre, on a long winter’s night.
Through the bone-cage, through the breathflow,
buds of silence are opening out:

awareness shimmers; suffusions glow;

the heart is listening, translucent, bright;
a filigree pulse unbinds my head.

This joy – what is this lovely drawing near,
gathering up horizons, moulding attention?
A spring, welling up through still zero;
a turning tide that unbends intention
into a resonance that enshrines us here:
bare room; a small lamp; presence, burning.

Shine: let my colours find the axis.
And my soft-edged shadow feel your turning.

 

*****

Reunion

 

Light is not kind, but it’s a given.

Music too, inner music;
not the constructed but the felt:

when there is meeting in presence
and ‘not me not you’ is sounding
the resonances that blood and nerve were born for.

No retake, no da capo, no refrain.
This is not about a woman with lovely eyes.

And when my dwindling tribe gather,
we smile and squeeze, but, like grafted fingers,
we don’t snap out a beat.

Our theme is in the slow nods,

and in a voice going throaty as it stumbles
at the place where heart lost its flight.

Lived-in skies are not clear blue.

And the cloudy mottle is no less true
than the brassy summer
we camped under trees and talked with the stars;

or the gusts of our lifetime

with its crescendoes and encores
sucking us in, and blowing us out.

Now we share echoes; with their listening
and lull.

And the need for deep night.

This darkness too is a given;
it is the colour of the private life.
The colour beneath a folding wing.

Dance-master to the days,
it keeps them trim,

gives us tempo,

cues ‘hold your breath’ swoops —

then throws its cloak over the tracks.

 

 

*****

Bodhisattva: Image in Wood

Trouble rises up out of the Earth.
Perhaps it grew me cell by cell…
tender sprout, bud, heartwood, bark…
willing to be in this sentiency.

Carved, fashioned, I become what you see.
In some dreamtime, under someone’s heartbeat
I must have been Chinese.
Picture me: long downcast eyelids,
hands arranged like fragrant flowers
opening for the Awakening bee.

But the craft snared and fixed me.
Then the splintering:
words ran from head to heart;
My face was torn off by some known God;
and now only one flower is left,
awaiting her turn.
She screams the nameless name
which is everywhere, everything.

You have drunk my blood,
you who shape the signless.
Give me back my thundering flesh.
*****

Music Lesson
On due occasion, there’s still the allowance –
even in a set-up made stiff with things –
that place may have its familiar spirit:
a way of harnessing transcendence
by tethering it to river, rock, tree or sky.

What address then for the dislocating angel…?
who flies between appearance and change,
bending a blue note – dissonant, plangent;
in the minor key of expectation,
plays riffs and ragas of the Way It Is.

This spirit’s here. Listen and enter:
between two thoughts is place enough;
and a moment when a sensed solidity
is turned back, purely, on itself –
that’s occasion enough to unleash your silence.

Time for Creation’s closet demon
to come out, let go, and face the music.

***
Blind Men’s Story

We began with a look
We built up a picture, we knocked out some space
We built in dimensions and a place for nothing
We built a truth in the nothing, it was stark, it was lonely
We built another, they fought
We built another and another and another
We built so many they made a world in the nothing, going this way and that
So we built an it for the coming and going to play with
We built a name for it, with a mast, rudder and sail, it sank
We built it a hand, we asked for a loan, it clenched
We built it an eye, it looked at us

It screamed

We built it a reason to be
It grew an appetite and horns
We built on previous knowledge
It grew dark, it grew twisted and yawned
We built it a telescope, a laser, a cyclotron
It grew like the sun and swallowed its traces
We built a word to sum it up
It grew a doubt with a body like a snake, it wriggled through
We built a sigh to soothe it
It grew five feet and danced
We built an ideology to lift it off the ground
It grew inside-out, pulled out its entrails, plucked a tune and
roared its battle cry
It grew like the rumour that nothing was wrong
It grew out of the nothing with feelers of joy
We built a brick to hold it all down
It grew like the dawn in the docks when the fishing boats return
We built it all that we knew
We built it as best as we could
It grew a voice that’s murmuring under our ribs
It grew an ear like the night
It grows very close, closer by the hour

We have to keep running and running

 

******

Behind the Thunder

Hot and grumbling, the sky had to crack;
empty its belly into the cool —
where nothing waits and nothing hurries.
Behind the weather it’s always blue.

I keep planning a journey that I know won’t happen.
Dates and places form lines in raw space,
along with what I ought to be:

smoke from the mind’s slow fire.

I could try to hold ground. But nothing does that.
May’s mouth spills flowers straight out of Botticelli,
dogwood blossoms offer up their cream,

their rise can roll on into fall —

while my door swings. And slams. And gapes again:
even death’s threshold won’t lock.
This is our season. The one I can’t manage.

Storm tells one tale; sunburst another.

And no one trusts the blue
that peers through our eyes and cups each breath;
then palms us open.

Wherever I fade, it shines.

But the heat works me up while it lasts —
reaching out, spinning in time —
to get blown into truth; like a bowl of glass.

It sings in the slippery air.

*****

Homeward Journey
Travelling, the location gets smaller:
a lodge, a room, a train, a car.
At the airport, it had come down
to my worn immediacy and zip-up bag –
and that lighter and less important now
with the‘return’label dangling down
like a notification of terminal disease.
And how much, then, does anything weigh?
Half my world goes down the belt…

… and in exchange, a right to passage,
a gate and seat are granted.And so it’s time
to cram with fellow dislocated cells
inside the hull … get comforted … get made secure…
The ground withdraws – and our lives suspend
like verbs become nouns, abstract, common:
inflexions sealed under a pressure
through which remote stewards flitter
bearing consolations wrapped in plastic.

I turn down the lot; let senses float
and pivot around a centring pulse
that, under the glass of my name and number,
resounds: this homeless tribe; this stretched-out,
unloved night; this journeying on,
strapped down in space, onwards, nowhere…
And I am dropping open – six miles up,
above the skin of restless nations.
Destination: the shared lost planet.

Shine on, our planet, under a pilgrim star.
Homewards is the farthest journey;
orbiting, off track, letting go;
the lurch, then the lift, snug into vastness.

******

 

Falling like a Mountain

 

The moon-eye opens.
Mount Cook, splintered and sharp,
summons cosmos to witness.
The sky-bell is ringing.

I’m alone on the ridge.
From a distant hut, voices.
Crumbling, an avalanche roars.
Dies. Then slowly – another.

In the tense hold of mountains
my body goes foetal:
pink blob in a down bag,
under the stars’ stare.

Out-breath…Then in-breath…
while a mind like a glacier
carves through purpose and being
as it grinds towards melt-down.

And a silence pregnant with falling.

******
 Wintering in the Forest

 

It must have been the restless stars
shuddering in their nests a thousand years up
that crowed and cast me loose from sleep.

Sandals stuck to the frozen step.
Mind’s sprawl spins under a glaring moon
as the warm dream shatters in the absolute jaws

of winter. Cold, black, it bites off choice –
a wild sense explodes, hacks the cursed logs –
fumbles numb matches – the yes! miracle spurts

… onto girls, last year’s war and sport …
Old newspaper sails, billowing with flame,
bring me back home. The smoky world.

The stove croons, guts full of wood.
I suck a skinned knuckle, chew a handful of thoughts,
letting things melt with the rippling hours.

I must have gone soft wintering here.
A gaunt man dives through me, scouring the depths
for pearls to remind him of a distant sun.

 

****

Tree

At night, it’s a wild thing,
a raw shivering thing.
It wind-rants the revelation
beneath which my cottage recoils,
stiff and closed up tight,
roof numb to an engulfing cosmos
of vulnerable canopies:
shifting leaves, knowledge…space…

I know nothing fits this world
more truly. Nothing else
meets the wrestling and coupling
of earth and sky, squirming
and gnarled in their gristly grip;
twisting as they are twisted;
wholly burning in green;
opened, perfectly: tree.

A heartwood with no resignation.
Tree: rooted, utterly.
Downfaring the path of the fallen
through its own dead matter and seeds;
fed on human breakage, and animal remains.
The earth-quest, the descending;
the fine rootlets that probe past defeat.

Nothing delves into the underlife spring
so purely, and draws up its radiance.
There is no testament so crowned by April.
A sap-swollen joy! Every fibre,
work-hardened, defends the resurgence:
a summer spread out, leafing and easy.

Winter’s witness, limbs an accusation;
stripped bare, gale-kicked and shattered.
Curse, song or prayer can’t reach this far.
Nothing has worn out so much language
yet still holds its own ground:
upright, hammering and weeping.

*****

 

Tracking the Centre

For a traveller
hanging off the railcar of the year,
arrival means thankfulness.

And an emptying out.

A fistful of dishonesties
let go
into the unglazed bowl of evening.

One tall black pine
bars the horizon.
A star holds the future’s vanishing-point.

Geese on the wing sound
and resound
skies where beingness softens,

skies of endless release.

I follow a blue that turns –
and returns each brittle heart-beat
to a dark like the wild deer’s eye.
*****

 

Spring in the Timeless City

When spring can arise in this tall-walled city,
the winds blow through it a scattering:
ashes from the heartlands, music from the ocean;
and names that flutter like tiny birds.

Then the people without faces wait,
perched on their balconies. Maybe a breeze
will form a nose from their dust…
or, if they hold out a socket, an eye-seed will land…

Meanwhile, those who can run many faces
are parading the streets to display them.
Faces are everywhere, laid out on the pavements
or hung up on walls for passers-by to admire –

or perhaps to make an acquisition:
a strong nose, a slender arched brow,
a set of full lips, a dimple, a smile…
Some take a whole face – or two, or three:

one for work, one for wearing at home,
and something special, for weekends away.
They soon wear out. Then it’s time for another.
An artist can make half a dozen a week

before they dry up. It’s tough work:
promises, small lies, obligations and will;
attempts to meet, or just to be seen –
all interwoven and tinted. Until the skull dies.

Those with only one face, the migrants,
are camped the other side of the river.
They came out of winter; it was all they had.
They fled the ice with just this loose bag of skin

with past, future and dreams stuffed inside it.
The stories! One gave his fine set of ears
to a grandmother; another, her mole
to an orphaned child. These people know who they are.

And no wonder they hold that one face so tight,
even as furies whisper down each nerve’s thread:
This is your father’s. This is your mother’s.
This was the accident. This, the disease.

So they fear any witness. As if from my perch
I could form, deform or destroy.
But I can’t wear that. I’m just a reporter –
and like you, a fool’s wind blew me here.

Where it rests, I sprout ears. They’re listening
like hounds that eagerly snuffle the evening air;
and in the hour of compassion, they’ll find my face –
nestling in a backwater amongst the reeds.
****
The Island

 

There’s a mountain that stands for everything.
There’s a valley that empties everything.
There’s a sky that blesses everything.
There’s an earth that gives back everything.

There’s a muttering over the maps and charts
that runs calling across the hopeful world;
and ransacks, howling, the jewelled cosmos.
The abyss sucks it whimpering back.

Then where could that focus surrender …?
But there’s the near side of nowhere –
intimate, dangerous, untrodden.
The abundant.

Yours. Mine. Everything’s.

 

****

 

Waterfall

a long nerve leaping out of its sheath

not around or about anything
but held within
the free-fall logic of chaos

the life-blood’s explosion

not just in each flung absolute droplet
but in the fall
infolding its ragged scattering

plunging through the clutch of shape

plummeting through the sphincters
lustily resonant
it births at the brink

into the abyss of itself

before flow before rock
boiling into vortices
into the blown-out spray where dragons laugh

as if there’s a thread of freedom

and it’s pouring through an abandonment
that becomes full-bellied
like a round-bottomed pitcher

filling bearing emptying

but mine is the work within the burning dust
to sense that completeness
for a cold clear axis

where the stand is true

without hope

or hunger

 

****

Talks, Essays, Reflections