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.
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.
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
stares across open hillsides –
night ferry, onwards:
black water black sky black hills –
moon-sheen on the wake
My bag sheds its JNB sticker, unzips.
Pink-skinned is how I begin:
being unpacked into Africa.
Soft-edged and weightless.
Dunes grasp my toes, cancel all strides;
and connections – here and there and getting on –
dissolve in dry sand.
Like names and times.
Plough snails surf the tide-wash
on one nude foot.
The locals are brown and seasoned:
sag-bellied men propped on fishing rods;
and a woman. Big, she swings me the Look
that my face is too white to meet.
I go search for shells.
Sand’s shadows ripple;
sun softens and slides, loses hold –
as my nerves tingle and swim
and a warm tide
licks day down to night …
… swept, we must hurry along …
pressed between walls … lost on a journey…
no weather … only storming eyes –
and excuses that limp and shouts that leap
and who is the one …?
(There’s someone at my shoulder
tapping & nudging…)
we hit land & rock & stagger…
and a morning strolls in
as if nothing has just happened.
Only the sea. Over and over.
Only the sea rolls over all origins;
grabs calves, thighs; slaps my English belly;
draws back – runs in – drop-kicks;
throws up a bag – it’s electric-blue
with long whirling trailers
(glistening & spectral) –
jellyfish: tumbling dancer, dead;
wrapped in the silks that stroke my feet.
Suds pop in the tide-lapse. Then sink;
into the sand’s brief shining.
The glare blushes. Slowly. Dusk.
Through the sliding sheets of the shore,
and out of a silhouette, mop-headed –
a girl, strolling the sheen.
Passing smiles flash.
Footprints weep tiny seas, and collapse;
gulls squat in uniformed clusters,
ruffled by a sweet land breeze –
and what rises through the flutter
offers waves, gentle waves;
ripples of who and why and where we are –
as the light steadily shrinks.
Until I’m down to a candle.
The sky presents a dark shrine.
Swelling moon. Sleepless cicadas.
Until meditation is just a shift to spread wide,
to let go into mindstream, sails gone,
with old glories blowing and tugging –
‘oh it’s spin, it’s spin, it’s a spin that we’re in’.
But under the whirlpool,
depths intone the ancient command:
‘Go in. Get thrown.’
Sun rises, a prince. (Cue lavish birdsong.)
Beyond that, the sea:
an avatar, inevitable & gripped by dharma
(to be met, to be lived in) –
he takes me into his swallowing gape;
drags over and under and through
with gritty wave-sucks
(to be received, to be blessed by).
Stinging salt thrusts scrub out my head;
I’m sprawled in the miraculous.
And look up. How
tangling succulents bind the sand-drifts
so they curl like an old dog’s ear;
How from the root of attention
our paper-thin world arises, in an amniotic trance.
And how an engulfing wrap of senses squirm,
then close to form, and become, my place –
while across rocky points,
the times roll out
maps of a fracturing landscape.
1 Sunset blaze in a tidal pool.
2 A band-aid, carried in my pocket for a month.
3 The stars, and all things, given.
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.
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 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.
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.
Bearing so much shape
against the smelting sun –
while the sky disdains all form,
and barely yields a mouthful of rain
to the wind’s fisted demands:
earth-sprung titans, locked up as mountains.
Mothers of streams, fathers of horizons.
Day will wrap every hue
and tone across their backs –
but leave them empty. Blackest.
Darker than the dizzied night –
which still holds its spray of stars,
its swagger of independence.
Their roots are hot. Like humans.
And the world beats over them.
Their peaks are saints – dead ones – named
by whatever hope Old Dread allows.
Those who named them knew:
the uplifted heart is not for glory,
but an utter exposure to the daily grind of minor grief;
sacred not because of what it becomes,
but what it gets broken down into.
They knew this, those weathered elders.
But I’ve been there when old time gets dethroned;
when the implacable day slides into eternal night,
shyly – or when the awful dark softens, goes grey
and has to face, again, the exuberant blaze.
I have been there in that other time,
feeling for balance. Then distances hover:
the air is supple, fragrant, questioning;
the old scarred crags are green as the ocean,
their land is waving and rolling.
In such presence, they rebuff the sky.
And when night’s wheel dips the stars westwards,
who else toys with them – Betelgeuse,Aldebaran –
like grapes, and swallows them one by one?
Or lazily chews the melon moon,
and takes her in calmly, gently ?
Up who else’s back climbs the infant sun?
Write it out anew.
Prometheus laughs at the gods:
he finds their pettiness amusing.
He lets their groundless pomp,
their fear of death and pain, wash over him.
Maybe they can learn…if he takes the human part,
to be just this earth, wrinkling through a maze of forms.
Until day and night shall see him.
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
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
After the Age of Kings
First, a hunter awakens. In the clear morning,
his movements know the sound of a snapping twig.
In the afternoon, a shepherd trails by, attending
whatever finds itself straggling down the hillside.
By the evening, the weather has blown a monk
through my door. He is the last of the lineage.
He shaves my head, folds my stiff legs and
straightens my spine. So I sit up. It may
be ritual, but this is the entry to night:
to the time when a net is cast – and hauls in
a flurry of silver bellies, of lidless eyes staring,
and slimy green shapes that hiss and break up;
and mobile phones that thank you for calling;
an old cannon, brine-gnawed spars,
and tangles of weed; and the last mermaid’s hair.
They come flooding through: all that’s been lived,
until it’s been owned; wave after darkening wave…
And as the strands weaken and the net breaks up –
around midnight it could be, or when even that
has passed – a tall queen rises up through my throat.
She’s blocking the exits I wish I’d known.
Her rich voice is belling out phrases of terror
backed by the weeping of a long-necked guitar.
So I try to strum out our throttled history –
but the anthems slip away at my touch.
The strings that remember the slaves and the gold
unravel. One by one, the drummers move on.
At dawn there’s a group of us, gathering
on the beach. The old days are ending,
but now we know what we have to bring forth.
Out of what our tides have thrown up
we’re building a ship – wide-bellied, deep-keeled.
The storm-gates are gone, the levels are rising,
and our results are merely provisional.
But our hands warm to a supple strength.
And the days run through us like children.
This flat place that I now and then sweep –
and so glimpse the shiny wood through the papers,
the mug, the dying flowers –
I won’t go on, we all have our lives
spread out sprawling
which no amount of throat-clearing and resolutions
ever gets tidy;
this flatness across which I’m a flicked photo –
or where I’m recorded in a few scribbled words
and shuffled with others into a folder
to be shelved or shredded
or filed in a cabinet for someone
to pull me out, whenever they like, assess my profile,
and shrug or sigh:
if my days must go skidding across such surface,
I place it under a window to receive
the shadows of the yet-standing oak
that play across the wood –
pencilled lines, trembling –
the way the living slide over the dead to find measurement.
So I study the familiar, the stains; feel the scratch-marks –
like the stick figures and names,
‘Big Steve’, ‘Nick+Judy’, carved in classroom desks,
now ‘in banking’, or ‘car-crash’, or ‘who? where?’
Here God runs out of polish.
But we scrawl on, through the knots and splintering.
Knock it: wood, flawless wood.
The Whiteness of Buddhas
The no-point where momentum stops
in the time
when our tides run into white
not snow-blanket white
but the white
that colours fall back from
searing reds sobbing blues
the way the sea falls back
the shore gets drier
in earshot of water
dry knowing of tide-lunge and suck
the gnash hiss
and sea-mumbled mantras
no fog no rolling on
the air is so clear
it draws me upright
to walk in the promise
and I could fashion the moonrise smile
the arms that frame
the world-meeting chest
thumb-tips in touch palms opening
as love ought to
does sometimes for a moment
in its moment
we could talk about that
it’s this white
that can’t be proclaimed
not the white of pigment
supremacy and flaming crosses
could as well be black
or the half-open gate
or your face rightly seen
We live at the prism’s edge
where light breaks into a language
of glowing forms
and futures that belong to yesterday
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.
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.
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.
My plans are foggy,
my wanderings vague
along the tidal edge
where things become meanings
and praise is just the intent
to keep moving out from harbour.
Here has no anchorage.
Attention yaws, then turns
on the swell that runs, streaming
to each moment’s landfall –
the misty archipelago
that dangles in the ocean’s gape.
Ferrying between the nowheres.
But just this is an arrival –
to be with the heave and suck and surge
where all things break over.
And I let the whorl of space know me
as heart-gleam, salt-tang, sky…
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
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
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.
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.
Yours. Mine. Everything’s.
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
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
After the words moved on
They recognised their failure
crept away amid murmurs of respect
the fluid spaces open
trailing warm moments through my skin
a cluster of dislocated ampersands pause
look up and settle into a parenthesis
that frames the heads of tall grasses
nodding in the August meadow
a ragwort exclaims in its yellow
Earth’s ineluctable call
to descend into the broad field of sanity
where soul is a shared journey
dream it in the windy leaf-dance
cry it in buzzard be a listening circle
keep walking through my foggy aloneness
I am human
climb through my snotty opinions
o selfing world
if this body is not deafened
and this voice now unbidden
it’s because I’ve come to the edge
of how I can grow on this Earth
where all that has been given
is moving beyond me
and I am just a questioning mark
after which there is one deep indent
in beauty, this passing
in beauty, this passing
and a line break