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
to offer rice and mangoes
feet squashing a rat
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
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.
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
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.
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