Category Archives: Poem

Konda Yakushi Onsen, Japan

In memory of my mentor, Edmund Skellings (1932-2012)

The mountains are gray geishas
Wearing rain hazy kimonos
Over the green flesh,
Plying their service
Outside this hot spring pool,
Water heated by Mother’s forge
That made these islands.
Fresh islands by Her reckoning,
But for me, it only recalls
My tenuous grip on these rocks,
The short firecracker bang
Before my own coke
Returns to the hot forge.

The rain falls lightly on my hair,
Its breath on my back cools me
In the steamy mineral soup.
My mind wanders toward that
Wadenji Mountain and beyond.
How many samurai bathed
In this very spring,
Stared at these same hills,
Their sword and knife paused
For the moment within reach?
What monks washed here before
Trekking to the next village,
Set their incense and fire
by the near rock for prayer?
What poets immortalized this view,
Sang the flowing hot water,
Painted the distant hills?

My meditation distracted by splashing,
A five-year old, naked in the spring,
I think of my own childhood swims,
And the twisted trajectory of life
From there to here, from
Seven thousand miles and years
From my own five year-old days.
Inconceivable. Unable to see
Even the next moment, the next place,
Perfect hindsight sheds no light
On the path that was plotted, blazed,
Markers thrown in front,
Guides and fellow travelers
That directed the Way.
How could I then, as a child,
As a teen, as an adult,
Even yesterday, how could I dream
The scene before me,
This hot springs on the mountain?

My meditation restored to the
Quiet flow of water on rock,
I watch the thin leaves
Dance with the gentle rain,
Tease the wet wind.
I think there must be a metaphor here,
Something about dancing with fate,
Teasing death.
It escapes me.
Instead, I watch the rain drip
From the Japanese barrel tile
Into the pool below the eve,
Each drop sending its own
Circle of possibilities
Into the ether of the spring.

Wabi-Sabi Butoh Dance for Two

Related to my last post about Wabi-Sabi, I present two poems for your reading pleasure. The first is by Susan Deer Cloud, who with John Gunther, hosted us in Livingston Manor. The second is by myself. Both poems touch the meaning of wabi-sabi.

Susan Deer Cloud is a mixed lineage mountain Indian from the Catskills. An alumna of Binghamton University (B.A. & M.A.) and Goddard College (MFA), she is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship, two New York State Foundation for the Arts Poetry Fellowships, an Elizabeth George Foundation Grant and a Chenango County Council for the Arts Individual Artist Grant. The following poem, Spring Snow, is from her book FOX MOUNTAIN.

Spring Snow

Descending slowly
from Wheeler Hill
north of Kanona …
sometimes braking to gaze
at a couple of horses or at wild
cherry trees a white gouache
in woods edging Amish farm fields …
driving as in a dream, remembering
first time you read Kawabata’s
Spring Snow, the sadness
of its story still drifting down
in your heart, the night tears
of geishas in mountains …
stopping to take a few pictures
of snow like miniature flowers
mirroring the cherry blossoms,
transient beauty
Japanese call Wabi Sabi,
no beauty like it,
soon to melt and float
and fall away …
snow … blossoms …
your white hair.


photo by John Gunther
photo by John Gunther
I Was Missing You Today

Did we ever really have an “us”?
Or was it just an illusion,
A slight-of-hand trick of the heart?
A yank of the table cloth
And I bend over, gather shattered memories,
glue them together like a favorite vase
That appears whole from distance only?
Or vahz, you would say vahz.
My bending becomes falling.
My falling becomes fallen,
My cheek pressed to the cold tile,
Your spike heels tracing their path
Across my back to the exit.
That pain is not erotic for me.
I weep not for having loved you so
But for having learned far too late
That all my tears would not help you grow
Away from the soil of your past.
And all your tears in a flash flood
Of anger and hate carry me
Toward the ocean of no forgiveness.
The rushing current is a throat-song
Echoing in my hollow head.
It's another frequency in my ear
That grows louder every year until
The tinnitus drives me mad.
I consciously slip away from the
Deception that created “us”.
And from the deception that killed “us”.
Our wedding costumes burn
In the Temple of Trash,
And into the desert, a dervish whirling
Fire devil of love, hate, passion and angst
Turns the gathered memories tighter and tighter.
Cooling, I will comb the ashes to find that
Spiritual longing I once held
In my raku-fired heart.
I'll struggle to find the wabi-sabi of “us”.
My tears will muddle the sacred ashes
Which I'll then smear over my blind third eye
To mark the beginning of lent,
The beginning of abstinence,
The beginning of ending.
The beginning.

Burning Man 2011