Why a Poem?

As for the motivations of others, any answer to this question will be arguable; nonetheless, I offer this list.

Capital Scribe Writing

  • To “Howl” at the world about its injustices and tragedies
  • To make convincing political statements or arguments
  • A love letter or its opposite
  • A spontaneous outpouring of feelings which the writer hurries to record
  • A relaxed and careful observation about anything in the world which occupies the writer’s sensibilities
  • Responding to a challenge from other writers who are deliberately motivating each other, or writing a group poem (this is a regular form in Japanese-style poetry)

Enough of listing.

My first poems were tentative, experimental, fueled by non-romantic yearnings, deep feelings, and observations on my surroundings. I wrote this one after viewing the movie “Legends of the Fall,” the last spoken line of which is, “It was a good death:”

Will It Be a Good Death?

When all the patterns close around me,
As my spirals play out all their energies,
When the sun no longer burns inside me,
And the waters cease coursing through me,
Will we cry good tears and say goodbye without regret?
Will it be a good death?

I pray my life will warrant a good death.

Will those with whom I am love-connected say,
“It was a good death, there was honor and completeness”?
Will they peacefully help my spirit reunite
With the Great Everything?

To die a good death, I must live a good life:
Be brave, be true, my soul;
Help me toward that good death.

Homer, Alaska
11 June 1995

Shortly after writing this I returned to California and began writing poems in earnest. I connected, on the Internet and locally, with other writers of poems with whom I felt an affinity. We shared and challenged and, in some cases, read our stuff publicly in coffee houses and libraries.

This was a time when I was newly enraptured with “Nature,” now living by a regional wilderness preserve, and with the coastal Santa Cruz Mountains within easy driving distance:

Sturdy legs, strong feet
Carry spirit up, down, up.
Lush meadows beckon

Mountain valley spreads
Its myriad lives across
The nourishing Earth.

Great stands of Madrone
Reach naked limbs through forest
Toward silent sky.

Immense cathedral
Of towering conifers
Brings peace to spirit..


Liang Kai, The Sixth Patriarch Cutting the Bamboo

These verses are in haiku form (three stanzas, 5-7-5 syllables), but not true haiku, which, if they were, would be expressions rooted in Zen. The book I am currently reading addresses this subject:  The Genius of Haiku: Readings from R.H. Blyth on Poetry, Life, and Zen.

After another twenty years of playing with the haiku-form and other forms, I am now attempting to (or letting myself) get into the spirit, or mode, or ‘way’ of Zen, to continue with haiku and its variants as my preferred form of written expression.

But what is Zen? So glad you asked. D. T. Suzuki answers:

According to Huineng (the Sixth Patriarch of Chan), Zen was the ‘seeing into one’s own nature.’

That’s it!

Alan Watts, wrote many books on Eastern ways, including a book entitled “This is It, and Other Essays on Zen and Spiritual Experience” and “Become What You Are.” Here is an excerpt from the latter:

Life exists only at this very moment, and in this moment it is infinite and eternal. For the present moment is infinitely small; before we can measure it, it has gone, and yet it exists forever…

Without further ado, because so many words have already been issued here, I offer a few haiku which may reflect the way of Zen:

not meeting the eyes
of itinerant beggars
Stockholm subway train

eating stinky cheese
the smell and taste return me
to primeval ooze

gothic punk rock band
delights not this listener
original din

planting potatoes
fighting the grasses and weeds
our summer garden


Posted in poems, Poetry, Zen | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

‘Satori’ at Age Eight?

At age seven or eight I had an experience which I ever-more perceive as a satori.

Kwai wu“Satori (Chinese kāi wù) may be defined as an intuitive looking into the nature of things in contradistinction to the analytical or logical understanding of it. Practically it means the unfolding of a new world hitherto unperceived in the confusion of a dualistically-trained mind…” (Source)

My world changed, almost entirely beginning, abruptly, upon my reaching age five and one-half. My first memories were of living with my father and mother and four others, my mother’s family, in the upper flat of a small Victorian house in San Francisco, just prior the USA’s entry into the Second World War. Soon after the war began, my parents moved me away from this large, loving, doting family, having garnered an apartment in a new government housing project on the south edge of San Francisco. Dad had gotten a job as a war worker in the Kaiser Shipyard across San Francisco Bay. Soon after this move, my sister was born, my only sibling. Simultaneously, Dad became active in the Socialist Labor Party of San Francisco. Our small apartment often had loud and boisterous conversations when party members met there. And, I contracted an inner ear infection from which I almost died. I had my satori during the recovery period of the latter.

It is in my nature to be intuitive, verified by my Myers-Briggs personality type, INTJ: “Quickly sees patterns in external events and develop long-range explanatory perspectives.” All these events and more (including associating with other children for the first time) destroyed my first impressions of the universe; I had to make sense of it all, another characteristic of my “type.”

Here is what I remember, vividly, from my satori: I suddenly “saw” everything, whole. It startled me, and the vision/impression quickly dissipated. I remember the feeling of being unworthy of this vision, that I was too small and too young to carry it.

Around the same time, I don’t remember if before or after my satori, but, certainly after my recovery from ear surgery, I had a singular experience. I was walking to school, alone, on a cool morning, beside a culvert bordering our housing project, when “I” shot straight up into the sky, looked down, saw myself below, then instantaneously returned. I have no intuitive or logical explanation for this. Both these events have stayed with me during the ensuing decades to this time, now at age eighty-one.

“… Or we may say that with satori our entire surroundings are viewed from quite an unexpected angle of perception. Whatever this is, the world for those who have gained a satori is no more the old world as it used to be, even with all its flowing streams and burning fires, it is never the same one again. Logically stated, all its (the world’s) opposites and contradictions are united and harmonized into a consistent organic whole. This is a mystery and a miracle, but according to the Zen masters such is being performed every day. Satori can thus be had only through our once personally experiencing it.” (Source)

I am now reading two books which seem to be leading me back toward my earlier ‘realization’:

I feel I am ready to understand what these books contain, through my many life experiences and through my readings.

It is almost painful to expose myself in this manner: I ask, “whence arises this need to communicate to others these inner, intimate thoughts and impressions?” The only answer I have, outside of my having an as yet untamed ego, is that it is in my nature to say to others, “look what I found!” This is a major reason for my having initiated this personal magazine, or “blog.”

Here is a limited selection of books and authors which and who have helped prepare me:

Posted in Enlightenment, kāi wù, satori | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments