Perched In These Green Mountains
Han Shan says, Perched in these green mountains,
letting my hair grow white, pleased with the years gone by,
happy with today.

Imagine such contentment, happiness with yourself.
Yet I know for Cold Mountain, tomorrow always brought
something else as well, for Han Shan also said,

If you hide yourself away in the thickest woods,
how will your wisdom’s light shine through?
A bag of bones is not a sturdy vessel.

Back and forth, back and forth.
That’s the way it goes.
Happy and content one day,

ambition and desire eat you alive the next.
It’s always been this way. Back and forth,
back and forth. That’s the way it goes.
An Autumn Day
Home through the woods,
through the chill rain.

The last leaves down
and sodden on the ground.

The end of autumn.
Such grief, such regret.

I drink deeply
from this well,

this sweet draught
of melancholy. Oh,

I am drunk on sadness.
Who needs wine?
Same Old Thing
In the sixteenth century sometime
Nobutada drew
with ink and brush on paper a picture of
a meditating Daruma
and to the left he brushed a poem:
                   Quietness and emptiness are enough
                   to pass through life without error.

Oh, my, I’ve heard that song before:
Matthew 5:48
                   Be ye therefore perfect, even as
                   your father who is in heaven is perfect.

Emptiness? Perfection? Life without error?
                   Vanity. Vanity. All is vanity.
Poem For Jody And For Her Friend Whose Father Committed Suicide
A thousand years ago Su Tung P’o said, The old monk
is no more. The road was long. He was tired out.
His limping mule brayed all the way.

And the father says: I know I hardly ever showed it,
but now that it’s too late, if I were to say
what I really felt, I’d say:

This eternal sadness. This never-ending sadness.
It traveled with me all my days.
The road was long. I got tired out.

Death was the only way I knew
to get some rest. Forgive me, but
I was just too sad to stay here.
At The Beginning Of The Year In Which I Will Be 57
My father is 91 years old.
He lies in a bed in a nursing home
naked except for his diaper.

He has one leg,
one eye, no teeth,
and he’s deaf.

I wish he would die
so my future
wouldn’t be so clear.
Another Spring
I’m at work in the vegetable garden raking the freshly turned soil.
She in the dooryard tending her mother’s irises, which only
in the last few days have appeared above the ground.

The birds who stay with us all winter sing their springtime songs,
and the geese go north above us. Another spring
and everything is young again but us.

I see her there bending over the flower bed. Her hair is gray.
She moves more slowly, rests more often.
I look and do the same.

Where is renewal for us?
Where is our youth?
Why can’t we be young again also?
Poem With A Quotation From Mr. Lin
On a summer day in 1969, at the age of 29, having known riots,
assassinations, wars, and mere anarchy loosed upon the streets,
I gave up life in the world of red dust and exiled myself into
these mountains thinking I might find here a more civil, decent,
kind, human, and humane way to live my life. I was looking
for what Mr. Lin dreamed of out loud one summer day in 1944
on a tea plantation in the Wu-I Mountains of Fukien — a time
of war and pestilence in his land also:
                   All this peace and quiet, sparkling water, mountain food, up early
                   in the morning when the bird song grows clamorous, forest walks,
                   kindly people, friendly animals unafraid of people, a neighbor or two,
                   a cottage with some books and a couple of musical instruments. One could
                   live like those scholars of old who, retiring before the age of thirty,
                   entered the Way and became Immortals.

Well, no immortality for me: just thirty years on the Way,
a bald head, the constant struggle, the daily rounds, pleasures,
and regrets, and thirty years closer to my own death. And you?