The monk had come to greatly savor the simple things in life. The wind ’s music through the mountain ’s maple trees. The trickle of creek water sweeping lazily between the mossy stones. The fine taste of hot green tea with ginger and the soup made of onions, seaweed, soybeans and radishes. Simple things expanded his awareness of larger things —of greater things. And so he was contented. His days spent serving the old temple alone in the mountains consisted of sweeping the old wooden floor, tending to his bulbs of onions and ginger roots like chicken feet, long walks down to the sea to harvest seaweed, and the long walks up the mountain, harvesting mushrooms from the woods.
And, of course, he spent many hours in prayer and meditation.
As the sun set in the West he would pray to Buddha in thanks and admire the warm glare of the setting sun peeking through the windows of the temple, touching warmly the sleepy face of the Buddha ’s statue at he head of the temple. Often the monk longed to fall asleep likewise, and often did, maintaining his cross-legged position throughout the night. He woke in the morning stiff and aching, for he was very old, and sometimes he regretted waking in such pain. Yet, he rose, as always, and set about his usual day, listening to the wind ’s music and drinking his simple tea and eating his simple soup, doing his simple chores, and finding simple contentment once again in his long day of peaceful isolation.
But the years dragged on and the monk felt the dead weight of them growing heavier, like decades of fallen leaves bundled atop his shoulders. He did not walk so well in the morning, even after sleeping on his simple straw mat. He had to lean on his hoe intermittently when tending to his garden. When walking up and down the mountain he had to rest on a log, here and there, taking much more time each day to accomplish his foraging. He began to forego such strenuous trips, venturing every other day, and only once each day rather than the many trips he once dared.
And his mind began to fail him. He would boil tea over his fire pit, then forget about it until the leaves had burned. Sometimes he would pick an onion from his garden, eagerly peeling it only to find that he had once before picked an onion for soup that week.
And then the shadows began to come to him.
They came at sunset while the monk was beginning his prayer. They enumerated around the room as the sun ’s rays touched the brow of the Buddha statue. The figures crouched in the dark corners of the small temple, away from the statue. The monk watched them sometimes as they loped about, or somersaulted, tumbling end over end in mischievous mirth. The shadows were small at first, but lengthened as they sun waned, drawing themselves upward with the weak light of the monk ’s single candle.
The monk was never upset or unsettled by the shadows, no matter how stranger their shapes and movements. He observed the shadows impassively, much the same as when observing swallows darting about the cliffs of the mountain, or foxes flitting through the bushes. He knew that his mind was a thing of the material world, and so fickle and prone to wits that would fade in time, bringing with their weakness the phantasms of an unbridled imagination. He accepted this fate calmly, and so let the shadows do as they willed while he prayed impassively, grateful that the Buddha should allow him the wherewithal to understand the looseness of his mind and, therefore, resist its indulgent fancies as the hallucinations grew more vivid.
But then came a nightfall when the shadows ceased their jovial prancing and devilish tumbling. They stood around the monk, arrayed along the temple ’s old walls, flickering as the single candle flickered, and staring.
And then they stepped forward from the shrouds of their shadows, the figures manifesting at last in corporeal form. They were now flesh and blood —or so near as yokai might have been —and the old monk could smell them, could see them clearly, and, had he dared, could have reached out and touched them.
Yet, the old monk was not perturbed.
Foremost among these demonic figures was a creature very much like the monk himself. He had a bald head, prayer beads around one wrist, an old stained robe as modest as the old monk ’s, and a wrinkled brow. Had the monk owned a mirror to know what he, himself, looked like now, after years of isolation, he would have known that this creature was the perfect reflection of himself. That is to say, the perfect reflection except for the third eye embedded in the creature ’s forehead. It was a mockery of the Mind ’s Eye, its pupil slitted like a serpent ’s.
“You poor wretch of a monk, ” the three-eyed monk said. “For decades you have served the Buddha, and for what reward? Aches and pains and old age. ”
The old monk responded with a level voice. “Humility comes by many means, ” he said, “and is its own reward. ”
The three-eyed monk shook his head in mock-pity. “And yet you have not achieved Satori. So much sacrifice —decades of one ’s life in lonely wilderness —and all for the profligacies of a deaf-mute statue. ”
Again the old monk replied with a level voice. “Buddha speaks and hears as he ought, ” he said. “If I utter a prayer, and it is unheard, then it is still heard by the Buddha within me. ”
The three-eyed monk laughed, his dusty cackles echoing in the dark, candlelit silence of the temple. “We shall see what answers you when given temptations. Yes! Then shall we know how true a Buddhist life you lead, for anyone may be a Buddhist monk who hasn ’t the temptations to lead him astray from the Path. ”
The three-eyed monk clapped his hands and a figure stepped forward among the grotesque throng. It was a voluptuous woman in a silken gown. No, two women! They shared the same kimono, and then, letting it slip to the floor, they revealed that they shared the same body, conjoined so that there were two heads, two arms, two legs, and three breasts between them. They were beautiful, their womanhood glistening wantonly in the candlelight. They beckoned to the old monk and moaned, kissing one another as they batted their long eyelashes at him, fondling their breasts and caressing their womanhood with their hands. Their twinned voices rang out in ecstacy. The three-eyed monk leered at them, and leered at the old monk.
“You have been celibate your whole life, ” the three-eyed creature said. “Be embraced by Desire itself, before it is too late and you vanish into the unfeeling shadows once and for all. ”
The old monk trembled slightly, in desire and in repulsion at his own desire. Yet, he remained cross-legged upon the floor.
“No, ” he said, his voice quivering. “The kiss of the wind on my brow is more than I ever needed. ”
Other demons among the throng readily took hold of the voluptuously twinned wanton and drew her in amongst themselves, pleasing her and themselves as was their wont. The three-eyed looked on a while, grinning, then gestured to another creature.
There came flowing out from among the demons a long serpentine dragon that glittered brightly. Its scales were of gold and jewels, and these treasures rained down upon the temple floor as the dragon streamed and bent and twisted about the temple. Clutched in its clawed hands were large pearls wherein reflected the old monk ’s face.
“You have been poor your whole life, ” the three-eyed monk said. “Take of these precious treasures and buy a kingdom! Buy two! You would live in comfort and . ”
The old monk could see himself in the pearl, carried around in a palanquin by strong young men through a palace hung with silk and ornate with golden statues of Bodhisattvas grinning vastly. Young women in lovely kimonos served him fruits and played music for him as he lounged among them, reclining among pillows stuffed with peacock feathers.
Seeing himself luxuriate brought to mind the aches in his lower back, and in his hips, and in his knees and bones all over. He trembled to think how wonderful such comforts might have been. But he felt shame.
“A roof above my head to keep out the rain, and a small fire to fend off the chill…that was always wealth enough for me, unmatched by any other earthly treasures. Wealth is the reward from the work of others, heaped unjustly upon one ’s lap. Why would I debase others, and myself, by encumbering them with my earthly burdens. Our chains are ours alone to bear, and easy chains of jewels and coin bind us all the more strongly. ”
The figures among the throng laughed as they scrambled to scoop up the wealth shed by the golden dragon. The three-eyed monk watched them with great pleasure at their haste and havoc, especially as they fought over the jewels and swore and grappled. After a time, he clapped his hands and the yokai retreated, their arms and tentacles and appendages encoiling great wealth. The three-eyed monk grinned, beckoning forward another among the grotesqueries gathered there.
Coming forward with a clumsy, ponderous step was a Tanuki. It ’s large eyes gleamed beneath its straw hat, its bulbous belly (and sack) bouncing together as it stepped forward, carrying in its hairy arms a large cauldron. The cauldron steamed fragrantly, redolent with meats of every kind; of ox and fish and chicken, all flavored with spices from the West and the tastiest vegetables the old monk had ever seen. Heaving the cauldron up, the Tanuki slammed it down, sloshing the delicious broth and shaking the temple to its withered timbers.
The Buddha statue, however, remained unmoved.
“You have abstained from flavor your whole life, ” the three-eyed monk said. “So feast, now, and know the true bounty of the earth in all its splendor. ”
The monk opened his mouth —but whether because of hunger or refusal, even he did not know. His stomach gurgled at the spicy flavors that tantalized him as they breathed fulsome in the small, crowded temple. The monk moaned silently, but did not move. At length, he spoke, though speaking was made more difficult by the salivating of his mouth.
“A simple soup and tea nourished my body, mind, and soul unto great satisfaction, and I neither wanted or needed more. ”
The three-eyed monk squinted suspiciously. Shrugging, he waved a hand at the throng gathered, and they all converged upon the cauldron, scalding themselves unmindfully as they scooped out the delicious food and gobbled it down. Not even a droplet of broth remained after they emptied the cauldron.
“So much you have abstained from, ” the three-eyed monk remarked. “And yet, so much could return to you at a word. ”
He raised his hands and clapped them yet again, the candlelight flickering as if struck by a shearing gust of wind. When the shadows around the temple wobbled back into a steady candlelight, all which the old monk had denied himself was once again before him: the conjoined wanton and her three breasts, the golden dragon and its visions of luxury and comfort, and the Tanuki ’s cauldron, brimming with succulent meats and spices.
“Now choose, ascetic, ” the three-eyed monk said, gesturing to the temptations arrayed around the old monk. “Choose to indulge or abstain. It matters not either way, for upon this final night of your life your deaf-mute god does not care. No one cares, except yourself. ”
The old monk looked at the splendor before him, and he looked at the indifferent, graven statue of the Buddha. With a wheezy voice, the old monk spoke.
What he said, only his inner Buddha heard.
It was many years before another monk was sent to the isolated mountain temple. When he arrived he found it deserted. There were swallows in the rafters and the garden had overgrown with weeds. The Buddha ’s statue sat as it had always sat, his eyes closed in sleepy detachment. The young monk did much work that day, preparing his home, and much more work the next. For a week he worked to make the temple habitable again. He did not remove the swallows, but let them remain, diligently cleaning up after them when they made messes upon the temple floor. Later, when he lit his candle one evening to finally pray as he knew he should, he saw a shadow flicker from the candle that was not his own. Whose it was, he did not know. When he glanced around, he saw no one. Only he and the Buddha statue occupied the temple.
He prayed with his thumbs
throat brimming bile,
spittle spraying from snarled lips,
forearms flexing like the forelegs
of a panther in pursuit of prey,
hands straining to the tendons
with an eagle’s grip,
veins pulsating rapidly
with quickened blood;
he prayed with thumbs
a vengeful garroter
strangling his exwife
or his chuckle-head coworkers,
his estranged, ungrateful children;
prayed with his
choking the whole world
until only the sound of his
He prayed everyday
to a god of death,
his thumbs crossed
around the bulging cords
of his own empurpling neck.
Firm Grasp On The Matter
His painter’s hand had been ruined
by the relentless teeth of age,
crippled in the grinding gears of
arthritis, and so his grasp enfeebled
by a sacrifice to Art and Beauty
he painted such Beauty into the world
with his gratitude for life—
even as his body fell apart around him
he could paint the world with his
and none could paint better
than the workaday wonders that he saw
in the passing of routine things
juxtaposed with the inevitable finality
of death’s imminent grip
so close at hand.
Because when poetry is good
it is as a fairy-haunted wood
full of shadows and foxfire
which burns in glade, thicket, and mire
and fireflies in hinted flashes
while, at a distance, lightning crashes
and rain coos its gentle music
along the canopy, its dew thick;
because the wood is known, yet wild
and I wander as an elfin child
in want of magic and insight
between the gloom and the bloom of light
that sparks with such breathless surprise
and wakes the mind as it blinds the eyes;
because it is, too, the splinter
caught neath the fingernail, and Winter
blowing cold through the frosted trees
to bring famine to all families,
and it is the pookah, so crazed
it trammels its rider till glazed,
it is the wendigo, hungry,
and the charlatan, his tongue free
to charm off the chastity belt
of the princess whose soft heart doth melt
at the gold song of a cuckoo
and then her own song: that of “boo-hoo…”
It is the dagger in the bed
as she cradles so gently his head,
it is the will o’ the wisp aglow
to lead astray another John Doe;
because it heals us when we die
each day of our lives, wondering Why?
And it resurrects us anew
when the woes of the world hack and hew
at our hearts, our bodies, our minds,
gutting us like fruits unto rinds;
it helps us to understand ourselves,
and our feelings, those tectonic shelves
hidden away in our secret depths
whose quakes come with our quickening breaths
while we seek the words of solace
to shelter against pains that toll us
in an old crumbling barn’s facade
against the wrath of a jilted god.
Because it is innate, this need;
as inborn as to breathe and bleed,
and we know no better way
to heat the night and to cool the day
with but few of the choicest words,
nor how better to compete with birds.
He leads them through the desert
with a mirage of water,
promising an oasis
toward which they scramble
on hands and knees as if supplicants
only to find the shattered statue
strewn among the blank desolation
of the American Dream.
Their thirst goes unslaked,
yet they praise him with hoarse voices.
The Moon’s Glow
He was as jolly as the Summer sun
in a clear sky above golden fields
and so she seemed, too,
beaming with the light he gave
in unconditional generosity,
but however bright she glowed
with borrowed light
she herself remained a cold place
hard to inhabit.
A clutter of stemming words
in search of fruitful meaning;
clusters of inchoate imagery
without the thinnest shade of
like a drug-addled hypochondriac
thinking herself a dryad
at the mercy of a logging company,
lost in her own fussy blooms
as she traces the trifurcating twigs
during a whirling tornado
without an eye of calm.
The heartwood bleeds sap,
yet one wonders if the
taken to the trunk
was merely trying to cut straight to the
The burl-knotted bosom
in warty bunches,
and even when chopped up
and stacked in ricks
the woody worth of it is
the dryad’s blustering smoke
a deliberate obfuscation
on whatever illuminations might reel
from the hearth
such tangled brush feeds.
there are mushrooms growing
along her thoughts
which I think quite fine,
even if poisonous as a
every single one.
Cleaved shelf of stone
jutting out from hills heavy-headed
with shaggy pine;
cleaved shelf of stone
rugged with old thoughts
like a giant’s brow troubled
by dreams that trickle in icemelt
as the sun rises unseen
behind a pale sheet of snowfall.
I have known dreams as steadfast
as such stone,
dreams blasted long ago by dynamite,
yet have not worn away
in skirling winds
and seasons of thunder
and tantrums of quakes.
Time wears on
and the stone dreams remain,
more silent than beds of snowfall;
more lasting than the roads
that divided them.
Millstone Of The Millennium
Turn and turn, grind thus on,
Millstone of The Millennium,
dawn to dusk, dusk to dawn,
on and on, ad infinitum.
Grind to dust the Summer’s crops
from which we may harvest hopes anew
with wheat and barley and corn and hops,
all watered with emotion’s bitter dew
for a drink to dull our tired minds
and our hearts beneath the relentless stone
that turns and rolls and chews and grinds
until the day we drink alone—all alone.
Fog And Frost
Age is ever creeping
like a fog
or the frost
when the woods are sleeping,
each black log
and blearily peeping
through the bog
are the lost—
those who are weeping
from the fog
and the frost.
Make no mistake,
employment is a snake
which slowly devours
your life, the hours
allotted by luck
and we are all stuck
in its long throat,
coil by coil, rote by rote,
our own time divested,
our essence digested.
For what is toil for us
We eat our own tail,
end to end, without fail,
so we may “survive”—
a dilemma which I’ve
like a candle fleeting
as it burns on both sides,
the flame meeting at the ides.
Ours is such a Fate
as an entry-exit gate
whereby we earn our stay
only by going away
down the acidic chute,
that terminal route
that brings us to our end
by the rigors which rend
for us a life our own—
an unaffordable loan.
And sacrifice is sacrifice,
whether for virtue or vice,
for yourself or for others
its constriction smothers.
Past, Future, Present—
whether sad, bland or pleasant,
we all feed a python,
Time’s fanged pylon
through which we travel
as we unravel
to die with so much giving
to earn for ourselves a living.
I have oft slain myself
with many leisure hours
spent idle on a shelf
while my dear dream sours—
squandered much in repose
when I might have else gained
much more, or so it goes,
had I not thus refrained,
and in wasting the hours
wasted myself in course
and whatever powers
of mine might provide force
to propel with the stream
of my goals and desires,
profligate unto dream
while my dull life expires.
So many my phases
spent sawing my own thread—
sawing my thread with wear
as Atropos raises
her scissors as fated
to spur strident regret
as I see the frayed seams
and how I also whet
Death with layabout schemes,
for languid was my mode
when ample time blessed me,
but now that I grow old
I am no longer free
to seek diversion for
lounging as I so please,
but must face Death’s black door
and the chill in Fall’s breeze.
I who have taken day
and made a dull, dim thing
of every sunray
that could crown me a king
with the riches of Time,
(a precious rare tender)
rather than this crime
as my own self-lender
and never to be repaid
as the mortgage grows more
with debt indolence made,
for I am a turncoat
against my own season,
a suicide whose note
was slow in its treason.
Hark! The clock strikes again
as day drains to the lees—
it is a mortal sin:
suicide by degrees.