Zen

This poem appeared in the February 2014 issue of Poetry Pacific Literary Journal, along with A Measure of Grace.

http://poetrypacific.blogspot.com/2014/02/2-poems-by-cm-rivers.html

Zen

Fingers of light

touch down on the garden

Wild green things grow thick

‘round the entranceway

Spotted fawns have come by,

mother not far behind

Cat sits and watches

Making Conversation

First we rise from the altar of the world, from where feathers, bones, and seashells are the castaways of fresh dreaming.

Next, we look around, and we see in color.  One pigment is astonishing enough, but a whole multitude?  It ignites us, the way laughter transforms an ordinary room into a healing temple.

Then we move.  We ask a question, yet who would bring all mystery to ruin by desiring an answer?  I have seen other worlds and, I tell you, this one is a place of worship.

Now we hunger, thirst, create, come alive, truly.  Snip the bindings of rusty limitation.  When the boundary between language and music dissolves, you know you’re someplace extraordinary.  You’re traveling without maps, making conversation with the world.

Begin now, if you haven’t already.  Sleep is coming for us.

Genesis

Good morning swollen and veiled moon, trees whose blossoms are about to erupt. Good morning sun, disc of fire piercing the place where stars froze and crackled in monumental quiet only moments before.

Good morning to the owl’s hushed song sliding outward from a deep pocket among the boughs, to the banshee-wailing of belts beneath the hood just after the key is turned.

Good morning to beets and barley, to salt and hot liquid, to nuts and apricots, to the mottled memory of cloves, cardamom, dark chocolate and red wine.

Good morning to the engine of life on earth, its whir and hum, its clatter and bang at counterpoint with a stillness too vast to contemplate, to certain death and the inexorable quality of passing time, to the eternity of now, the inhale of a day pinned between all that came before and all awaiting their uncertain turn, the exhale of night in its thrilling position as a frame for things that hardly seem possible in the day.

Good morning to the flat concrete jewel of glistening pavement, to the staircase with fingers sliding along its banister, to city apartments and country homes, to dresses and neckties, rickety old elevators, one-night affairs and decades of longing.

Good morning to those who never leave us, to those who never stay, to those who never come to us when we want them, then come unbidden in some secret hour with vanity and thirst, desire and hunger, tired hands, worn-out knees, blurry vision.

Good morning to rain, smoke, wooden tables, the cosmic weight of ourselves that we drag with us everywhere, inflammation, air pressure, fish and mango in a bowl, burning torches, the smell of the sea, meteor showers.

Good morning to our bodies drawn close together, to you tough as mountain-bones, to me with my carved face, to Spanish moss along an orange clay road, to shoe-boxes of old photographs, to hope and surrendered dreams, to love pursued or left alone, fulfilled or unrequited, to the lullaby of a train going any direction you want it to.

Here

I am here, partly cloudy morning, café window next to me, floor to ceiling. Man in corner adjusts burgundy necktie, looking haunted by the money game. Tall young woman changes tables. I can’t help thinking of a gazelle as she crosses the room, brings book in front of her face and taps foot. Panhandler outside is shackled to the world, smoking fat rolled cigarette in jean jacket, moves eye-patch from one eye to the other. I think of pirates, how they did this down in the bellies of ships when they turned from firing muskets across bright water to see into the dark surrounding them.

We are here, striving to be left untouched by the world, or just naïve, we float across the street this morning, all birds and salamanders and rhinos and piranhas on their way to everything. We are axles turning our wheels. We’re a science project, a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. We are by turns significant and insignificant, as the owl in the hollow, as the mossy creek bank, the huckleberry bush, the woodland path cobbled with stones and woven with roots, the whale that breaks the surface and chills you to your fingernails.

You are here, in a future decorated with foreign accents, moist heat sticking to your skin, rice in a bowl, the expanding and diminishing circular sound of cicadas, the bark of trees curling back, paper-like, on the shores of lakes that listen when you speak to them. A future phone call, a voice saying “he can’t walk anymore, I don’t know how much longer”.

You are here, in a past of two people getting to know each other, of bucket lists both predictable and depressing, of stolen glances, blondes and brunettes, life on the run.

You are here, in a present of thinking the world is for the young and beautiful, and feeling you are no longer either of these things, and where have all your obsequious flatterers gone.  Yet you are learning to hold all your ideas – every thought running through your mind – in very little importance. And in this, arriving just where you are.

 

Discovering The Beatles

I first noticed the Beatles in 1990, at the age of sixteen, in the car with my step-dad Paul. My mother was approaching the losing side of a battle against breast cancer, and on one of many two-hour drives from the mountains of the Oregon coast to a hospital in Portland, Paul slid a cassette tape into the deck. It turned out to be Abbey Road, and my imagination blasted off on a musical trip as the music and lyrics filled the car, evergreen forests rolling by on both sides, the foothills of the coast range eventually falling behind as we descended into the Willamette Valley.

I was aware of the Beatles at that point, and I suppose technically I must have heard them prior to this memory, but oddly enough – considering my hippie upbringing – I hadn’t really experienced them yet. My mom’s record collection had consisted mostly of folk, jazz, and softer rock such as Fleetwood Mac.

Later, I would discover the song “Imagine” by John Lennon, and recall hearing those phenomenal lyrics as a child. And after high school I’d attend a gathering of the Rainbow Family in Mt. Shasta, California, where “Give Peace A Chance” was sung in unison by hundreds of people, the voices floating upward into the summer sky in a harmonic spiral.

With the passing of my mother, my late teens were an intensely emotional time. I went to live with my real father in Portland, and suddenly the Beatles were everywhere. Hipsters wore Beatles t-shirts, department stores played dorky instrumental versions of Beatles songs.

I began to learn guitar from my dad, who had a Beatles songbook and showed me some chords. It wasn’t long before I was playing “Let It Be” and “The Fool on the Hill”, my hand moving awkwardly over the steel strings of his old beater acoustic. My dad played their albums while he shaved for work. And when they came on the radio, his hand reached out and turned the volume dial. I began watching Saturday Night Live, and there was Paul McCartney in a skit with Chris Farley.

And, walking an hour to get home from a girlfriend’s house in the middle of the night in summer, I took my first journey into The White Album on my headphones, the timelessness of the Beatles’ prolific creative streak propelling me onward through a silent and empty world, among long shadows and sleeping flowers.

Now and Again

Now the giraffe-like lily, turning its head to look northwest out the window in graciousness.

Now the blackberry – summer’s thimble – is incubating, its exquisite shape perhaps philosophized over at a celestial seminar where Father Sun and Mother Moon are merely attendees, two out of ten-thousand apprentice magicians. The fruit will not be on a bush beneath a tree in some faraway land, but here, now, staining my skin with its potent nectar, nestling among the tissues in my hands, softened by enough olive oil to last many lifetimes of a home cook.

Now the argumentative weather, now the three, four, five, six (no, seven!) hawks circling overhead, descending as if taking a circular stair. Now the clean birth of plants, not the messy one of animals. Now the mystic light whose source is unidentifiable, falling – like you – into the category of mysterious beauty.

Now and again, the contemplation of time and how it doesn’t exist, confused by the human mind with earthly cycles and a construct of our own devising. Now and again, the world seen as a poem.

Now the sound of the woodpecker seeking his morning meal, same as an egg frying. Now the grain of the wooden beams that are the rib cage of this house. Now us, the heart of the house. Now us, always at ease but still wrestling with everything. Now us, always going to new places without ever leaving the room. Now us, rocking gently on calm waters after the typhoon.

Now the ghost of the cat returning, following me from room to room, both of us always eating, sleeping, always doing the dance of sitting then standing then sitting again, always looking out the window, he in graciousness while I just try for it.

Now we return to the lily.

 

Witness

Again, I rose early and walked in shale gorges both smooth and jagged, by the wild water and evergreens.  I moved through the day like an athlete though my feet are broken, my throat so sick of onions.

Again, I sense the presence of a bear, and wonder if that is your animal spirit – vast, warm, strong.  Steam rises from a bowl of soup, the wind sways the treetops, and I long for company.

Again, I long to burn, a flare in a dark wet cavern.  I long to illuminate, pluck at the beaded web, reach for a single strand of – not transcendence – something earthly, simple.  Fill my rib cage ordinarily, break my back over the knee of witnessing the world.