Plum blossoms

First noble truth. Being hurts. It just hurts, to be. What is it to sit in that? Not to gnash, flail, look for a door out of it, but just abide in it. Wakeful, curious.

Hurting with more losses than I’m used to right now. Orphaned, a friend said, and nailed it. A woman I loved and loved me she said and I thought might be my only has shifted and said no to me. Bereft. My father my dear rigid irritable father is sliding into a senescence our lengthening life spans have made famous. His wife N. who has become dear to me, I fear for her, the burdening. And my mother, wounded and wounding, I have to say a no to her I don’t know she’ll withstand.

And these are all what a young man dear to me would call “first world problems.” And he is in duress in the only psychiatric bed that could be found in the whole GD state. A sort of duress I know myself. Times I think the error might be traced back to matter, the making of it in the first place.

So. First noble truth. It hurts to be. Duhkha. Suffering, pain, unsatisfactoriness. We crave, age, we sicken, die. And it’s called noble because it’s good news. Good news because it’s the truth, said plainly, straightly.

My teacher gave me the name KyushunKyu, endlessshun, spring. One of the epithets for enlightenment. Occurs to me now, this cold cold blowy night, he wasn’t giving me that name he was giving it the world.

I don’t know what my practice is. I know my heart hurts. I can try to make it not hurt, like some ruffian to it, I guess, or I can let it hurt, tender it. But even then I don’t know what my practice is.

Is all I got for now. And love. And plum blossoms, who throw off the cold.

A taste of rhizome mind

From Poetics of the Rhizome. A course set to start soon.


Before the World Wide Web, there was a worldwide web. Human beings are recent guests in that web, guests often rude and destructive, but sometimes stunned with awe, or love.

[T]he Great Subculture which runs underground through all history … [a] tradition that runs without break from Paleo-Siberian Shamanism and Magdalenian cave-painting; through megaliths and Mysteries, astronomers, ritualists, alchemists and Albigensians; gnostics and vagantes, right down to Golden Gate Park.
                – Gary Snyder, “Why Tribe”

Rats are rhizomes. Burrows are too, in all of their functions of shelter, supply, movement, evasion, and breakout. The rhizome itself assumes very diverse forms, from ramified surface extension in all directions to concretion into bulbs and tubers. When rats swarm over each other. The rhizome includes the best and the worst: potato and couch­grass, or the weed.… The wisdom of the plants: even when they have roots, there is always an outside where they form a rhizome with something else – with the wind, an ani­mal, human beings…. “Drunkenness as a triumphant irruption of the plant in us.”
                – Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus

I would describe poetry as ecology in the community of words.
                – Jed Rasula, This Compost

[T]he separate perspectives of my two eyes converge upon the raven and convene there into a single focus. My senses connect up with each other in the things I perceive … each perceived thing gathers my senses together in a coherent way, and it is this that enables me to experience the thing itself as a center of forces.
                – David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous

This old plum tree is boundless. All at once its blossoms open and of itself the fruit is born. It forms spring; it forms winter. It arouses wind and wild rain…. Its whirling, miraculous transformation has no limit. Furthermore, the treeness of the great earth, high sky, bright sun, and clear moon derives from the treeness of the old plum tree.
                – Eihei Dōgen, “Plum Blossoms”

Most of each thing
is whole but contingent
on something about
the nearest one to it
                – Fanny Howe, “The Splinter”

Common threads here are multiplicity and interdependence. There’s no one way to be human. There’s no one way to be a poem. There’s no one way to be at all! And no one way to say so.


Plum Blossoms - detailMy students are you reading. Winter is coming. You’re gonna be asked, early on, to write spring. The image atop is Red and White Plum Blossoms by Ogata Kôrin. You can read a nice treatment of it here.

Here’s what Dōgen Zenji, my teacher’s teacher’s teacher, and on, has to say about painting spring:

When you paint spring, do not paint willows, plums, peaches, or apricots – just paint spring. To paint willows, plums, peaches, or apricots is to paint willows, plums, peaches, or apricots. It is not yet painting spring.

It is not that spring cannot be painted. My late master, old buddha, he alone was a sharp-pointed brush that painted spring.

So be the sharp-pointed brush painting spring. Or whatever.

 

Creeley’s Pieces

Had a brief (5 min) but good (very) discussion in my afternoon section of this bit from Robert Creeley’s Pieces.

Cup.
Bowl.
Saucer.
Full.

We’d talked about integrity of the line, its wholeness, and I asked whether these lines, short as they are, felt complete. Do they offer an experience that satisfies and then releases you to the next experience. I expected great resistance but they so got it.

One saw a telegraphic narrative of breakfast (cereal and coffee). Another one of lunch (a cup or a bowl of soup). Another saw a formal patterning that reminded him of the buildup and falling off of a short story (three letters, four letters, six letters—over two syllables!—then down to four).

And all of the resonances metonymic. A poetry of everydayness.


I can’t hear pieces as not also peaces.

As in, the mind of pieces, is a mind of peaces.

Very different from our sense of “going to pieces,” falling apart, fragmenting, disintegrating. Here, rather, that any part, however wayward, however bereft or stranded, is its own whole.


My old teacher, Daido Roshi, said to us often, You’re perfect and complete, just as you are. He was no softy, he was a dragon, but he said that. I remember one sesshin (meditation intensive) when I was in a hard way, I went in for dokusan (face-to-face teaching) and blurted out, tearstreaky and snotfaced, Perfect and complete under all the conditioning (dumb learned damage we carry), or perfect and complete with all the conditioning? With he said and rang the bell. Creeley’s Pieces brings me back to that.


A beautiful thought of Thich Nhat Hanh. There is no way to peace, peace is the way. Do I harm it, and I hope not, by this variance, there’s no such as peace, there are only peaces.

Creeley had no patience for any zen bs or so I’ve heard. And yet the most dharmic poet I know. Here’s Dogen’s “body and mind falling away”—

Here here
here. Here.

And here, the myriad ways of seeing water, Dogen says different modes of being have—

The bird
flies
out the
window. She
flies.

    .

The bird flies
out the
window. She
flies.

     .

The bird
flies. She
flies.

A variance, for sure, on Williams’s old woman, those plums.


A cup, a bowl, a saucer, all full, not in the sense of bearing up some matter, though they might that also, but in themselves, present, there.

Two locust trees

To broaden our discussion of parts of speech, their places and powers, we read two versions of a poem by William Carlos Williams, “The Locust Tree in Flower.” One goes this way.

Among
the leaves
bright

green
of wrist-thick
tree

and old
stiff broken
branch

ferncool
swaying
loosely strung —

come May
again
white blossom

clusters
hide
to spill

their sweets
almost
unnoticed

down
and quickly
fall

A very pretty poem about a pretty old tree. A lovely coined word, “ferncool,” whose extravagance only starts to look off in the light of the renunciations of the later version. Which goes this way.

Among
of
green

stiff
old
bright

broken
branch
come

white
sweet
May

again

This poem never fails to stun me. Ten Thirteen words on ten thirteen lines. (Oops. One line short of a sonnet.) All but three are monosyllables. The thing’s almost entirely empty. And out of that great narrow strait the poem blossoms endlessly.

And not a metaphor to be found here. All the power comes from metonymic resonance and a powerful torque applied to syntax.

For instance the strange construction

Among
of
green

How can we be both among and of? Among means in the midst of but distinct from. Of means belonging to and identified with.

Are we thrown to a green we remain apart from? Or do we belong to a green we can’t get out of? Spring is the swell and swirl of the new it is and does. And so the poem dizzies, endizzes, lucky us.

Master Dogen said to his monks:

When you paint spring, don’t paint willows, plums, peaches, or apricots — just paint spring. Painting willows, plums, peaches, or apricots is painting willows, plums, peaches, or apricots. It’s not yet painting spring.

The longer poem paints a pretty picture of a locust tree. The shorter invites us to be spring in the tree.

These thoughts, by the way, formed in collaboration with my students, who saw deep and well into this one.


POSTSCRIPT. Want a master class in revision? Track how the first version becomes the second. What words go, what words stay, how the words that stay drift into new places. The depth of the letting go here is astonishing. Nothing less than total.


Black Locust

“The New Thing”

A link to Stephen Burt’s essay on the “new thing” poetry. Or the new “thing poetry.” Need to reread it, but what I remember is, how grateful I am to find a name for what I’ve thought to be up to.

He sets as an epigraph a favourite passage by a favourite poet.

The self is no mystery, the mystery is
That there is something for us to
stand on.
– George Oppen, “World, World —”

Oh and just for funs, since I’m about to head back down to Samish for the last of Norman Fischer’s dharma talks, let’s put Oppen beside Dogen.

To study the Buddha Way is to study the self.
To study the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be realized by the ten thousand things.
– Eihei Dogen

Grasses trees and broken bricks reach out to wake you up.