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A Sampler of Poems

By: Zoketsu Norman Fischer | 02/01/2004
In Topics:

A selection of recent work by Norman for inclusion in the anthology “An Anthology of Western Buddhist Poems”

Selection of One Line poems
(published in lyric, 1998, Avery Burns and Joseph Noble, editors)

just over that hill: the one one wants one

my legs cramp, my head moves its mouth

nevertheless, again more

it as do be it he me or

turn a single letter – it becomes a bird or later

someone, anyone, everyone, wondered

fragment detachment

nature speaks to those who disappear into it

olfactory workers on break

genus, genius, genous, generous, degenerate, disingenuous

how many meals in a lifetime?

sound of someone long gone

where there’s sentence there’s attention

wires and beams, stray dog

horticultural tour of parlor

spent pine needles scattered in cypress tree

all those books, lamentation, song, punctuation

flat float flout finally

self’s impossible, listen to rain

walking among red leaves looking up()()()s k y

car (mind) break down

sex in middle age (nice to know you)

parts of worlds, words, boxes left unclaimed

heron in field tip-toes silent

one fixed idea broken

foot at end of ankle, hand at wrist

(whew! air in air out)

translation: pushing the stone aside

mystery image at life’s end

light wanes but sky’s still

From “Success”
(Singing Horse Press,200, Gil Ott, editor)

Tuesday, 17 April

Hike to the top of Vernal Falls
As we did fourteen years before
In the rain and mist up the steep stone stairs
Now with our children who weren’t then
Scampering up gleefully as we lag behind
And looking out at cliff and snow and tree
Sopping wet and amazed
The big thick Ponderosa pines
Bark all yellow-brown symmetrically scored
On the trail to Happy Isles
Such noble beings as we could never be
Quiet and massively simple
The pinkish clear forest floor so still
Not much to contend for here and not much life
Just enough
As a tributary of the Merced gushes by
This early Spring – for this place –
Where you can see the shocking redbuds all purple
And spiky in bloom
Or the bright red snowflower poking up
Among the expressionless conifers
The dogwood in bloom at exactly this moment
Some white flowers full open
And some still as tiny lively points of dazzling green
On the graceful limbs leaning at angles
To the bigger pines and firs
At the top of the Falls in the loud blasts of spray
A manzanita and a laurel low to the ground in a rock

Friday, 25 May

Susan paints her toenails
As an offering to the Mets
And to death
You can’t edit death
Only you can audit it and even this
Is doubtful or artful
Or even awful
Or allfull of all these
Pleasures either decrease or increase
At the edge near the end
These speculations may be easy for me
Who have no such expectations for the moment
As far as he knows
And he thinks about it frequently
Certain times of the day
Without morbidity, more curiosity, expectation
Like the thrill of each grandstand-bound
Foul ball when you feel that certainly
The next will land in your glove
Home is where the heart is
And this
Is just a lump of flesh
Kat thinks
It’s all her fault
But it’s not anyone’s fault
It is no fault
Yet what you do
Absolutely matters

Monday, 11 June

Let all aggressors arrive with a clash
Without any tears or towels to
Dry them
And anyone who points to a peace
That ties us all around together
In a bliss of unity– let that one
Sink beneath the edge of clouds
For the impossibility of what he brings
For there will be never no end to aggression
As long as we think there ever can be
Let us therefore embrace
All ash and tong and pile of fire
As the cleansing of eye and mind
(And not even think that this
Has not been done or said before
In exactly this way though it’s not
Before done a whit of good
In any way for anyone)
And bring these clean to what we say
To those we love
Or the morning smile of greeting
Or the look of the sky or feeling
At the looking at a flower
Or bird
At last lets have silence
Which neither burns nor is blunt
And cannot be referred to
Order the fragments of our days

Tuesday, 19 June

Lists of things to do I plow through
And do do
But in the doing each one in his wake
Makes three or four more can’t seem to shake
Off my shoulder so I do those too
And then there seem to be still more to do
But at least I can make check marks
And tell my brain to stop, stop sharp
As on a dime right there where it lays
In a heap so cleverly and evenly flayed
Out on the whim of each breath
Unlikely it seems or at least as unlikely as death
That peeps up just over my shoulder
(The other one, the shoulder
That doesn’t have the dust of lists
Sprinkled all over it in twists
And turns of spray
Of dense doing made
Out of airy nothing anyway
But seeming at the moment to have so much say
Over mind’s intentions)
So it’s stuff on one side, suspension
Of all stuff on the other
And nothing I can do but seek another
Venue for my heart
I don’t know where to start
Looking for it–

Thursday, 29 November

Art boggles the mind
Especially if you start to think about it
How it got that way
Why you need one
And whether you’ll get a second one
What I do to avoid
The color of my wall
I always just miss
Close enough to know
Too far away to recover
And I do this over and over
For repetition
Is the soul of religion
And although you never do ever know
Or get the satisfaction of holding anything
In your hand
There’s a warm feeling
Around your ears
Sometimes, that you could tame
The world just by being in it
Somehow and with help from your friends
There’s a reed
Bends in the wind I heard tell
That nothing will snap
With roots so deep
No one can dive to investigate

Saturday, 1 December

Great stasis
Of Susan dead
On the bed
White and waxy
Cold flesh in the candlelight
Karen crying
Chanting sutra
Smiling to think
We all go there
For a little rest
Otherwise sitting all this day
Sleeping in between
Dreaming of two rooms
At the end of the line
One to the right of the bed
Dark– the one I know
One at the very end
Before the drop-off
Full of light inside
Behind the closed door
I want to enter
Though afraid
Full of world
Beyond which
So I’m not really
Afraid at all

Monday, 3 December

During lecture garbage truck drums
Street cleaner hums
Someone thumps keys onto hardwood floor
And words, maddingly meaningless and foolish
Drone on
All heart no head
No purpose makes Jack etc.
Here in the hold or anteroom
Thoughts buzz incontrovertibly
Hard to arrest a linear progress
Of night into day or vice versa
Highly ornate statue of Monjushri
With sweet painted face
Graces my table courtesy of Jim Ryder
Can’t remember
Past anymore what was
The life that went before nor can
See anywhere
The lay of the land, fence rows
Bordering fields or the main street
Where I grew up
All gone if ever there
I never saw it
Don’t want to get it back
Just the wonder of the search
Finding nothing, not myself nor anyone
Not society, not history
Not the sun in the sky

From “Slowly But Dearly”
(Chax Press, Tucson, 2004, Charles Alexander, editor)

Philosophy’s Dilemma

Dharmakirti Great Pundit and Meditator
Wrote poetry erotic to prove Buddha’s Law
That all things grasped are unsatisfactory
Doors fly open, skies explode –
Yet the human situation’s anticipation of dissipation
And letting go’s not blowing out –
Swimming back to shore again in love with the possible:
Philosophy’s passion of wrenched opposites

The Third Coming

Claims to have surpassed the anointed one
In displays of lexical flexibility
Have been greatly exaggerated – our issue
Too, that we are resentful and full of
Very cold weather now which permeates
Our clothes and shivers us down to our bones
Is never to be resolved without a good hot
Dinner first followed by a nice hot soak
In the tub of our separation and longing our romances
That always turn out so badly for everyone it seems

There is at a time like this so much opportunity
For discussion. One stumbles onto something, a phrase
Or even simply a word followed by an exclamation point
Always spoken by very special people who are talking
A masochism somehow to be tied up in inflated notions
Of what she thinks she wants he doesn’t have

Caused by persistent stupid hanging on for dear life to nothing
The beautiful statue on the altar sumptuous lit
Not all literary styles are not equal.
They’re not even literary styles
For that matter, and a pound of flesh seems to be exacted
For every misstep and there are moon rocks

Clogging up our horizons the fingers of ocean
Massaging the shores do not promise endless promises
As they once did when there were desert islands
One could repair to in times of great personal distress

Which are now revealed to be tempests in a teapot
But one does need of course a cup of tea now and again

Time passes rather slowly in the mornings here
The sun rises on time all right but that’s about

All the interest there is. At night two or three stars
A moon, a chill breeze, that sort of thing

One wonders who’s speaking, how English will always have its say
How hard of hearing one gets later on in the day

As coins gather near the top of the roadway
And everyone stands by the pump staring at that
Cloud of dust approaching with sparks from the East

Eyes on the Simple

As the Irish to the Iranians
So the Japanese to the French
As the Germans in their guilt
Get more prosperous every day

Wages of war make no sense
When going on a long trip pack
Smart and diligent- nothing extra dare one take
As many diseases are spread nowadays

By too many footloose curious people
As Israelis to Icelanders
Peruvians to Armenians, from
Whose tall mountain where Noah’s ark

Finally foundered all language in the West
Springs from the mouth of Japhet,
His third son according to English-
Man James Parsons, writing in 1767

At all times remember the importance
Of a British formality
Darkening all so that each one
Appears stark mad in the

Hole-in-the-head manner
Cohesion of the known stuff fosters
Including the various zooplankton fidoplankton
And seaweed.

Build more stately mansions O my soul
Wrote Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes
Of the chambered nautilus
He mistook for a metaphor

Instead of the semaphore
We now know it for as populations
Dispute dislocate disassociate and disappear
It behooves us to consider how little of anything

We actually know we must stand constantly
With our mouths agape eyes glazed ears stopped
Gazing up at the stars at night or down
Into the mysterious depths of the waters

Or the cataclysmic protean machinations
Of a single curious virus- life’s out-of-whack
Unknownness eats us day by day
As we jabber about our mortgages and scores

Favorable Prospects

Resonance resplendent
Hermaphroditic puer eternal
Shooting straight up like a fountain
Running with diadems
Lives are only be stories
The body of earth ostentatious
Goaded into confused thought verities
Scooped into curette motivations
So as to merely be decisive
In conditioned ichthyic tropes
Like ichor loaves born to be mild
Income displacements
Hanging on neologistic terminologies
Spend vocabulary
Water’s surface tension
Carapace so bugs can’t drink stone
In the invisible worlds dangling from the testes
Clark’s spelunking silence
Sphragistics gone blooey wafted vox populi

(for Clark Coolidge)

What a Wonderful World

What seems separate, weighty, out there
Is actually already dissolved
Because the moving into it
Is a giving up of everything
That has already been lost anyway
So it’s easy to do
Everything works together
Even griefs
Nothing more clever
Than the mind to tangle things up in
Without which we couldn’t ever do
Or even ever appear

How God Gets into It

God arrives in the transitions –
times between before and after
shatterings, bendings, breakings
moments of devilment and blasted pose
knee or elbow, neck and spine –
The feeling then arises, draft in the system
tiny shaft of light in the visual field
which, when noticed and affirmed,
opens out to an aura on the screen
of eclectic ineffability –
One’s arms open in quietude and perplexity
There’s nothing to say, do, or think

I’ve Changed

I’ve changed
Shrunk probably
Noticing the prominence of my skeleton
This word I wanted to fondle
That I threw out into the world
That never had a meaning or referent
Except to stand for all I do not know and fear
Now I can feel what it wanted to tell me

the subject’s self definition is never analyzable
(Part 2 of a longer work called “Subject matter”)

Nishitani’s strategy in zen aporetics
of the koan, loose lipped with ripples
playing about the edges
no girding of forces no lunch, no retreat
so abusive to evoke Harold Bloom’s hand
drudge resistance of expression then he would
handle this
endless shopping and improvement
toward “kenosis” and “metanoia”
breaking toward a radical discontinuity
horizon’s meaning
(or meaning’s horizon)
social praxis
like an assembly line (lone
poet contemplating waterfall as flute plays)
of sexy cars in Dearborn
out of the ordinary no doubt according to thought
piled up in fleecy adjustments
of what did I mean by what I have said
or what did you understand by what you have interpreted
or have you configured yourself anew based on what you thought to include in your interpretation which was original
or previously meant in other contexts fuller arguments
as if a text assembled from parts, parts of a person
(Sung texts discussing T’ang materials that did not exist previously suspect certainly a loop and a twist to be making
transhistorical or extrahistorical claims while
based on spurious history repeated solemnly with a straight face)
as if a person leached from out of gathered materials
locatable streaming out at you with heavy context
(Kathy Acker dead in Mexico)
flipped through pages and pages of or online
“However the key to the transmission paradigm
was the incorporation of the Confucian sense
of ancestralization including
motifs of succession”
and consciousness itself (to mention the unmentionable
which is not “Western” nor “Eastern,” neither modern
nor ancient and yet only appearing in any way on the basis of
expression a particular form of difference
bowing and chanting sitting immobile and so forth
picking up on a particular sense of life isn’t all
theory) is an endless series of face to face meetings
in rooms with particular appointments (red rooms)
tangled and tangled vines entangling: what you thought
was confusion turned out to be exactly the ticket
which is to say there’s no confusion like confusion
everywhere etc. “here’s looking at you, babe”
and anchored in a debate whose terms
flap in a furious wind
deficient in historical accounts
language debunked by pantomime which turns out to be
an even more degraded form of language (a question
rather of how the little girl holds her doll
whether she is going to squeeze it and break it or drop it
or will she set it aside altogether and grow up
or set a match to it and burn the house down)
more likely entirely made up
not to be dismissed in a single sitting
sky grows bright and dark by turns all day
radical critique of
“my whole point about this system
is not that it is a misrepresentation
of some Oriental essence – in which I
do not for a moment believe – but that it operates
as representations usually do… representations are
formations, or, as Roland Barthes
has said of all the operations of language,
that the cars do roll off desirable and spanking new
is itself no cause for alarm although it is quite persuasive
the world over
our mode of freedom and exhilaration a basic right
or rite – to roll down the highway with my suitcase in my hand
toward setting or rising sun or moon
mode of conduct or contact
amazingly founded on ancient dead ones made up later
mummified or purported to have existed in the way they did
scarce and being used up entirely even in our youth
and at the same time destroying all in its wake
if you want to look for blame there is plenty of blame
you better look for it or it will eventually find you
me in the grip of it unable to release
or even notice smell of green grass newly cut
or dry wood heated and smoky with pitch
“misheard the term due to faulty comprehension
of spoken Chinese”
had been quarreling over and the argument unfair
but how make it stick so serious and colorful like a rug
semi-serious so made to be in it by the shape of the language
folding up so much of the history I lived through
cut while shaving and bled
polarization and valorization of zen
strangling terms and limp lingo to be repeated
and repeated with a coercive meaning
how allow the person’s tears
time repeats material repeats itself
amazingly founded on ancient dead ones made up later
is itself no cause for alarm though it is quite persuasive
is semi-serious so made to be in it by the shape of the language
or of time itself
the same day relived a million times in one time
how allow the person’s tears
(hard to say complexity ambiguity contradictoriness)
and the book before we read it already clear
(and less clear after we read it far less clear)
“a text purporting to contain knowledge about something actual
…is not easily dismissed” but what about a text
that contains non knowledge about nothing or psuedo-knowledge
about something that isn’t actual?
“zen.. is particularly clear and adept
in recognizing the need to subvert deliberately
any attachment to or fixation with
the symbol-making process” in other words words
only mean something for the moment but not seriously
which is what words do do as words or groups of words
organized either paratactically or hypotactically
pulled up all at once with a parbuckle and -oops!-
rolled back down again to the bottom
which is why we read it
to hear our own thought echoed back
and I am standing feeling the wind and rain once again
(which does not suggest actual wind or actual rain
and even the word “actual” has nothing to do with
wind or rain it has to do with talking and listening to talk)
more a moral force than just some convincing words
particulars in their astonishments
any abstraction kissed in elocution
the pleasures of thinking – and what isn’t thinking
or mediated by blessed with thinking
organized around structures in air
(“everything solid melts in air”)
known as the person – person’s locked
(there he goes saying all that stuff again
that everyone’s always saying again
amazingly founded on dead ones made up later
mummified or purported to have existed in the way they did
of spoken Chinese
semi-serious so expected to be folded into the words I used
and that would be the function of words actual words not actual
winds or trees
and in defense of which standards
interior gateways and encumbrances
looks like barriers and critiques
the person’s swimming in his eyes up to here
and “koans are a kind of religious expression
that has an element of vagueness and mystery
based on nonconceptualizing nearly all religious symbols
to some extent to cultivate opacity
ambiguity elusiveness and enigma in order to create
an indirect communication
triggering a subjective
of truth” such as it is in this day and age
semi-serious in spoken Chinese scarce
and all but used up even in our youth
but able to bounce back and at the same time
destroying all in its wake
experience not language but language is experience
not just one thing at a time but everything at once
two streams of photons don’t pass through
(not suggesting anything can fit not suggesting random parts)
for honestly I’ve forgotten how to cook
brought the trope to bear finally on the weather
concealed the obvious
which once revealed ceases to be the obvious
and finally does set fire to the house

How The Mighty Have Fallen
(pub in Tinfish, 2002, editor Susan M. Schultz)

How the mighty have fallen!
How much they have to dream about
Because what’s out there’s lost to them
And they dream in order to place themselves
Back inside their smoking bodies
With a scrap of paper under their tongues
A lozenge like a written remedy to keep them solid
For another day of which there are very many
That all melt into one, morning and evening
Of the first day

It’s too bright in the room where you are sitting
Like a stealth kennel- time for a change
Of clothes or of scenery, time for an eclipse
Of the sun – how not being able any longer to fly
You run more recklessly up and down upon the earth
Plunge more discursively into an ocean of sound –

This is the story of people, a family
The story of a long lonely colorful dream
Of majesty and deadly proliferation
Whose cost is this sort of restraint –
The gradual creaky opening of a heavy door
Which is like a kettle, whistling
Waking you up with a start so that you blink
Looking around like a newborn babe
Or a naked grub writhing up and down
Upon the moistened earth (shatter of ashcan
Lid upon the sidewalk) – lushness on
Lushness in the half baked syntax
Of your ornery moods

Any time is breakfast time
When you’ve fallen into the movie time
Of memory, that careful stupid stumbling
Of a moral fugue down the doomful stairs of your pride
And hope that outruns itself in your weeping

Now that your baby is born and named
You know the terror of belonging
The responsibility of breathing plain air
Here in the diorama world
In the unadorned dismemberment of your holy temple

(pub in Five Fingers Review, 2002, editor Denise Newman)

The trees bear fruit, the book
Like water poured brimming to the pitcher’s
Poured out steady till no drop remains
By a firm hand, a strong arm
The book bears them on through the storm
Tree tops twisting, stripped debris shattered
In the violent nights
Though the fruit’s sweet lingers on the tongue
Like melody –
That’s the plain meaning

Beyond that and embedded in it
Like seeds in a winter earth
(Officially only a thick layer
Atop a hard dark mystery below
Exactly as deep as the plow turns)
The fingers of connection reach forth
Like hairy roots laterally
Entangling other letters, heterodox meanings, bits and strands

(The third level now)
Of lives, songs, opinions, certainties
Wild stories, rewordings, revisions
Attempts to harmonize or humanize
Upheaval, sickness, fierce mistaken force
The worm in the infinite, how sky
Reflects the turmoil of the sea
The soul’s own sequential poisoning
In its reversing desire to crawl out
Of its own skin, like the famous snake
That spoke for it in the orchard
That had no hands to reach out, to hold

Then the inner turning
The quiet of snow falling on grass and leaf
With a hush beyond speculation and thought
A meaning pressed only into breathing
Or illuminated by the speechless waters
That suck underground
Into the capillary spaces that open beneath the feet
In the winding uncharted journey of footsteps
From one point of darkness to the next

The Enigma of Memory
(pub in The West Wind Review, 1998, Ramana Lewis, editor)

It’s freezing at degree zero, wind bites –
The crystal arguments fall into taller shapes
And the tension around the eyes lengthens
At the end of every turn around the park
“Kick Me” is a sign everyone wears
I sidle up to the bar, order trees and sky and limpid waters
Elegantly, paying for the whole thing in pearls
Life goes by like a gunboat, heavy, loaded, and on time
The ankles of misfortune buckle the knees
Of faith – don’t obligate anyone, only sew kisses on their asses
And toss the salad of your life
With looming shadows of capitulation
Oiled without gain or diminishment
Every memory binds us to loss

(pub in Tinfish, 2003, Susan M. Schultz, editor)

Writing against
The line of fire’s
War’s possible answer
Those blasted bodies are real enough
Real blood and guts, not just letters home
Alice puts it that men
Hard of hearing the heart’s harness
Which is tears, feelings’ well,
Miss connecting to the root so waver and wander
Aimless naturally conceptual
A nation proud so kill
As if there were no persons
Only objectives and numbers
No choice we
Had to they say and mean

Abstractly, bombs fall
On villages
People at the wedding
Become body parts suddenly
With a rich finality
Like a wave at the end of a pier
Unsayable names, the perps go on
Unassailed only denounced now
In these sad lines
That fling their thin but tensile hope
Objectless into time

When You Open The Gates

When you open the gates
To speaking
Distance swallows you
The dangling words
Like columns of smoke
Not trying to build a boat
Or threaten with a jawbone
You don’t materialize as someone
Which is a relief, only the body
Like soft fur pulsing
Constantly, undulating air
Like silky water
Tumbling over a rock
Moves quiet through the mist –
Being that but not knowing it
So you could say so
Other than jabbering
Broken-open syllables
Which sound beyond intelligibility
You pass through singing

(for Philip Whalen 1923- 2002)

Poetry’s a way not a subject

Poetry’s a way not a subject
In which anything appears
It’s a sway among a swarm
To be hurled from side to side
Up against the language walls
That tunnel subversive
Through what is
As far as it is known
Occasioning a gap in mind
Through which you could theoretically drive a truck

Meanwhile dogs bark and canaries tweet
Monkeys propend opposable thumbs
The covering sky won’t shake out its stars
To cooperate with the head’s coolness
The disaster that is human life on earth-

That this can be said – that the imagination
Blisters in the cauterized night
Is possible only in the reams of paper –
These hidden significant blotches of ink
We twiddle in the dark

I know my fate rests with the splendor of diamonds –
They cannot be seen in the dark

Being old isn’t

Being old isn’t –
That there are sensations in the body –
This is the same as, they are always
Pleasant, they are unpleasant, it is
Stiff or painful in reference to itself
At that time – the social construct
Of age, an agreement, designation
Imputed on the reading of a face in the mirror
Which with advancing time
Is an object of questioning
A searching looking at eyes and jaunt of chin
But all ages persist in one always
There’s no old or young only additions
In the inventory of designations
In the fact of it
In the face of the face
There’s still the silent wondering
Of what comes and goes
Over again through the opening

Lotus Sutra

Out of the tuft of hair between his eye –
Immeasurable space filled with glowing people
Kindly preaching the Eternal Law to rapt listeners –
I had a jewel sewn into my coat, bad case of drunk
Wandering all over looking for a meal
Forgetting I was flush
Imagining I was poor
So shoveled shit among the cows for twenty years or so
Until there appears a castle in the sky
Door to which opens with a cosmic thud and a voice booms out:
“That which you now hear you already heard
That which you will later hear you hear now
And that which I should say to you
I’ll never say in words only this high-pitched tone you never hear
Except in all sound the sound of silence”
Revealing that your eye’s not yours and isn’t dim
Your life’s not yours and isn’t short
But keeps on happening, blossoming
And fading as jewels, parasols, canopies, golden birdies
Every moment of every day on earth

Slipped away

Slipped away
This occasion becomes remembering
All over again – a breath in
Then last out, final crown of a lifetime’s
Utter truthfulness –
In being a person upright and tall
Noble and definite in speech
And never without a psssion for what’s right:
For the hopeless possible good enough world
That exists in our dreams –
Living and dying for that

(in memorium, Maylie Scott)