Saturday, May 9, 2020

Set Down


The night priest keeps watch, takes notes.
Try to become intimate
With the night priest and he’s gone.

Sit down and get back to work.
You have all night to finish.
Who’s ever finished off night?

The priest is back in his seat.
He does that. He’s like the self
Dōgen Zenji said you know,

The Buddha that goes away
And then, there he is again,
Back in his chair, composing.

Spare him your mysticism.
You raise your hand. Something changed!
The night priest does not look up

And signals by not seeming
To move an answer for you.
It does not satisfy you,

But you settle back to work.
The night priest concentrates, too,
Fresh constellations in view.

Perhaps it is fortunate 
There are enough stars that some
Inevitably break loose.

Perhaps it is an omen.
Either way it reminds you
To answer questions both ways—

With what you now think you knew
And with what used to be true.
That’ll do, says the night priest,

Lifting his chin and squinting.
You have answered the questions
About that rhyme enough times.

Move on to the next problem. 


I decided to travel
To Tennessee to visit
That hill with the jar on it.

Is the jar itself still there?
Still selfish, tall, round, and bare,
Like nothing else in that state?

I wondered. It’s never clear
If the jar’s full or empty,
Just that it’s a bit bossy,

Like a new faith or an old
Orthodoxy newly placed,
Like an ancient monk obsessed

With finding the exact spot
Of the most original 
Wilderness of purity,

There to practice and to pray,
Or squat in perfect silence
Gathering that purity

Into profound emptiness,
Thus to pop a lid on it
And tote it to far countries

Mindful of missionaries
Whose alms jars are bottomless.
How empty can one jug be?

I wanted to climb the hill
And look into the subject,
But I recalled I can’t walk.

So I’m back to sitting down
Beside a far-away road,
Inventing my own content.


I’d like simplicity, hold the purity,
Monstrosity that isn’t too rococo,
And dark nights for the peacefully sleeping soul.

May I order those up, please, and one to go?
I’d like to reduce this nothing much of mine
To a fine, piquant sauce near nothing at all.


So. Divining about rain.
It will not rain. It will not.

About clearing. It will clear.
About not serving the lord.

Not auspicious, not at all.
About hunting and fishing.

You will not obtain a thing.
About taking up office.

Auspicious. The family.
Not auspicious. The guilty.

Fugitive will not be caught.
About catching the sickness.

Auspicious. What does that mean?
About rolling in riches.

Auspicious. What does that mean?
About what divining means.

You do not know anything.
You know that you’re divining.

Not auspicious. Divining.
About not divining. Yes.


Ruminating by the side
Of the road one afternoon
As I like to do, I saw

A striking cloud formation
That seemed almost symbolic,
At least symbolic to me—

Clouds at multiple levels,
Viewed from below, were a weir
Of patterns like woven reeds,

Longitudes and latitudes,
Until those running north-south
Collected in the center

Into one sky-sized sternum,
While the east-west clouds made ribs,
And I thought, hallelujah,

I have been inhaled at last!
And what if the sky had laughed?
It must have, hard. A rib cracked,

But I was not ejected.
I stayed sitting where I sat,
Feeling almost accepted.


The night priest has a question.
Why do some people not feel

Lonely when they are alone?
You eye him suspiciously.

This could be rhetorical,
A trick question, a koan.

Empty roads are not the same
As empty houses, you say.

The night priest grunts and goes back
To taking notes at his desk.


Between taking notes, you nod,
Half asleep, what are the notes

Between the notes? Are they blues?
Are they dreams? The night priest stirs.

Does he know what you’re thinking?
Will he ask you to answer?

How can you possibly find
The right notes between the notes?

If you could though, if you could,
You could. Wake up! You’re dreaming!


Something about bones and pain,
Adjusting your position,

Trying to stop the aching,
Does wake you, but the night priest

Seems to have woken as well,
The night priest who never sleeps.

If he has noticed the change
In your breathing, you’re done for,

That’s the end of your exam.
He’ll take it away from you.

I’m sorry, you say sweetly.
Sometimes I hum while writing.

Sometimes my overtones change
Between the notes. Smile shyly,

Shrug apologetically.
The night priest writes down something.

You can’t read his expression.
Just sit still and keep writing.

. . .

Small, earthly consolations.
You write that down in your notes,

With one eye on the night priest
Busy measuring starlight. 

And what do you think those are,
Asks the night priest, abruptly,

Without rising from his seat
Or turning to look at you.

The only kind, you say. Not
To be found by ascetics

Who are transforming themselves, 
Activists saving their worlds.

Or scientists watching stars,
Eh? says the night priest. What good

Can come of consolation?
Comfort, you answer. I see,

Says the night priest now peering
Through you, Comfort for a few.

Yes, you insist, For a few
Who so choose. Consolation.

And that’s enough? That suits you?
Hand in your exam. You’re through.

So you do, but you add one 
Note to console the recluse.


One way was to say the future
Always drags the past toward it,
But another way is to say

There is no future, never was.
Either way, nothing is nothing,
The center of all gravity

That makes us, loves us, and wants us
To come home, will make us come home.
Settle down. Everyone comes home.

~You May Want to Sit Down for This

The last thing I heard
Before I got lost
Many things are known
To not be that are
Thoughts in words that are

Material words
Like God and future
That exist and are
Vehicles for what
Otherwise does not

Nothing has ever
Stayed whole in this world
Where the names of death
Pass through the living
Whisper to whisper

It should be freeing
To have words that leave
But words bring fictions
The anxious disease
Don’t dread don’t believe 

The future you see
Lies in the present
Remains of the past 
And does not exist
Not in the slightest


The peacefully ominous
Droning of an afternoon

Confined within the humming
Machineries of comfort

In an almost empty home.
Language, says the quiet tone,

From the first word, fucks with death. 
No one, no body, caught up

In language, even slightly,
Can die in simplicity

As a body, as a beast.
Once a symbol, death is not,

Death is never, quite complete.
Signs are neither living nor

Immortal, but they distort,
They blur, they extend the world.

You know this, given you know
This in your ancestors’s terms,

And using thoughts that were pried
Loose from the brains of others

Not your ancestors, nothing
To do with you, long ago,

Using their meanings. You know.
The home continues to drone.


Just sit your ass down
And stop listening
For any meaning.

Are you listening?
Am I getting through
To you loud and clear?

Yes? That’s no good, then!
The last lines I say,
Let drift far away.


The night priest sits alone
Under a dome of stars
Setting down their motions 

And drawing little notes
Focusing attention
On novas and omens

None of which is useful
Or even important
To the phenomena 

Duly noted as yet
But the priest is patient
And his secret belief

Is that he will take note
Of something magical
And ascend from his seat

Like the index finger
Of divine truth pointing
Its own way to the moon

Like some kind of angel
Answering the unknown
On one final vigil

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