There’s a place

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There’s a young oak by the path in the park
And every year it has green leaves
When all the other trees stand bare.

Bela Bartok stood on an island by South Ken tube
In Trilby hat and flowing overcoat
His feet were wreathed in flowers.

There’s a meditation room up steep stone spiral steps
And I have sat an hour or two just breathing quiet
The TICK TOCK of the old clock.

There’s a café in the park where walkers stop to talk
Egg and chips, a cup of tea and watch the world go passing by
The greeting dogs begin to bark

There’s a place in every heart
To take a break, to stand quite still
Sometimes in sunlight and then in dark

Upon a cushion

Zafu (Zen meditation cushion)

Zafu (Zen meditation cushion). Doggerel and crude sketch from sesshin a long time ago.

I sat upon a cushion
And I was feeling very comfy
But the radio was playing
Rock and pop and country

I sat upon my cushion
Or perhaps a cannon ball
My legs and head were hurting
I longed to crawl and bawl

I sat upon my cushion
Or in a snow scene ball
And there it covered all the ground
And glory shone around

I’m sitting on my cushion
Afloating on a lake
And all the water’s crystal clear
And I am bright awake

I’m sitting on my cushion
Surrendered to it now
Just breathing quiet and deeply
And ending with a bow

My cushion is a diaphragm
I rise and gently fall
Before or after giving birth
I’ve no idea at all

My cushion was a hard dry pulse
That now is soaked and soft
And I am ripening like a seed
My ego to throw off

I sat upon my cushion
And I did slip away
To darkness and deliverance
The pilot light of day

The Autumn of My Life

Without knowing love
for one’s children, there’s no truth
in cherry blossoms

(Bassho)

Around four in the morning I am disturbed by my daughter returning from the Purple Turtle in Camden. When I do get up at half past six, my time is taken with packing; one set of clothes to wear, three sets of changes, a sleeping bag and toiletries. In the kitchen I make sandwiches from last night’s chicken and a flask of fresh coffee. No time to meditate but still time to cycle to the Lido.

Diving in headfirst
a machete splitting
the watermelon

Riding through the park, the sky blue with frazzled clouds and a mild breeze, I grieve for a broken marriage and wonder if I will stay afloat. All the while swimming, ‘what have you done?’

Breaking off
I stand and wonder
in this blue pool

Back home I am surprised to find my 19 year old son in the kitchen. Just the day before, he’d taken a coach to Bath to visit a friend. ‘How come you’re back?’

‘Fergal’s being an arse. He just ignored me!’

I give him a hug. I feel so sorry. The hurt and guilt I already feel for shaking up the family becomes more intense. My wife gives me barely a look. ‘When are you leaving?’

So one last check of my list and I hoist the backpack, sling the other bag over my shoulder and leave the house without another word.

Walking to the station, I fall in behind a large Asian man with a beard and pony tail. He smokes and wears his trousers slung low beneath his underpants. Then a young West Indian woman wearing long black tights and bright blue denim shorts. I quicken my pace.

Very ordinary
a middle-aged couple
settle into a shiny car

Is it worth it? Have I thrown away a home, a family and all the security that goes with it, for the love and longing for a younger woman? Don’t do the arithmetic; I think of the torment and try to come to terms with it.

The train journey from Euston to Tywyn on the coast of North Wales is over four hours. It’s a welcome opportunity for study and contemplation. I take a look at Issa’s The Spring of My Life; the opening lines of Chapter Fourteen: ‘It is often said that the greatest pleasures result in the greatest misery.’

This world,
flying by in a train window,
is quite still

In the tunnel there is just the yellow light, black windows and the roar. The couple beside me, a little bit older, chat companionably.

Just one
among many
each passing field

What is this self destructive streak; this desire to take the wrong road? Boredom perhaps or the desire to do wrong and see if it works out better, where nothing is going right!

Full up, the train pulls out of the city, bound for … Change is constant but when you move everything else is quite peaceful and well ordered. Just looking and there is so much not seen from the railway carriage. If I ask for your love, you may cast me aside and leave me bereft. Whatsoever you do to someone else, they will eventually do unto you. That’s a law of nature.

My reverie is interrupted by the arrival of new passengers.

As I lay in bed last night
sucking a humbug
truly …

A lady called Maddie got on the train with her terrier called Scruffy who is sitting under the table. We talked of books for a while and now she is asleep. We’re travelling deeper into Wales, onwards to the west coast and the Irish Sea.

Outside the city, there is nothing much happening but sitting on the beach there is much to discover. I would rather pebbles than all the Queen’s jewels.

The onshore breeze
shapes face and hands
with chilling precision;
rummaging for heat
beneath my coat

Wind all around
the subtle texture
of an orange pebble 

            offshore
rolling pebbles rolling
            onshore

If I kiss the sea for you, I must kneel.

Man on the seafront –
a blue telescope
points at a grey sky

Desolate beach
finding faces in the pebbles
now and then

Later that evening in the snug of the old farm house someone suggests that paintings of rice cakes can nourish. A definition of haiku is shared: the poetry of bent nails. And when I look for my pencil someone kindly asks what I have lost,

‘I’m looking for my pencil!’
‘What colour is your pencil?’
‘It’s red!’
‘It’s behind your ear.’

We start each morning in silence; a half hour’s meditation in the sitting room then breakfast in the kitchen. No longer a smoker, I smell my smoking friend come in. Sitting with others deepens and defines the experience. Like swimming with someone, it provides the third leg to the stool of one’s endeavours. Some time after the bell rings, the room empties.

Wrinkles –
the sofa just the way it is
after the sitter leaves

Apple tart, underdone the night before, then overcooked today; just lovely! Even the burnt offerings are taken with pleasure. Someone notes that perfection is a heresy in Buddhism. The reflection in the spoon is Van Gogh’s sunshine. You hear a lot more in the silence. What a noise! The grain of the wood on the breakfast table! The poet has a pen in his button hole. Shush, the toast is too crunchy.

Silent breakfast
someone keeps ringing
the cereal bowl

Universe
spread with butter
take a bite

After breakfast, we sit and talk while a glorious day unfolds outside.

Our chatter
inside a universe
of birdsong

Beyond the talk
a circle of empty chairs
and dew drops

You can never really retreat from the world. Even as I sit in a beautiful garden in the hills of Wales, cares and concerns sit with me; listening to the bird song; the gurgle of the stream that falls down the hill and the crunch of the gardener’s secateurs.

Walking through the garden
I hear a stone
hit the bamboo
flying into the buddleia
with butterflies

A cloud bathed in golden light rests above the hill beyond the farm; a hill so lush and green with every field and wrinkle pickled out by sun and shade. And that singing bird it takes me back to Granny’s garden at Heather House.

A shady seat
above the sun-drenched path
and a still pool

To keep a travelling until the call of home is heard no more. I can no longer audit and add up who did this and who did that; what is right and what is wrong. If I stayed very still, would I see what is going on? On one side a small pool fed by a mountain brook that cascades down a rocky road to a lily pond. On the other side, a cat sits in a sunlight path that returns to the farmhouse.

Hosai Ozaki was a haiku poet who lived a life of extreme simplicity and poverty:

I cough and I’m still alone

A crow wordlessly flew away

Tongs
a mismatch pair
one whole winter

Someone says that, ‘to be clever enough to get all that money, you have to be stupid enough to want it.’ And someone else says, ‘you have to allow yourself the liberation of failure.’ I say for all of those who cannot or will not strip off and plunge into the warm autumn sea on this brilliant sunny afternoon ‘I do’. My pleasure is tinged with remorse that such a heavenly day should be mine and not yours; my pleasure worth less in isolation. But I swim for all those that won’t or can’t.

Sunny day
when the tide is out
the emptiness

How is it that this day can be so calm and peaceful? In the flood valley, cattle graze. Everything is slow and peaceful, even the distant sound of birds.

Barely moving
upon yon distant peak
the resting cloud

A gaggle of geese
walking into a landscape
beneath a white cloud

Recording gives you the illusion that it all matters. That someone will read it afterwards and understand it. It demands another. Correspondence with oneself seems worthless. So if not with oneself and there is no other, who? Is that why we invent god, the great nothingness; throwing words into the abyss and hearing just the echo or not.

I’m still here
the pipes in the old farmhouse
sing a dawn chorus

Issa writes of the death of his baby daughter from smallpox and while the mother wails he notes that ‘I know her heart breaks but also know that tears are useless, that water under the bridge never returns’ and then:

This world of dew
is only the world of dew –
and yet … oh and yet …

(Issa)