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"River Haiku"
by Jeanne Rosen Sofen
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Gary Young


All that’s left of the fabled residence is a teahouse on a tiny island in the center of a pond. The great hall must have been beautiful; the little house and the bridge beside it are lovely even now. Wisteria sways along a trellis that rises from the pond, and three turtles rest on a rock beside a slender crane. The water is marked with the dark shadows of cedar and pine, and enormous carp circle the pond endlessly, without knowing they’re in a pond, without knowing that they’re carp.


As usual, the birds wake me with their racket at first light. The water in the rice field is iridescent beneath the slender green slips. Bamboo and pine trees blanket the hills beyond. I recognize the cooing dove, the sparrow and the thrush. How did they find me here, on the other side of the world?


The old scholar explained the significance of the Chinese characters, and their importance to the Buddhist ideal of non-attachment. His baggy pants were gathered by a belt hitched up to its last notch. When I said, I think you exemplify that ideal, he looked at me with his one good eye, shook his head and said, oh no, I am not like that at all. I have desires. I would like some water, he said smiling. I desire water.

We followed a trail beside a mountain stream, and below us, in the water, tiny trout swam upstream beside us. They kept our pace, and as we walked, larger fish joined the others, and when we reached the shrine at the end of the trail, there were a dozen fish large enough to eat milling in a pool. At the shrine, we met a man in uniform, and thought he might turn us away, but when I pointed to the fish gathered in the stream, he lifted a tarp from the back of his pick-up, pointed to a fishing rod and laughed.

At sixty, I’ve made progress, eliminating anger from my heart, and ridding myself of attachment to things. I have freed my mind of troubling thoughts and foolish distractions, but I cannot seem to cure myself of lust. I suffer every affection—pleasant colors, smooth skin, soothing voices. To tame these passions, a sutra suggests that we meditate on the body’s impurities—feces, urine, smeared blood, scorched bones—or imagine being devoured by wild animals. I have tried. It may well be that a living body is like a rotten corpse, neither one worthy of desire, but how could I ever turn away from my wife’s breasts, my son’s dark eyes, or the music of my boy’s sweet voice when he calls to me?

These poems and others will appear in the forthcoming book, In Japan, scheduled for publication by Ninja press in a limited edition; Precious Mirror, calligraphy and poems by Kobun Chino Otogawa Roshi with translations by Gary Young is forthcoming from White Pine Press. The translations and the poems were all written, or at least begun, in Japan, summer of 2011.

Gary Young

Gary Young is a poet and artist whose honors include grants from the NEH, the California Arts Council, and two fellowship grants from the NEA. He’s received a Pushcart Prize, and his book, The Dream of a Moral Life, won the James D. Phelan Award. He is the author of Hands, Days, Braver Deeds, (Peregrine Smith Poetry Prize), No Other Life, (William Carlos Williams Award), Pleasure, and Even So: New and Selected Poems. His print work is represented in collections including the Museum of Modern Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum and The Getty Center for the Arts. In 2009 he received the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America. He teaches creative writing, and directs the Cowell Press at UC Santa Cruz.

Helene Simkin Jara

Len Anderson
Charles Atkinson
Ellen Bass
Killarney Clary
Helene Simkin Jara
Jake Young
Gary Young

Wallace Baine

Jeanne Rosen Sofen

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