Ghazal, with Cow Burial

“There are only 31 horse burials in Britain and they are all with men.”

Out of a pit, they’ve found a woman’s bones— whittled by time,
beaded with dust, clutching the ambered remains of a cow.

Was she matriarch, widow, wife? Did she die struck by illness or blight?
Archeologists say her wealth and status are proven by this cow.

Some days, I quip to friends and family that my name might as well be
Bob (short for Beast of Burden): but, life’s yoke being heavier than a cow,

would I really want to take it with me? In Chinese burials, the dead
(their spirits, that is) are ferried to the afterlife: not on cows

but in paper limousines inked with symbols for wealth; stuffed with coins, bills,
sweets, cigars, what one liked here enough to take to there; but not a cow—

In the winding Cordilleras I call home, the dead are neatly tucked among
the hills, with jars of betel nut and agate beads— never with a cow.

And a friend writes to remind me: in Hindu myth, should the population
be in danger, they’ll save the women, children, and their cows.

The cow that in this life was cow, does it remain the same? Does it dream
of feathered grass in the fields, of gnats, the low symphony of fellow cows

chewing their cud? They poke at beetles the color of jewels
—embellishment on face plates of sleeping mummies. The cow

as sacrifice, as plenty, as months of food and fat and solid warmth.
And the woman: how was she loved, missed, valued more than cow?


In response to Cow and woman found ... in Anglo-Saxon Dig.

Names, Words, Names

Some words are only names, but some
are grenades of color— How else to explain
the corrosive red of dragonfruit, tart

and scaly pucker in each syllable of rattan,
pale, warning-light diminutions of the loquat,
lightning fire asleep but rousable in cobalt,

fermenting sweetness in ambrosia (and oh,
Ambrosia, weren’t you the long-legged girl
every boy on the street fell in love with

and could not wait to date)? And some names
are not merely words but decoys popping up
on the shore of bland expectation,

paint a little off, or streaking, or applied
to all the wrong places— For instance,
the students tonight doing freewrites

on language, begin to share: one says,
The guy I work out with at the gym
is Evian; his sister is Dasani, and all

his other siblings are named after
bottled water
. And the student
whose mother works as a nurse

at a clinic pipes up, Once there was
a girl who pronounced her name like this:
Shi’thay-ed; Shi’thay-ed, but on the form

it read “Shithead.” And the class by now
has burst into uncontrollable farts
of laughter. And all the rest

of the evening they shake their heads
and ask, Really? Who names their child
Shithead, Shi’thay-ed, Shithead?


In response to Via Negativa, Remembering Rio.

Remembering Rio

tasting rhubarb:

Aqua or turquoise is a favourite colour. It always makes me think of the ocean lapping the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, the blue-green light of a natural beauty that infiltrates the soul, surpassing all the sadness, confusion and fear in a big city or a small heart.

Spicebush silkmoths

mating promethea moths 1

It never fails to amaze me how little we know about our neighbors here. I’ve been noticing these curled-leaf cocoons on spicebushes for years, but never realized that they were most likely the work of the promethea moth, A.K.A. spicebush silkmoth. In fact, I’m embarrassed to admit that we initially mis-identified this mating pair on a spicebush next to the barn as cecropia moths — one of the three or four other species of giant silkmoths that occur on the mountain.
Continue reading “Spicebush silkmoths”

Rest Stop

This entry is part 3 of 47 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2012


Dear one, you in that slouchy, shoulder-baring top and skimpy shorts, me in my work shirt and jeans— here we are at a pause, hitch-hiking through the Pacific coastline of our lives. I glance in your direction every now and then to watch the nonchalant way you hold up a thumb in that universal gesture that says I don’t care, just get me outta here. I can understand that, because even at my age, there are times I don’t know where I want to be either; or anymore. Some dreams still come back from a similar time in my youth: me sweating in sheets and tossing in bed, or wanting to swing an arm out in anger but finding that I can’t move. Or working the throat toward a catapult of sound, only to discover my mouth taped shut. Oh I wanted so bad to get to that cool and clear, that threshold where the woods stopped and the rest of the vibrant world began. To tell you the truth, I can hardly remember how I got here. Only that for every sonofabitch, there have been more that were kind; for every wrong turn, there have been way stations with at least a bench or a working bathroom, a vending machine. And all this walking and wandering has made me tired, but let me not forget to say thank you—even to whatever might have led me here by mistake.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Seon Joon on training to be a Buddhist nun in Korea

Vimeo link.

Regular readers of this blog are probably familiar with Seon Joon as a photoblogger and poet to whom both Luisa and I regularly link. Actually, I’ve been reading her since about 2004, I think, though she wasn’t online for several years while she studied at seminary. She graduated in January and received full ordination in April. Now she’s in Virginia taking a summer intensive language class in Tibetan, but she stopped at the Korea Society in New York on June 6 to give this talk about — as the society’s webpage puts it — “the essential elements of Korean Buddhism and the daily life of women training to become monastics in modern Korea through her personal experience and photos.”

Seon Joon is an entertaining speaker, and the video does an excellent job of showing both the speaker and the photos she shared, with only the minor annoyance of some microphone crackle in the beginning portion. I highly recommend this to anyone with an interest in Buddhism, Korea or communal living. But if you can’t spare the full two hours, I’ve transcribed a few favorite quotes along with their start times.

7:00 The monastic life is first and foremost not an ideal, but something that regular people are trying to live. […] People think we don’t nap. We nap! Believe me. When I was planning this talk, one of the foreign monastics said, “You should show nuns using money, because nobody believes that we do!”

25:23 If I had to say that there’s one thing about the monastic community in Korea that defines it, it is its emphasis on harmony. That learning to get on with others and work with them in a way that is conflict-free is probably more important than any other single ideal. A good monastic is someone who creates no friction in the community.

46:37 We typically pickled about 7,000 heads of cabbage [at Un Mon Monastic College]. And that was considered a small amount! […] Even when I was a postulant in my home temple, I asked, “Why is everyone so stressed about this [kimchee making]?” It was really tense. And they looked at me in astonishment and said, “If this doesn’t go right, we have nothing to eat.”

1:20:48 For us, spoken words are an action. They have the ability to affect reality. So blessing is not just a good feeling because I like you or I hope you feel better, we actually believe and have the aspiration that if done with a pure enough heart and a strong enough intent, you can affect change in this world.

1:43:18 Most of us ordained because we had some desire to live a more clear life. “Enlightenment” is a really big word. Personally, I avoid it because it carries too many ideas with it, and it’s really hard to connect with enlightenment on a daily level, whereas if you say I’m trying to live more clearly, most of us can understand that. “I’m trying to have a little more clarity in my life.”

For me, living in an environment, working in an environment this intensely, taught me a lot about what mental and emotional habits I have — especially surrounding conflict. […] If you aren’t living in a community like this and you have a fight with somebody at work, you fight, 5:00 o’clock happens and you go home. You let it sit for a day. You may not even try and solve it. The next day you might even be able to avoid this person. And so your conflict and whatever you think about it can actually last a lot longer. But in a community like this, you fight. Then you gotta sleep next to this person, shower next to this person, work next to this person, study next to this person, day in, day out, for months on end. You have a choice, and it gets clear real fast: are you gonna hold on to whatever you think is right, or are you going to do what it takes to create harmony?

1:49:12 Something that I never fail to point out to any monk who will give me five minutes is that when men ordain they do not lose their masculinity. Socially. They are still recognized as men societally. When women ordain, we lose our femininity. And we become a kind of neuter. And this brings some other powers, because you’re no longer in the feminine paradigm, or the female paradigm, but then you also lose what power women do have. And in Korea, you know that women have their own power. It’s not obvious and it operates in sort of back channels, but it’s there.


The Velveteen Rabbi:

Amos stands on a subway platform
littered with stubbed-out cigarettes.
For three sins, even for four,
I will not reverse it!
The commuters
skirt his dirty robes, avoid eye contact.

Passing Storm

Courage and fear, those alternating currents. Like whips of lightning that stripe sheets of rain, the boom of close-by thunder. A rattly noise on all the roofs and windows: and we realize it’s hailing— I imagine chunks of ice like dice rolled in a cup, bouncing on the pavement, into the ditch lined with weeds. It’s hard to see on the road, through rain’s white noise and the Friday evening rush: everyone wants to get home, to flee to somewhere dry and dim, backlit by tea lights and amber-colored bottles of beer. Somewhere, a siren. A police car flashes its emergency lights every few seconds, steering motorists away from the flooded underpass. Umbrellas are no match for the wind. Secretaries from the engineering building wade into the flooded street, their high-heeled sandals tucked into their lunch bags. Be careful, someone yells out a window. Are you almost here? texts my friend. It may take a while, I say. We’ll get there when we get there. Nothing to do but ride this out, observe: we’re here, we’re here, still here.


In response to small stone (103).