junk detox

“We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside which holds whatever we want” Lao Tzu

“We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside which holds whatever we want” Lao Tzu

To the friend who sent me these words today, being in the same boat:
the first step to getting what you want is having the courage to get rid of what you don’t

You said it reminded you of some advice I’d given and I want to say I’m sorry.
About the advice I mean. It was a glib show;
dressed up in the satin-slippery glamour of poetic quotes
it got in the way of nakedly saying I don’t know.

For the state I’m in right now lends itself to purging
In between bouts of nausea I’m prowling madly through the house, making a mess
as I dig like a dangerous animal searching for prey
killing anything that doesn’t give me beauty, joy or usefulness.

All these corpses. It’s not just objects past their goodbye date I’m hunting down;
I’ve unhooked myself from every online magazine self-help program and blog
business or otherwise I’ve collected over the years
sick of their reproachful unread status cluttering up my inbox

I want surfaces. Space. Emptiness.
Sell up. Sweep out all the stuff inside my head I think I know
and start all over again. Beginner’s Mind.
It’s all marked down. Like those huge sales where everything must go.

Being empty I’ll have no more advice to give
nor can it come regurgitated from the mouth of social media, a thousand-fold said
I’m blocking those channels; trading aphorisms seems a poor exchange
when something risky, still unspoken, intoxicating could be said instead

So it’s quite uncanny you sent me what you did
for it’s only from this newly spacious mind that I can say
how much I like it that someone on the other side of night
thinks of me in the emerging light of day

Making me wonder
what I want to make all this space for

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What needs saying

When I first encountered zen gardens during my time in Japan, I never quite ‘got’ them. On the surface they appeared boring, they lacked sensory appeal and they spoke in a language peaceful yes, but strangely dull to me.

It was only years later that I began to catch a glimmer of understanding; how their quintessential ‘changelessness’ is a key to grasping their true value. While the landscape around them blossoms into spring,  turns ravishingly beautiful in summer, falling into the glory of autumn and then the austerity of winter, the zen garden remains seasonless, still, everlastingly the same in the midst of change.  And so it is when contemplating the deeper truths of life in the midst of the chaos and churn of every day living.

What follows is not a poem inspired by zen gardens; but it seemed to share a similar feeling in its landscape, mood and intention as I wrote, puzzling over a life problem which could be seen to have its roots in Japan.

Zen garden 800 x 661

From my personal photos: Ryogen Daitoku-ji temple in Kyoto

Silence has many tongues
all untranslatable
I can no longer find you
in the mapping of words

Your silence says everything
and tells me nothing
transparent as a veil, unforgiving as stone
both mute and eloquent
in ambiguity
sealed in the armour
of staying unknown

So hard to know then
what really needs saying
and right now I can’t find the words
but I can search in two possible places

One is my heart
long unable to mend
the other my soul which in daily rebellion
kicks at how language
can’t hold us together
just this silence
which binds us invisibly as surely as love would have
if we’d been able to trust where it took us

So I search in the breaking
which grieves the unfinished
the squandered awakening
the reunion undone

and I still see so clearly
the greater intention
not this fugitive love
which cannot give more than

this silence for silence
which seems like an ending
but is really a listening
a dowsing for stillness
in this landscape of words

And out of the stillness
words rise to the surface
massive like islands
to say what needs saying

They rise up to answer a call from the future
a freshly made country not yet known or mapped out
with the naming of words

It will wait

And how we next meet will find its own way
like a mysterious traveller speaking in tongues
who returns to your doorway delivering a message
steeped in a language vivid with meaning
but which cannot be heard or translated
except by a much larger love

Not yet here

the zoo of the unknown

This is altogether darker territory; a realm where animals are cyphers for what we don’t want to know.

Photo: Mike Visagie © www.mikevisagie.com

Photo: Mike Visagie © http://www.mikevisagie.com

Today
you visit the zoo of the unknown
those clawed and fanged things you captured wild
and dragged in one by one to be caged.

Today you feel strong enough
to eye them through the bars
and the soundproof safety glass
that stops you hearing them wail and howl
hunting for their freedom

You survey the broken ground
they’ve been digging tunnels, breaching underground  places
sniffing out all that buried shame
that tamped down stench of hidden pain
no one faces

Thwarted by his resentful mate
the wildcat is crimson furred, electric with hate
It’s feeding time; silently they fling themselves at your passing shadow
hungering for your recognition.
Isn’t that why you’ve come?
Guiltily you turn away.
You’re only here to check the security

Something sorrowful lurks, you haven’t spotted him yet
And he’s harmless anyway but those hyenas now
jostling doubt and futility between their jealous jaws
they look at you with sly desire
urge you to join them in their game of back and forth
an endless  distraction
you slide past them uneasily
nothing to do with you

Surprised,
fear slithers beneath your feet making you unsteady
You tremble and the wild things stir within
flexing their wings, their claws, their long insinuating tongues

Predatory. They keep to themselves what they know.
That they can take you where you need to go
but only if you meet them in the wilderness
let them razor you open, leave you gutted
your heart excavated
then go riding their backs
to get a bird’s eye view

finding the lions

Perhaps we give nature its human voice when we allow it to enter us through the poetic imagination. Here’s the 2nd poem in a series of 3:

Photo: Mike Visagie © www.mikevisagie.com

Photo: Mike Visagie © http://www.mikevisagie.com

I wake to find a lioness has crept into my limbs
She stretches, rolls and purrs
lies waiting, distantly alert, expectant
and watches her mate stealthily
through sleepy-slitted eyes.

We’d searched all day for the lions
and finally found them sunning themselves
in the late long afternoon grass, these wild royals
stately and languorous, so lavishly amorous.
He courting her, his great tongue licking her neck.
She biding her time; letting him wait.

When he placed his massive paw onto her back
and gently pushed her down
she submitted graciously, one feline glance
cast back at him as if to idly check
she really had secured him. Her satisfied indifference
in the moment of his culminating snarl.

They were rarely seen the ranger said.

And so I am surprised to find them once again this morning
with an air of predatory relish
reclining in our bed.

the eloquence of elephants

Living in a country where wild animals can still be experienced up close in their natural habitat allows them to enter our psyches and imaginations in a way very different from just seeing reproduced images of them.  This is the first of three poems:

Photo: Cian Small

Photo: Cian Small

Her trunk is an eye
a feeling intelligence
a far-seeing limb
of elegant eloquence
that somehow translates
into mysteriousness

For I can no more
think of her trunk’s curling grace
without feeling my
own phantom limb reaching
into my life its
unfolding – strange –  from my face.

One sees things anew
from an elephant’s trunk point of view.

song: the way to lindisfarne

Uncertain of the future we make our way to Lindisfarne
Where the sea conceals the road and the way becomes a mystery
pilgrims on a journey we have come to find our history
in our dereliction, in the ruins of all our wrongs
paying homage to our losses, the reason we have come

Will you meet me on the island, the island Lindisfarne
You will find me in the ruins where the arches frame the sky
laying bare the naked skeleton  of what could not survive
It’s there among the fallen, we‘ll undress what we’ve become
retrieving all we should’ve saved, and all we left undone

If you meet me on the island, the island Lindisfarne
We could start at the beginning as if we still had time
as if we could recover what was never yours or mine
You’ll undo all your longing and I’ll empty myself of you
Then we’ll return to lives unshadowed by the love we chose to lose

And once we’ve left the island, when we’re far from Lindisfarne
we’ll pretend this was a dream and that we always knew
you’ll never have me in this lifetime and I must burn each thought of you
it’s just the last thing I remember, where the sea draws over stone
There were still two travellers waiting for the sea to free the road

They are the ghosts of our surrender to another history
and they will take the road not taken, the road we couldn’t see.

acknowledgements:  Robert Frost & dear friends MG and CG who took me there