How Zen Ruins Poets

Before I knew that mind
could never marry the words
it loved, in which it lost itself,
in which it dressed itself,
in which it sang its most secret
tender and bitter hymns,
I also loved the thrill of thinking.
Since birth I’ve swum in the clear,
decisive muscles of its currents,
the places where the water seemed
to reconsider its course before continuing,
then the sudden onrush of falls.
I lived inside language, its many musics,
its rough, lichen-crusted stones,
its hemlocks bowed in snow.
Words were my altar and my school.
Wherever they took me, I went,
and they came to me, winged and bearing
the beautiful twigs and litter
of life’s meaning, the songs of truth.

Then a question arose in me:
What language does the mind
speak before thinking, before
thinking gives birth to words?
I tried to write without embellishment,
to tell no lies while keeping death in mind.
To write what was still unthought-about.
Stripped to their thinnest selves,
words turn transparent, to windows
through which I sometimes glimpse
what’s just beyond them.
There, a tiny flash — did you see it?
There it is again!

FROM Horses Where the Answers Should Have Been: New and Selected Poems
(Copper Canyon Press, 2010, p. 245)
REPRINTED WITH THE AUTHOR’S PERMISSION

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