ZEN POEMS & ZEN PHOTOS


NEW PHOTOS AND POEMS ADDED EVERY WEEK, USUALLY ON  SUNDAYS: 

 

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The One Word Tone Poem That Completely and Utterly

     and Irrevocably Explains and Does Not Explain Zen: 

 

                       Zen 

 

 

-Dick Allen

 

 

 

 

 

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How Long Shall I Wait

How long shall I wait

beside this small lake

envying the high clouds?

The passage my life opened

is closing soon.

How have I walked it?

I remember brushing both hands

against stone walls

and the Buddha’s last words

loosely translated:

It gets no better, strive harder.

 

-Dick Allen

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Open Your Mouth

Open your mouth

and the Buddha’s mother appears.

Close your mouth

and the entire universe disappears.

What does this mean?

Why are you drinking Coca-Cola

when you could have had Pepsi?

Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we go,

sang the seven dwarfs in the Disney movie.

-Dick Allen

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“‘I came, all of a sudden, to my senses’”

“I came, all of a sudden, to my senses,”

the Zen Master said,

“the five horses driving the chariot of my body:

touch, taste, smell, seeing, hearing,

and the kinetic one, the strangest one,

the one of muscles moving, stretching

as in a yawn, a grimace,

the pull of reins,

and I was the chariot master.

But some say there’s also pain,

balance,

temperature,

time,

acceleration,

and what lies beyond,

although, in my training,

nothing lies beyond.”

Hear the wind chimes

bite into the pear.

-Dick Allen

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From Childhood, My Favorite Song

“From childhood, my favorite song

was ‘Que Sera, Sera,’”

said the Zen Master,

“as sung by Doris Day.”

“I sing it in the morning,” he said,

“I sing it in the evening.

I sing it

all over this land.”

“Wait. You’re confused,” we told him,

“you’ve thrown in Pete Seeger.”

“No matter,” the Zen Master said,

wickedly smiling,

“It’s all peanut butter. It’s all

marshmallow fluff.

Que sera, sera.”

 

-Dick Allen

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I Don’t Want

“‘I don’t want to be a Zen Master,’

I told my first Zen Master,”

said the Zen Master.

“I, too, told my first Zen Master,”

replied the Zen Master,

“‘Don’t make me a Zen Master.’

Yet then my Zen Master

said, ‘Not a single Zen Master

wanted to be a Zen Master.’”

“Why?” we asked our Zen Master.

“If you know that,” said the Zen Master,

“you’ll become a Zen Master.”

                     -Dick Allen

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The Zen Master’s Haiku

Why is it that crows

crow but robins don’t robin

and thrushes don’t thrush?

-Dick Allen

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Advice to Three People Adrift

            in a Political Sea

In most case, yell “Help! Help!”

before you start fighting

and collapse the boat.

If you can do this,

perhaps the anger rising in your face

will be only your blushes.

Someone may hear you.

Someone may not.

Call out either way.

-Dick Allen

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Here’s the Dilemma

Here’s the dilemma:

as in the cartoon,

you’ve fallen over a precipice

and are hanging onto a tree branch for dear life

with just your teeth.

If you would be rescued, you must call

but to call, you must let go.

Does the Zen Master hear?

Or is he too busy eating his persimmons?

-Dick Allen

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Open Your Mouth

Open your mouth

and the Buddha’s mother appears.

Close your mouth

and the entire universe disappears.

What does this mean?

Why are you drinking Coca-Cola

when you could have had Pepsi?

Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we go,

sang the seven dwarfs in the Disney movie.

-Dick Allen

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When I Was Young

When I was young

and it was snowing as if you could hear wolves howling,

I used to walk deep into the forest,

under great white pines,

following deer and rabbit tracks until they disappeared,

or until I found, under the thickest branches,

what was almost a small dry cave or cavern

with a floor of brown needles.

There, I’d sit down,

clasping my hands around my knees

to watch snow falling.

I taught myself, for hours,

to watch snow falling.

-from THE ZEN MASTER POEMS

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Question to Question

Question to question, I’ve just been

following along

as if each question was a paper lantern

on a path to the sea.

What is suffering?

If I desire to end desire

how can I end desire?

These usual questions.

The wind from the sea blows the lanterns.

The wind from inland blows the lanterns.

The lanterns sway back and forth.

The flames inside them sway.

-Dick Allen

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On the Eight-Fold Path

Look with a level gaze.

Walk facing traffic.

Talk as if you were being overheard by monks with begging bowls.

Take the path that goes into Frost’s woods.

Earn your living in order to give away oranges.

Make certain you remember lilies of the field, not Lord & Taylor.

Observe how the world is folded like an envelope.

Focus the camera while you step away.

-Dick Allen

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How Fortunate

“How fortunate I was

to have failed in my political ambitions,”

the Zen Master told us,

“for had I succeeded,

my life would have been remembered

for how I turned into the arrogant

captain of all the fawning I received

in my high Washington windows,

the scraping and bowing

I myself had mastered long ago,

rather than for these verses

you’ve come to hear,

a few kernels of brown rice

in an old begging bowl.”

-Dick Allen

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Zen Master Drinking Song

One little, two little, three little Buddhas,

Four little, five little, six little Buddhas,

Seven little, eight little, nine little Buddhas,

Ten little Buddha boys.

 

Ten little, nine little, eight little Buddhas,

Seven little, six little, five little Buddhas,

Four little, three little, two little Buddhas,

One little Buddha boy.

-Dick Allen

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Tai Chi and Zen

They call this exercise

“Embracing the World,”

extending arms outward and around

to draw energy in,

then moving arms slowly down

as the knees bend,

centering,

doing Tai Chi,

thinking Zen.

               -Dick Allen

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Don’t Say

“Don’t say there is a tea cup.

Don’t say there is not a tea cup.”

What can you say?

All morning, I spent

watching icicles drip,

hearing the song in them.

-Dick Allen
 
 
 
 
 

Zen Thought

“Zen,” he said, “is actually

simply a way of being. Think

‘easy acceptance.’ Think ‘sight’

and the Indo-European ‘sentinel.’

Think of looking at everything in the world

with forgiving fresh eyes.

Have you enough time for that?

To think upon that?

To meditate upon that?

walking meditation.

 

                   -Dick Allen

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American Zen, Other Zen 

“What’s the difference

between American Zen

and all other sorts of Zen?”

we asked the Zen Master.

“Branson, Missouri,” he said,

“and New England clam chowder.

You might add to that Blues

on hot Memphis nights,

and one other thing,

sushi on hamburger rolls.”

-Dick Allen

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Zen East, Zen West

“When I talk about the east,

you go into the west.

When I talk about the west,

you go into the east,”

quoted the Zen Master.

“It’s as if you’ve been reading Kipling’s poems

over an old campfire.

Concentrate.

Hear what I’m saying, now.

This time, this place.

Here on this park bench

with a view of all these mountains.”

                       -Dick Allen

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Watching

Watching an old black and white movie

in which it’s raining

upon empty parking lots between tall buildings,

I think of James Cagney,

shoulders hunching up against the rain,

walking across the lot. No music whatsoever,

just the rain, the emptiness,

Cagney hunching up his shoulders,

his little eyes darting everywhere,

taking everything in—

a little Buddhist monk

clutching his robe to his throat

as he walks through the rain.

-Dick Allen

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What is Real Truth

What is real truth?

Knowing how to hit the drum.

 

                   -Dick Allen

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Zen & Politics

“Be like a shattered metal gong

and utter nothing,

even when angry words

fall upon you,”

said the Zen Master.

“Swallow your tongue.”

So we tried,

but our tongues were slimy

and did not go down well,

we had been so long in politics,

grown certain we could do no wrong,

not even to window panes

or blue eyelashes.

-Dick Allen

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In My Favorite Zen Story

In my favorite Zen story,

an old man is sitting beside a wishing well,

when a young man comes out of the dark to sit beside him.

“Well?” asks the old man.

“Well,” the young man answers.

A pigeon hops across the courtyard, also.

-Dick Allen

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Zen Master Traveling Song

A flavor, a favor,

a drunken old Zen Master.

I put a koan in my bowl

and on the Way I solved it.

 

I solved it, I solved it.

Yes, on the Way I solved it.

I put a koan in my bowl

and on the Way, I solved it.’’  

 

-Dick Allen

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Zen Master Commercial

“When I reached the end of my wits,”

the Zen master said,

“and instead of painting ensos, all I could manage

were Z’s, like Zorro used to scratch

on the sides of stucco buildings in Mexico,

parallel stroke to the right,

horizontal stroke backwards and down,

another parallel stroke:

three jerky movements, unlike the grace

and ease of an enso,

which is like slowly yawning

or doing something so right you know, as you do it,

that for the rest of your life you’ll never regret it,

there, at the end of my wits,

in that green bamboo forest, populated

by striped tigers,

I found Leonard Cohen

sitting on a log, toasting marshmallows,

and singing, “First We Take Manhattan,

then we take New York.”

-Dick Allen

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Man of the Weeds

You, too, are a man of the weeds,

peeking out.

Are you alive or not,

peeking out?

Who else lives in there with you,

peeking out?

-Dick Allen

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Said the Zen Master

Toss a ball onto swiftly flowing water,

that’s your life going by.

But nine times out of ten

it catches on brambles.

Make that 9,999

out of 10,000

lives on their way to the sea.

-Dick Allen

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Two Basic Zen Master Poems

 

     I Have Seen

I have seen the twin towers.

I have seen the white whale.

     Why Is It So Difficult

Why is it so difficult to accept

things as they are

as they are?

-Dick Allen

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Zen Political Advice

 

In most cases, yell “Help! Help!”

before you start fighting

and collapse the boat.

 

If you can do this,

perhaps the anger rising in your face

will be only your blushes.

 

Someone may hear you.

Someone may not.

Call out either way.

 

                       -Dick Allen

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Immense Wealth

“Immense wealth—how it disgusts me,”

the Zen Master said,

“the only thing to do with it

is to give it away.”

Who should receive it?

“the hard-working poor,

until they’re on their feet,

then take it away from them

and give it to others.

There are millions and millions of others.”

-Dick Allen

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Two Zen Master Quotes

 

 

The Zen Master’s Great Simplification

Basically, it all comes down to this.

The Zen Master’s Answer to Everything

 

maybe

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Found Zen Poem

“Life is life,

and fun is fun,

but it’s all so quiet

when the goldfish die.”

                 -Dick Allen

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What was it Yuan-Wu said,

“Picking up a blade of grass,

you can use it for the body of the Buddha,

taking the body of Buddha

you can use it as a blade of grass.”

When your cell phone rings,

you’re talking to every light or dark star

that ever existed,

including our sun

or at least the name we call it.

Sol,

big yellow spot in the sky.

Miracle, miracle, miracle,

to almost realize.

-Dick Allen

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Zen Freedom

Concepts,

positions,

ideas—

you must leave each suitcase

on the side of the road,

for the goldenrod,

the Queen Anne’s Lace,

Indian Paintbrush,

Butterfly Weed,

Wild Iris,

and walk on empty-handed

into the empty mind.

-Dick Allen

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Death of the Zen Master

“What a relief

to have it over,

now my next life

is about to begin,”

said the Zen Master.

“Never say never,” he added,

and, “It’s an adventure,”

and, “Brrr,”

and “Please read me the evening paper, please,

and The Tibetan Book of the Dead ,”

long-winded to the end,

which took about as long

as we’d expected,

the soda machine in the hallway

finally emptied, like him.

-Dick Allen

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The Zen Master Smiles, Saying This

“If you do not cut off the mind road,

then you are a ghost clinging to bushes and grasses,”

said the Zen Master Wumen Heikai.

“Make your whole body a mass of doubt

and with your three hundred and sixty bones and joints,

and your eighty-four thousand hair follicles,

concentrate on the one word ‘Mu.’

It is like swallowing a red-hot ball.”

This is from The Gateless Barrier,

translated by Robert Aiken,

which fell into my hands

one night in San Francisco,

out by the foggy harbor.

-Dick Allen

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Zen Koan Nursery Rhyme

A flavor, a favor,

a drunken old Zen Master.

I put a koan in my bowl

and on the way I solved it.

I solved it, I solved it.

Yes, on the way I solved it.

I put a koan in my bowl

and on the way, I solved it.

                        -Dick Allen

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         Zen Failure

I hold onto it for a long time:

my grudge,

my wonderful, sublime

boulder I couldn’t budge

nor dredge

up from its river bottom,

stuck there in the sludge

and gum

of all resentments I’ve not overcome.

-Dick Allen

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Zen = Semi-Paradox

Open your mouth

and the Buddha’s mother appears.

Close your mouth

and the entire universe disappears.

What does this mean?

Why are you drinking Coca-Cola

when you could have had Pepsi?

Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we go,

sang the seven dwarfs in the Disney movie.

-Dick Allen

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For One Bereft

Archibald MacLeish:

“For all the history of grief,

an empty doorway and a maple leaf.”

Step through the empty doorway.

Pick up the maple leaf.

You may have Faith

without Belief.

-Dick Allen

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The Zen Master’s Take on the Majjhima Nikaya

People throw all manner of clean and unclean things

into rivers like the Connecticut River,

yet the water is neither troubled nor repelled nor disgusted.

People toss all manner of clean and unclean things

into flaming trash barrels and smoldering city dumps

yet fire burns all

and is neither troubled nor repelled nor disgusted.

People loose kites and scraps of paper and butterflies from cupped hands

into the air already teeming with sparrows and bumblebees and wasps and flying ants

and yet the air is neither troubled nor repelled nor disgusted.

People send rockets into space and prayers and shouts and curses,

yet Space, which is nowhere established,

is neither troubled nor repelled or disgusted.

Develop a state of mind of friendliness

for ill-will will grow less

and compassion

for vexation will grow less

and joy

for aversion will grow less

and equanimity

for repugnance will grow less.

Also, remember to stop for doughnuts

and use extra milk in your coffee, or half and half,

or even, if you would lighten your mood, use heavy cream.

-Dick Allen

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“ ‘Ochitsuite!’ exclaimed”

“Ochitsuite!” exclaimed

the Zen Master,

“Relax!” and then

“Wakaru!” which means

“to understand, to see, to follow,”

followed by his whispered

“shunkan,”

a moment, a second, an instant,

his words

holding us still, fascinated.

-Dick Allen

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“I’ve ridden all three vehicles. . . ”

“I’ve ridden all three vehicles,”

reminisced the Zen Master.

“My bicycle ride was very slow,

bumpy and sweaty.

“The car took me around hairpin curves

and up and down valleys.

“Ah, but the speeding train,

those railroad crossings in the night across Missouri!”

-Dick Allen

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The Zen Master’s Breakfast

Why do so many Indian words

sound, in English, like breakfast cereals?

Samsara,

Ninanes,

Shandhas.

Samsaras—existence to existence,

the breakfast of champions.

Ninanas—twelve lives in one, plus bananas.

Shandhas—five essential ingredients,

add milk. A fruit, if you dare.

Each morning

I take a box of Samsara

or Ninanes

or Shandhas

from my cupboard

and spill its bright grains

into my cereal bowl.

-Dick Allen

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“Anything can happen!”

Anything can happen!

Anything?

Anything can happen.

Can elephants come out of the woodwork?

Anything can happen!

Can the Buddha appear beside the Virgin Mary?

Anything can happen.

Anything?

Anything.

-Dick Allen

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“The perfect Zen mind”

The perfect Zen mind

would be constantly aware,

but there’s no such thing

as the perfect Zen mind

is there?

-Dick Allen

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All Sentient Humans

 All sentient humans

whirl through the door

of the burning house

of samsãra,

the cycle of life and death,

read the Zen master.

That’s a lot of whirling,

and cycling,

and burning.

Wouldn’t it be better

just to go out for dinner

at Chile’s or Red Lobster?

-Dick Allen

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Zen Master in Ecstasy

Attacking from all directions,

from the woods and fields of Connecticut,

Buckhorn Plantain, Carolina Geranium,

Bluegrass, Backyard Grass, Goosegrass, Foxtail Grass,

Chickweed, Ground Ivy,

Carpet Weed, Horsenettle,

Hambit, Lambsquarters,

Mushrooms, and Nutsedge,

Ragweed, Sorrel, Speedwell, Splurge.

What glories

spread upon our green suburban lawns!

Violets, Star-of-Bethlehem!

 

-Dick Allen

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“In the video game Zen”

In the video game Zen,

I’d play the frog

sitting on the lily pad.

I’d sit for hours,

until my mind was so clear

you could ring a bell inside it.

Finally,

out of the corner of my eye,

along would come a koan.

Zap, my tongue would get it.

-Dick Allen

American Poetry Review

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Katydid

“Silly name, silly name, silly name,”

chants the child,

hearing the word for the first time:

wild child

prancing around the living room

reciting,

“Katydid, katydid, katydid,”

delighting

in rhythms and rhymes

like “cricket-

ticket, beetle-wheedle, bug-slug—

redundant

sounds—over and over and over,

There was an old lady

who swallowed a fly,

I don’t know why,

 

she swallowed a fly,

perhaps she’ll die,

and from then on,

obsessively,

your songs of hills and meadows

have filled my head:

shadow-dweller, crack-stopper, night-romper,

katydid.

-Dick Allen

first published in Juxtaprose

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What Did Lao Tzu Say?

What did Lao Tzu say,

“If you do not change direction

you may end up where you are heading”?

Should I change direction,

or take Alka-Seltzer Gold?

Those who are as far from realizing Zen

as a caterpillar is from reading Moby Dick

don’t know this is a very serious question.

-Dick Allen

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THE SECOND ARROW

 

                       “In life, we cannot always control the first arrow. However,

                         the second arrow is our reaction to the first. The second one is optional.”

                                                                            -The Buddha

Even more painful than the first arrow

is how the second one, when it wedges in you,

proves nearly fatal unless you grasp it

firmly by the shaft and push it through

sinew, skin and muscle if it’s in a limb.

But if it’s deeply worked into your soul or torso

you must soak your hands with blood and dig

until you reach the arrow tip, then go

mindfully around the barb, cutting, loosening

the flesh—don’t make things worse—and sever

what otherwise would fester from the shaft,

forgive such pain and lift it to the air.

-Dick Allen

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“I call it, the Zen Master said”

“I call it,” the Zen Master said,

“‘cosmic irrelevance.’

Could anything be more comforting?

It’s a scatter-shot universe,

and here we are

eating our sandwiches,

lettuce and tomato,

sometimes swiss cheese and ham,

with yellow mustard,

pale mayonnaise,

red catsup,

green relish,

on wheat or pumpernickel,

oatmeal, sour dough, rye.”

-Dick Allen

American Poetry Review

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Gettysburg

(a found poem from Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels)

A slow, fine, soaking rain,

a farmer’s rain,

gentle on the roof.

The light come slowly;

there were great trees out in the mist.

Then the guns began.

-Dick Allen

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The Present

The present is such a lovely place

that sparrows fly through it

and sunlight shines into it, day after day,

folk hymns are sung in it, out

in Nebraska two children

toss a softball back and forth;

sighing, a lovely young woman

lies back in the present with her thighs apart,

adoring her lover,

men lean from

open car windows; they watch

the present go by

their lives, other lives, and they think

of swimming in April.

Into the present

comes a quietness. The stars

begin to replenish;

it’s a summer evening on the planet Earth,

fireflies jounce in the darkness,

crickets, tree frogs. You never

knew such contentment.

Strolling, thoughts to yourself,

you feel the present is a valley, a refuge,

a compromise

between past and future,

and toss a stone at the river,

race your own life to your door.

                                           -Dick Allen

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Bravo

                                                        Dick Allen

For how you’ve lived this long. Bravo

because the trees around your house have not yet fallen

and the sun’s running the sky. Bravo, Bravo

that you’ve remembered to put the key in upside down

so the door opens,

that the first word you said this morning was “Good.”

That you clink bottles together just to hear the “clink.”

That someone screwed your head on wrong.

Bravo. Bravisimo,

that you’re still walking

and your hands do more than you’d expect,

that birdsongs sound crazy, like tying bubbles in knots,

Bravo for ye gods and little fishes,

turns in the road and the signs that mark these turns,

spumoni, African violets, Apple computers,

and bravo, bravo, bravo,

the lifting of the curtain and your solo voice on stage,

your shout, your cry,

Ave Maria. Ave, ave dominus, Dominus tecum,

this incredible journey you took and still are taking,

that the universe is not an empty dodecahedron,

for all that befalls us: rain, snow, spiders, moonlight. . .

and for rice pudding, Bravo.

 

                                  –from Smartish Pace

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“AarghhHH!” the Zen Master moaned

“AarghhHH!” the Zen Master moaned.

“I was scattering karmic seeds

and the birds got them.

One flew North.

One flew South.

One flew East.

One flew West,

carrying my karmic seeds.”

“That’s because,” said his sensei,

“they look like sunflower seeds,

which all birds love,

and rats living near drainpipes.”

“AarghhHH!” the Zen Master roared,

“They’ve stolen my ledger!”

-Dick Allen

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Zen Master, Trying to Observe Again

This winter, the Zen Master said,

the snow was the most ivory

I’ve ever seen it,

lying on the stone walls of New England—

something, I think,

about the color of the sky this winter,

the light so strangely faded, the cold continual,

not ivory tusks

or ivory soap,

but an ivory

spread for miles across the roads and fields

you could almost bite into

like the inside of a toasted marshmallow

you might be happy to crawl deep deep down inside.

-Dick Allen

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“Ha, ha, ha, you and me”

“Ha, ha, ha, you and me,

Little brown jug, don’t I love thee,”

sang the Zen Master,

climbing Cold Mountain.

“Ha, ha, ha.  Hee, hee, hee,

just you and me, Jug, you and me,”

sang the Zen Master,

descending Cold Mountain,

which really wasn’t Cold Mountain,

but a mild peak in the Catskills

he liked to pretend was Cold Mountain,

singing his happy song,

his jug full of Pu-erh tea.

-Dick Allen

On Barcelona

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The Zen Master Accounts for Himself

I’ve climbed a mountain of knives.

Ignored, except by local friends,

into each night, I persisted.

There was an owl.

There was a scratching at the side of my house

that could only have been a water rat.

I counted pennies

and longed for gold coins.

It was difficult to hear my voice

among so many others of my time.

There was a stone fence I stared at.

Buddha statues cast shadows

far across my living room.

There was the constant small pain

of the never quite well.

I knew the daze I lived in was a daze

yet could never quite shake it.

Often, I’d start out, then head back in.

Each night, the moon climbed the sky.

-Dick Allen

                                         On Barcelona

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THE FLIPPANT ZEN MASTER

“The Pastoral,” blurted

the Zen Master’s student,

“is past.

Our reality is Information

moving at the speed of light.”

“Oh, go clip your toenails,”

replied the Zen Master.

                           -Dick Allen

                            Rattle

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The Zen Master’s Found Poem

“The largest collection of haiku

translated into English

on any single subject

is Cherry Blossom Epiphany

by Robert A. Gill

Which contains some 3,000

Japanese haiku

on the subject of cherry blossoms.”

“Cherry Blossoms are edible”

Cherry blossoms are edible.

Use them for coaxing out flavor

in wagashi or anpan.

But most wonderful,

drunk deeply at weddings

are cups of sakurau

cherry blossoms

pickled in salt with umuzu

yielding a vague taste of plums.

-Dick Allen

first published in On Barcelona

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SNOW TWIGS

That’s our name for them, the hundreds of them

fallen onto the snowcrust

from the great trees that arch our house:

Chinese scroll poems

crows and grackles walk among,

eating ice crystals. Or sometimes

they seem like scragglers from a tiny beaten army

caught in a white montage. Low morning sun

casts their shadows into one another,

they become wedged

in a place there’s no returning from;

the wind twists them oddly. Many

lie half-buried. Others form little bridges

going nowhere to nowhere. A few are gathered

in a snarl of dead leaves. Our backyard stone fence

is scattered with them all along its length

as if they tried to conquer it and fell

on its ramparts of purpose. Yet, if living

and the snow was white moss,

in its whorled drift under our ivy trelllis,

that one, or those off by themselves—sepia, lacy, delicate—

could almost be flowers.

-Dick Allen

                         first published in Pivot #45

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Mist

Photographers love it, how it blurs a background

so a fisherman or stone or single cypress branch

highlighted against it

is all the more detailed. Smoke obscures, but mist

is a promise of lifting,

bride’s face emerging from the bridal veil,

or in Japanese movies,

the first horse nudging from a misty forest

and then the vast army. Scientists

know it as a fine array of water droplets

suspended between heaven and the earth;

the drunkard sees it form above cracked ice,

the grocer as a spray to cool his vegetables.

And in its role of all that is to come

it may be perfume

hovering about a woman’s neck. Most beautiful

when windowed by a spray of sun

and rainbows arch from it; most frightening

when lurking on the Baskerville’s dark moors,

the mist is everything not quite itself

that touches and is touched—that lack

of willfulness, that lace, that gossamer

impossibly romantic as poetic lives;

that present of the present vanishing

and here at once: a swirl of white

floating on dark ocean waves, the thought we’d lost

discovered shipwrecked in a shoal of clouds.

-Dick Allen

Texas Review and Present Vanishing: Poems

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Quantum Physicists in a Night Garden

Time can be extinguished like a blown-out flame.

Black holes dissipate to God knows where,

yet everything we’ve said and done remains

like these lilies floating in this garden pool. Each name

we’ve said, each paper lantern strung, each cross we’ll bear

in Time can be extinguished like a blown-out flame

yet floats forever here. It’s paradoxical. All loss is gain.

We think we’re still the people that we always were

since everything we’ve said and done remains,

but all is spin and sparkle, wave and particle. “What came

before? What happens next?” we ask. What currents stir

when time has been extinguished like a blown-out flame,

dwarf lilies float dark randomness? If Physics is a vein

of order/chaos, chaos/order, likewise it’s a mirror

of everything we’ve said and done. Nothing can remain

beside this garden pool of scattered rain

and rising mist, and yet it does. What flowers here! We swear

everything we’ve said and done remains

but Time can be extinguished like a blown-out flame.

-Dick Allen

This Shadowy Place: Poems

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Mid-December

Sometime about now

would be a good time to reinvent serious mazurka

and the way shirts unbutton. You could ask yourself,

“Why don’t I just get sick?”

or go out walking through a great windy forest. About now

you might want to empty your pockets

of all those Chinese fortunes you’ve been carrying,

and remember there’s nothing but mystery in the world,

although it hides itself behind the fabric of each day,

shining brightly, and we don’t even know it.

Since this is mid-December, you might wish to celebrate

pomegranates, antique automobiles.

You might wish to drive to an unfamiliar town

and walk its streets, humming “Sha-na-na-na. Sha-na-na-na”

while you look at wreaths on churchyard graves. In mid-December

the streams and rivers run so slowly

they seem to be 17th century sermons or adagios

and the snow waits furiously behind the sky’s metallic sheen.

So you might want to rid yourself of excess caution

and eat figgy pudding, and dance in the old courtyard.

for whole trees are swaying,

and the wilds of your life are your own.

-Dick Allen

                                    Ascent and Present Vanishing: New Poems (Sarabande Books)

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It was an era

“It was an era,” the Zen Master said,

“of mystical songs.

But one stood out: the Beatles

‘Let it Be’—

an almost perfect combination

of Christianity and Zen.

‘Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be’

is a mantra.

‘There will be an answer, let it be,’

especially the way the song

dwindles down to nothing at the end,

but you still seem to hear the words.”

-Dick Allen

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BLUE FUNK

I’ve not been there lately,

but I remember the saxophone notes

so lowdown they sounded like a dog scratching

at an unpainted back door, and the ache of everything

as if everything had been put in package crates

or covered with tarps.  Blue, blue, my world is blue,

L’amour est bleu.  Blue indigo.  Blues in the night. In Blue Funk,

Missouri or Kentucky or Tennessee or West Virginia,

nothing grows but scrub brush.  Halfway up a hillside,

there’s a shack and a porch with rocking chairs

no one’s sat in for years.  Nothing in the well

but a dreadful brown slush

covered with leaves.  And then you start laughing,

a rueful laugh, it’s so absurd—low spirits

flying through the ash and river birch and sourwood,

and the skin turning blue, the growl

of a man with huge shoulders turning around

to face you, to ask you what the freakin’ hell,

in the midst of life we are in death,

in your self-serving grief,

in your blue funk,

you, grieving man, want now.

-Dick Allen

Connotation Press

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from THE HORSE KNOWS THE WAY

                                                                      

                                               -a Thanksgiving poem

Does it, really? This old horse,

heading across the river and into the trees,

through the white and drifted snow,

does it really know The Way? Has it studied

Buddhist scripture? Does it understand

Buddha’s Flower Sermon, the one in which

Buddha holds up a flower and smiles benignly,

a giggle inside his holiness?

When the horse munches from its feed bag,

is it really thinking about the sound of one hand clapping?

…………………………………………

Mysterious horse,

wondrous horse,

questioning horse,

we cling to the side of your sleigh,

holiness and silliness in one great mess,

and should you ever get us home,

avoiding Frost’s woods and snowballs from hidden children,

may there be great helpings of turkey,

and

Oh horsefeathers!, as my grandmother used to say,

just tons of biscuits and gravy.

-Dick Allen

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ZEN DICTIONARY

In the Zen Dictionary, intention

is a blue spoon on a white plate.

If you look up koan, you’ll find

a picture of a soldier driving a John Deere tractor

around a Japanese garden.

 

No etymology, no diacritical marks,

just words and Zen meanings—with disclaimers

referring you to moments. Moments are

specks of starlight, sometimes moonlight,

notes falling from a monastery bell.

 

Thumb page ninety-two. There you’ll see

work defined as blueberry muffins.

Go back a few pages. Washing dishes

has three paragraphs that lead you toward

Benny Goodman playing rooftop clarinet.

 

All things conjures stirring tea. Look up

fabric and you’ll stumble into lamplight,

lamplight leads to schadenfreude, bruised tomato, then

long metal diners. There, Hank Williams

may still be singing on the lost highway.

 

Flipping pages, searching, you find meaning

indicates hop, skip, and jump. Each noun

you try to settle on becomes a verb,

so house transforms to seek. Each verb

becomes a noun, so spin becomes small mirror.

 

How glorious the adjectives! Beautiful,

the look of Cheve tail lights heading west.

Huge in Zen is all the emptiness inside

an enso flowing right into itself.

Funny is a plastic picnic plate.

 

And Zen, defined? Because the word occurs

so near the dictionary’s end, it occupies

left over space. And what it says

is two cats sitting on a radiator looking

out a bedroom window at the snow.

 

                             -Dick Allen

                               Plume

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Autumn Lightning

Awakened by its flash, I count the seconds
with thousands, until the thunder booms
far to the east. I roll on my side,
pushing the red drapes from the windowsill
and think of how my grandmother always said
angels were falling. I picture them
crashing through the air, their stunning wings
heavy at their sides, their faces ashen
as they plummet. Another strike, another
and my wife wakes up in the darkness,
clutching the bedclothes to her breasts.
“Angels are falling,” I whisper
as we listen to the rain whip into froth
against the new siding. Now they are overhead
seeking the mirrors, the scissors; now
they fly through the room, driven, driven
to find us in panic. Whole constellations
burn in their robes; haloes ignite,
hair floats around their shoulders. My wife
stares at the clock and trembles
until the storm passes into distant numbers.
Earth is the same,
oaks being shriven, maples touched by their fire.

-Dick Allen

from Ode to the Cold War:
Poems New and Selected

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RUSSET

Fall apples, browning apple cores,

the mottled carcass

of an old trolley car, abandoned

deep in the forest.

 

What was once ambitious,

robust, rambunctious,

now burned the ruddy

color of rust,

 

bourbon, monks’ robes,

faith and trust,

the russet scrape against the skin

of reddish-brown cloth.

 

                             -Dick Allen

                             Atlantic Monthly,

                             reprinted in This Shadowy Place: Poems

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Guest Photo by Karen Bollert

Rowing a Boat Across China

It’s not an easy task. The oarlocks rust,

the crows seem too overhead.

Once, as we neared a village under a steep cliff,

oxen blocked our way for many hours,

lily pads grew enormous and almost engulfed us

but our craft proved worthy. We placed below the gunwales

the Analects, a dog-eared copy of the Tao

and a foot-high Buddha statue,

which doubled as both incense burner and anchor. Such a journey!

You’ll never know how much our bodies ached,

our brows sweated. I saw two dragons

in that quadrant of the sky no one’s yet mapped

and we heard constant temple bells. Lin-chi wrote,

“When you meet a master swordsman,

Show him your sword.

When you meet a man who is not a poet,

do not show him your poem.”

But many showed us their poems, so many,

sometimes I began to think the world floated on poems

or at least scattered verses. Towards Fall,

we rowed for many miles of deepest wonder

through a carpet of floating leaves,

sighing and singing. At last we’d learned

to be at home in any place,

no matter how squalid or how beautiful.

As with a room, so with a life:

to look at one corner and realize the other three.

When the first snows came,

we floated into an odd region of deep pines

where shapes stood on the water like warriors in stone.

Our oars broke the ice skim of an oblong lake

to leave dark buttons on a white silk blouse

and snow fell on the backs of our necks, melting into our robes.

Such coldness! So many views, always changing:

a Shar-pei running on the banks, a hillside shrine,

peasants carrying toward us bowls of steaming rice.

-Dick Allen
from Present Vanishing

 
 
 

-Dick Allen

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QUIET, QUIET NOW  

 

As in crossing over the Bourne Bridge

onto the Cape’s curled lobster claw;

as in walking through a redwood forest,

hands brushing the ferns;

as in the way mist clears from Crater Lake,

leaving that hallowed blue of snow shadows;

as in the shade of regimental monuments

off by themselves in Antietam’s evening fields;

as in the middle of Kansas

where all there seems to be is wheat and sky;

as in a glass-bottomed boat

backing and idling over a coral reef;

as in the trapizoid buttes of Montana,

as in the holy woods of upper Maine,

as in the Storm King Mountain sculptures of David Smith,

as in the ghost towns of Idaho,

as in the Frank Lloyd Wright house where a black piano

still hangs suspended over narrow stairs;

as in the light that falls into a Hopper painting,

as on a porch in lower Michigan;

as how a memory of calm

is like a tall and graceful woman in a summer gown

standing on the porch, holding the screen door open….

-Dick Allen

The Day Before: New Poems

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     INTUITION

It’s not in your face. It says in quiet tones,

“I will help you.”

It drives an ordinary car on ordinary roads

into the flames

no one else will see for many years. It listens

like a young man in love,

so far down inside a happiness

it moves pebbles and stones.

It wears its sleeves turned up above the elbows,

blinks in spotlights, cuts its way

through tripwires and English hedges,

delivers messages that glow

faintly as a low-turned halogen

lamp in the corner of a poet’s bedroom. It

is deceptive

but without anxiety. It has

surveyed what it needs to know of farms and stars

and dismissed the rest. “I will help you,”

it whispers in doorways,

“I will help you, I will lift you up.”

-Dick Allen

                                Ode to the Cold War: Poems New and Selected

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Seeing Your Breath

When, each Fall, it first happens,

rising up from your lips like a tiny patch of fog,

and you blow at it to test it,

creating more fog,

the warm front of your breath

meeting the cold front of October air,

how ordinary seems

the extraordinary: invisible air

made visible—what keeps your heart beating,

your lungs alive,

your blood refreshed, your face flushed,

in little outside gusts. Alive,

inhaling, exhaling,

you watch your breath

appear and disappear, it must be 32º,

and shake your head and take another breath.

-Dick Allen

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Photo by Cortney Davis.  Slightly Photoshopped by DA

     SALAMANDER

From under winter stones

that familiar fire engine red like an errant paint splatter,

startling, then gone—but could you have imagined

its lightning bolt streaks of cobalt and chartreuse

even if you were God? This salamander,

this very one.

-Dick Allen

The North American Review

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Zen, Zen, say it again,

where does it stop and where does it end?

Say it again! Say it again!

Zen.                Zen.

Tree and sky

Sitting on an Old Stone Fence, Looking into the Distance

Far away, there’s what might be a windmill

or a silo, or just a trick of the eye,

and are those eye specks or crows

floating out there?  Or are they

remote controlled model airplanes

and I can’t see their owners

who must be even farther away,

hidden under some small hill.  Their hands are

fiddling with switches.  Or are those crows

really drones in surveillance, rising toward us

from a darkening future?  Are the drones armed?

Has “In God We Trust”

been written upon them? . . . .  And now

a small white cloud, and now. . . .

-Dick Allen

The Cafe Review 

 
 
 

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Goat

                 after Peter Matthiessen

This goat by the crooked door,

gazing through sheets of rain into the mud,

a cosmic vision? Or might it simply be

my grandfather’s goat, the one I remember

from the barn in Saratoga on Congress Street,

the black and white goat that lived among the chickens

back in the darkness. “I long to let go,

drift free of things,

to accumulate less, depend on less,

to move more simply,” the traveler in the Himalayas

said to the cosmic goat, yet I recall

that goat my grandfather named without imagination,

“Billy Goat,”

to which he used to croon,

“Billy? Billy? Billy?” and the goat

in all its stink and foolishness and hunger

would come to my grandfather’s hand,

here to be here, here to look no further.

-Dick Allen

Present Vanishing

 
 
 

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TO GAIN SECOND SIGHT

Lie down in a wheatfield, he said. Know something
well as a cloud rim, like Gould’s Spirituals,
how they alter every time a new choir sings,
yet stay the same. Like the first winter snow

settling onto a dark driveway. . . a painting by Thomas Cole
you stare at until your fingertips start screaming
“Stop being incredible!” Pull apart rainbows.
Lie down in a wheatfield, he said, know something

so many miles from yourself it turns astonishing
as Michigan’s Black Octagonal River, as in Idaho
how the Palouse heads off, rolls back, everything looking
well as a cloud rim, like Gould’s Spirituals
when the voices shift, tremolo, vertigo, undertow
before they crash upon God. You’ve been spiraling
out of a nightmare. Calm yourself. Go Largo
(How it alters every time a new choir sings!),

skip Allegro, halt Presto. Lost Soul, you need to bring
yourself up short, gaze around, until your shadow
lengthens into the night oaks, into stenciling,
yet stays the same, like the first winter snow

twenty, forty, sixty years ago—even now
sleighride beautiful. Eat marmalade. Wear calico. Don’t fling
your final rosebuds into some death row.
Reject long-suffering. Learn quiet, quieting.
Lie down in a wheatfield.

-Dick Allen

 
 
 

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This is One of Those Days

when you want to hide away in a little upstairs room

with a mug of hot chocolate,

when you want to think out things

like highways to Wichita, and Planck’s Law,

and the mysteries of evergreens.

It’s not a day
for rolling out your life on a red carpet,

but for the smell and tiny flame of a votive candle,

for you to look at your ring finger seriously

as you haven’t done for years. If you relax enough

you might let into your mind a few old favorite songs,

Hey There, or Blueberry Hill or Mountain Greenery.


And this is one of those days when politics

are far flings on distant hills. Stretch.

Twist your shoulders, do at least one knee bend,

make a face in the mirror. . . . In a mountain greenery


where God paints the scenery. . . . This is not that other day

when the phone started ringing at seven a.m.,

emails came at you like swarms of bees, and two as buzzards,

everyone but you had a new joke. Nor is it the day before that,

when no matter what you were doing

you could always hear yourself screaming inside
as if something

had slithered loose and begun dragging itself toward you.

This is not one of those days. This is a time

when you want to take an idea and calm it down,

caress it, smooth it out on a plywood clipboard,

engage a new quantum problem. Today,

you want to stroll back and forth, hands behind your back,

humming, “You with the stars in your eyes”


and “the wind stood still.” You want hot chocolate

to have a slight froth—and its container

should be thick with a wide thick handle.

From the questions you’ve let into your mind,

on this day you should find at least one answer

and then take a nap on the single bed

beside the chair with the soft plaid comforter,

pulling the blankets up around your neck

as you settle your head into the goosedown pillow

and sleep, utterly relaxed. This is a day like this.

This is just one of those days.

               -Dick Allen

Connecticut River Review

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SEA

What is ridiculous about the sea

is the huge size of it, the way it mocks the sky,

how it keeps turning itself over and over,

flaunting its amoeba shape, wandering off

into its pseudopods of tidal rivers,

coves and bays. How preposterous

are the little vessels that ride on it,

the capsules it swallows whole, the seeds

of dolphins and whales that glide in its underbelly.

And how laughable, how outside the Tao

you and I must be to it—little swimming things,

meaningless details,

asplash on its coastline this bright August day

the sea is so calm it almost seems to want us.

-Dick Allen

                                       Gettysburg Review

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     LIKE WATER OFF A DUCK’S BACK

 

We watch them swimming in heavy Adirondack rain,

the mallards,

their scapulars, tertials, coverts

and all their other feathers folded around them,

the rain sliding off them,

as we would wish our troubles to slide from us,

so we could just glide, glide across rainy lakes and rivers,

beneath the thick pines,

with the deep reedy laughter of the females

and the short, rasping quelips of the males,

expecting little better,

confident we can shake off anything that comes,

dabblers,

our green heads upright

like the handles of stalwartly canes,

turning from this way to that.

-Dick Allen

Connecticut Review



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WORDS FROM STORM MOUNTAIN

 
Just as the taste of tea and the taste of Zen

are exactly the same,

and the experience of Satori is just like ordinary experience

except two inches off the ground,

so the Buddha in art

becomes a flowering branch, a rock, flowing water,

clouds, birds, a funny old man,

and in our time

a Coca-Cola bottle tilted to the lips,

that great applause

you hear at rock concerts, following some great song,

then all those cigarette lighters, held so tremblingly high.

-Dick Allen

                      Alaska Quarterly Review

 
 
 
 
 

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THE ONE MOMENT WHEN EVERYTHING WAS PERFECT

 

was the moment behind you,

the one that looked like a pencil mark on a stucco wall,

that sounded like the single peck of a chicken

into the shadow you just left

for you’re always leaving shadows

or dragging them behind you like criminal mishaps

and when you turn around to confront them they mock you.

Shadowland. Shadowplay. Shadow puppets.

“The day was filled with shadows.”

“Who knows? The Shadow knows!” The one moment

was an oar blade descending, a finger snap, an eye blink,

the flick of a light switch, a jaw clench,

one taste bud awakened,

a necklace clasp, a pinprick,

the little cry of “Oh!” that’s never repeated

in quite that way, even when caught on film,

so treasure it, say collectors,

put it into a locket and wear it everywhere.

Become a collector. Take out your scrapbook at night.

The world is gray. Quiet might not be its name.

-Dick Allen, Freshwater







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Five Household Statues of Buddha 

 
The bronze Buddha in our living room,

his eyes closed, his hands resting comfortably

against his inside thighs,

what does he mean to tell me about the river heron?  

 

And the green sleeping Buddha

stretched out upon his side along our poetry bookcase,

serene as a watch fob in his stylized pose,

what is he saying about the price of all good things?  

 

What is the black Buddha asking,

sitting on the mantelpiece

as if on a lotus? If you would not suffer,

you must not desire?

 

And the small Tara Buddha

who looks upon the road outside

from the windowsill perch she shares with both our cats,

is she so content I cannot learn from her?  

 

Lastly, the happiness Buddha,

late of China, his round gold stomach glistening

under my fading light,

shall I not trust him to laugh my life into his?  

 

                                                   -Dick Allen, This Shadowy Place



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                        Dwelling in the Moment

It’s made of a few brushstrokes,

the roof a downward sweep, the walls

two swift verticals of thick dark ink,

no smoke from the chimney, no face in the window,

but in the yard a single cherry tree

and in the hills beyond, blue mountain mist

floating over blue mountains.  Almost no one

dwells here.  Almost no one

has crossed the little bridge that leads to here,

looking over the railing

to see her own reflection staring back.

                                          -Dick Allen, Superstition Review

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ZEN MONKS SWEEPING THE FLOOR
IN FRONT OF A HUGE STATUE OF THE BUDDHA
Concentration within Activity
Excels that within stillness
A hundred thousand, million times

I like to watch them,

the changing dimensions of their red robes,

their faces filled with calm abiding,

how their bare feet

move in and out of sunbeams,

the long strokes of the monks’ brooms

as they cross the big space,

the short delightful strokes

as they poke into corners,

and how, sometimes, a smile

flickers across the monks’ faces

one to another, like the light

in one of Monet’s seascapes

glistening from wave to wave to wave,

nothing better to do in all the world,

and I like the monks’ shaven heads,

filled with koans yet to be solved,

the bending and releasing of the brooms

scattering before them particles of dust

into the Buddha’s rapt gaze.

-Dick Allen (pub. in Freshwater)

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HOW TO MEDITATE

 

To learn to do nothing, first you must do something

like read that Elizabeth Bishop poem about the gas station,

or drink cranberry juice straight.

You must sing, “Old Dan Tucker / You’re too late to get your supper”

while walking backwards around a kitchen table.

You must be vivid, like polka dots

and the kind of bicycle horn you squeeze and it goes “Ooga!”

No white shirts and white blouses for you. You must

avoid slipping into anything that’s comfortable

like your favorite expressions of “Damn!” and “Double damn!”

and “I’m home!” To learn to do nothing,

you must come from somewhere other than a shopping mall

and you must be evocative as a mandolin in a bluegrass band,

for only then can you calm down

into an opposite, into a just barely breathing,

a frame around a frame around a frame,

ad infinitum. And you float, like silk on water.

-Dick Allen (from Boulevard)

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Because a Blue Heron Flew Overhead  

Because a blue heron flew overhead,

It was a good day to butter bread,

To listen to James Taylor, Stockbridge to Boston,

And visit the Garden of the Unsuccessful Politician.

A good day to ask a clock what makes it tick,

Or place one brick upon another brick,

To remember that if you think, there are ripples,

But also if you don’t think, there are ripples.

And because a blue heron flew overhead,

We swept up the porch, we made up the bed.

We bought packaged shirts, then took out their pins.

We placed gray umbrellas in clear storage bins.

There was a road, a lake, a moonlit field,

A brow to be soothed, a wound to be healed.

Stockbridge to Boston. Sweet Baby James.

The glory, the wonder, the sheer joy of names!

And my life was a story of thread and unthread

Because a blue heron flew overhead.

                                           -Dick Allen, from This Shadowy Place

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ZEN LIVING

Birdsongs that sound like the steady determined tapping

of a shoemaker’s hammer,

or of a sculptor making tiny ball-peen dents in a silver plate,

wake me this morning. Is it possible

the world itself can be happy? The calico cat

stretches her long body out across the top of my computer monitor,

yawning, its little primitive head a cave of possibility.

And I’m ready again

to try and see accidents, the over and over patterns

of double-slit experiments a billionfold

repeated before me. If I had great patience,

I could try to count the poplar, birch and oak

leaves in their shifting welter outside my bedroom window

or the almost infinitesimal trails of thought that flash and flash

everywhere, as if decaying particles inside a bubble chamber,

windshield raindrops, lake ripples. However,

instead I go to fry some bacon, crack two eggs

into the cast-iron skillet that’s even older than this house,

and on the calendar (each month another oriental fan

where the climbing solitary is dwarfed … or on dark blue oceans

minuscular fishing boats bob beneath gigantic waves)

X out the days, including those I’ve forgotten.

-Dick Allen, from The Day Before: New Poems

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1 comment

  1. The web design enhances some very moving poetry. Well done.

    Like

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