-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.