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Author of this poem:

Robert Rhodes (Yao Xin)
(February 20, 2005)

A New Year's Calligraphy

Crazy Cloud: prairie thunder: the ice of Hokkaido: Kansas: Kyoto: all one form: all one emptiness: where does one dream end in favor of the night

Ho! Crazy Cloud! Loony coot --
with your poems and sho and inkstone
in the sleeve of your torn brown robe --
what all do you
keep in there,
old rooster --
how much do you see
when you sit on the cold cypress floor
of your two-room house, your eyes
vaguely oblivious to
-- these drafty surroundings
-- this ancient temple of arcane memory
-- this lopsided teabowl
-- these Kansas hills, bursting with flint
-- these holiday firecrackers,
machine-gunning whatever is evil here
and needs to depart --

a hatchet on alder wood:
evening approaches:
winter breath frosts the air:
a calligraphy of snow
on Crazy Cloud's inkstone

February's muted sun
midwinter's mandala
lights your way, emperor's bastard,
down cold, obscure sidestreets --
its yellow shade slowly
subsides with the snow
that has filled all of Kansas on
this night of no moon --
so how is it you still
walk this ancient earth,
old buddha?
for how many kalpas
have you sat in reflection
before these rock-strewn hills
these low cold clouds
churning with wind
with ice
with a foot of new year's snow
lit only by stars --
before your needle-sure mind
this city disappears --
now only your ghost is known
to pass this way:
in the farmer's market
or in a bar on Hydraulic --
all told, as far as old ghosts conspire
to defy reason,
you are alone except for
this poem beneath
your hat:
this koan you keep
in a shoebox with the others:
its answer so audacious
that no one believes you --
outrageous whack
as you slip on the ice --
twice, three times
before you find your door

in your shack, Ikkyu,
what dharmas circle the ceiling
like blind moths --
which timeless wisdom seal
resides when you sleep like dust
on your lips
on your frozen bed
on the dead and fireless stove
on the words you write on
onion-skin paper
and tack to the walls, your testament
to the triple-gem universe
phony as it is --
all bullshit, of course --
all such dharmas are fleeting,
you used to say when you weren't a ghost
back in Daitoku-ji --
all such testaments are toilet paper
or subject to sudden erasure
or to the flame of
a single paper match in your pocket,
torn from a book selling
24-hour bail and bond --
no such ransom needed,
you used to say back in old Japan,
skiffing Lake Biwa in your
sedge raincoat and wide straw hat
pecked at the crown
by mad crows --
no ransom needed
in the triple-gem universe:
only a little rice
a pile of newspapers for warmth
and a million circling dharmas,
like moths, avoiding the flickering tip
of the last fading candle --
in your shack, Ikkyu,
does the ice get in --
or does the poem beneath your hat
explain it all away?

it's time to make ink, so
sweep the snow
from your inkstone --

your brush has been waiting
for a thousand years,
poised in midair --

Humming Bird

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