At this silver pavilion
a shogun
once put away his robes of state,
and while embers fell with snow
on the elegant little ways
of old Kyoto,
he whittled his country
into this breath taking
and gaudy masterpiece.
How many millions became shavings
for Yoshimasa’s
detached and graceful poems
from a floating world?

Temple Garden (Konchi’in)

The dry sand garden
swirls here in tense circles
that come back upon each other,
tangled confusion.
The meaning that you once wore
unravels from you here,
but so too those faces you kept
that had grown too much like a skin,
and you had concealed behind them
every intention, every glance,
every rush of blood.
Where should you go from here,
stripped bare and raw
as that stone lantern
assaulted by the flying seasons?
But up there on that rock plateau,
the knarled pine, twisting now
into its final fall,
reveals itself without artifice,
in the way that its body has bent
to the kind and cruel years,
in the way that its heart is held tight
within the contorted trunk.

Ryoanji Temple

At Ryoanji temple
the people filing through,
balls of a thousand pairs of feet
rubbing the ancient wood
smooth as a Buddha’s head.
Some talk, crack jokes,
others stick noses deep in brochures,
or finger through guide books
looking for the next site to plunder
in this ancient capital
of wood and moss.
Do they know,
these ten thousand
who will bring to this place today
their noise, their hunger,
their barely grasped understanding,
and their lives
as brief as cicadas?
Do they know the meaning
of these countless raked stones
that flow and flow
around the summer-eaten rocks,
that flow to the edge of the clay wall
and out beyond to the recieving sky?
The people and the sand
filing past
under the ebbing of the cicadas’ croak.

Tenryuji Temple

This temple was reduced to ashes
eight times in seven centuries,
the precious shoji screens,
done by the Kano masters,
and the relics
scattered over the mountains
of Arashiyama.
But the old pond,
its moss, its rocks
lodged deep in their moist seasons,
were only burned darker
by the fire.
In these waters,
where the greens become
a thousand layers
of shadow and speech,
the carps flash suddenly
to the surface,
like bright orange sparks,
distilled conflagrations.


You must let go of the rock
to swim in this garden.
Its deep red is like a clot
that holds back the rush
of your heart’s calling.
Nothing here would mind, it seems,
if you just stayed
like the stagnant moss,
with your hurt and your wreckage
of dreams and memory,
but for the rock,
which beats now
like an animal necessity.
There is nowhere else to go,
and you plunge your determined eyes
into the onrushing flow
of the raked white sand.
Looking back you see
those things you left behind
to dry on the red rock,
hollow after all.

Zen Garden (Tofukuji)

The hard rocks jutting up
at their implacable angles.
Contrast of the five smooth mounds
caressed by the moss.
And passing between,
this flow of sand,
sometimes straight flying lines
or confused passions.
If this garden teaches you anything,
it is to be
both hard and yielding
in the wild stream of being.
There is a kind of balance,
an erasing of opposites
for those who, giving nothing,
fling their lives from the open windows
into such a garden.
And when at last
you are shattered on those stones,
there, the heart open, singing,
the way the summer’s heart is.

Moss Garden (Gioji)

Perhaps this moss
still harbours something of her
intoxicating fullness.
The temple garden
seems made for sweeter tones
than the monks’ severe austerities.

Spurned and jaded
she drifted here
to this mountain hermitage,
where the sharp call
of the cicadas’ seasons
and the stream’s song
might erase her vexed beauty,
her courtly grace
that brought her only exile.

But her voluptuousness stayed in this place,
just as it had clung to Kiyomori,
who died a restless man.
How many other beauties
had gone to their mountain convents
after Gio?
And when he held her,
that old man,
did he dream in her deep breast
the way the purple violas
float in this moss?

* Gio was a famous beauty of Heian period Japan.
She was mistress to the warlord Taira no Kiyomori,
but when he became infatuated with another,
he banished her from his court. She became a nun
and entered the temple which later took her name,