The Tonsure

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The nun’s beguiling hands brush my skin,
the distant touch of desire.
Before the many folded silences of his statue,
she cuts away the strands that were my life.
Now the razor is like a riot of river stones
rolling across my scalp,
the collision of bleached skulls in the infinite eaves.

With each falling strand,
I am losing my way.
How strange this feeling of heedlessness,
as though I find a kind of ecstasy
in these outspread jet-black blades,
like a cold and irretrievable lacquer folding fan.

And amidst all this loss,
the beautiful core of my desolation,
a white blossom held in the statue’s hand.
When I emerge from my tonsure,
to the cloister’s waiting mountain,
you will not recall me,
and the bald snow will caress my head
like a memory of life.

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The Monk Shonen

And when the hermit felt sure
this was the place,
he had his temple built
deep behind these mountains of Ohara,

where the ancient pines spoke sometimes
their words on the wind,
or became a thousand silent ears
listening to the void’s toll.

From the madness of his age to here,
where the stillness gathered
in the hollow of the stones,
in the palms of the leaves,

where he could feel
the world’s hurt, more pure,
and the sharp pine needles
that pierced him when he took
the mountain trails deep into himself.

For his diet now was only
pain beyond his own.
He’d seen how the trees
could take the exhaled sighs of life
and give back crystalline breath,
so many million beginnings.

And so he fasted
and inhaled the dark nights of the living
and slowly withered to a
black and twisted branch.
Then, when hunger’s gnawing mouth

became a roar,
he bid his followers
lead him to the cave at Amidaji
and seal it,
where he succumbed at last
to all the lids that closed
with a whimper in the forest.

Perhaps one man,
as a fool who loved too wildly,
could never stem the ache of this life.
But here the tall pines
at least understood,

and washed over the husk of the hermit,
purifying pain into birdsong
and new breath
and thunder deep within
the waterfall’s bright music.