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.


The rain comes down upon my leaves

and my dry center

shrinks about my roots,

and all the insects and

lizards pull themselves

into the rough old folds

of my trunk.

I am the meaning of shelter,

refuge for all the harried,

striving things

when the world,

in her sullen rejecting mood,

shoves them beyond her

with palms of wind.

In my twisted and weary branches,

do you not see your own pain,


Do you feel how the universe,

presses down upon us both,

that heavy eternity

which only wants to rest and cease:

and we both must carry

its thousand-fold, weeping moons.

Man, you forget me,

your original bearer,

and huddle instead

under the skin

of my dead brothers,

and dam up my streams,

so that the rain

might not touch you.

The waters beside me

fill with your discarded effort:

rusted bicycles,

journeys, detergent,

those things that

sustain you barely.

And each year

fewer and fewer insects

scuttle about my infinite trunk.

When they have taken

all their colours

and burrowed deep

beneath the earth, at last,

what then will I shelter,

what precious things will I keep?

Are we not both,

you and I, man,

perishing with the

things we are losing?


Copyright Ricky Barrow 2014

Yashii Park

In Yashii park

down by the sea,

there’s smooth jazz

sliding out of a loud speaker

and there are big walls

for tame swimmers.

And out beyond,

the sea,

in her impossible softness,

invites the boats

over the edge.

In Yashii park

there’s summertime

on the radio,

and people slow and stupid

under the April sun,

and families

dispensing themselves

onto the beach

like coloured pebbles

set out to dry.

And this all depends on

the sea, and the way

she calmly unfolds herself today

and lets the people

touch her and

accepts the braver ones

who wade into her

still frigid shallows.

And the palm trees lean in

and tell me things,

like how

she is the last to forgive.

Like how once

she’d rung their necks

and flung some of them

over the rooftops.

And her hurt had

raged and burst

the great walls

meant as her straight-jacket.

But today she’s

laid out on her back

and the things that once

probed at her explosive depths

now seem far off.

And the voluptuousness

in her rises and

embraces these fragile ones

who come tentatively

down to her shore.


Copyright Ricky Barrow 2014

A Ridiculous Thing

I cared for a stray cat once,

dusted off, took from the

top shelf of the closet,

my old merciful hands,

and carried its

scrawny, living-carcass home

through the freezing night.

I gave it a home

in a box in my flat,

gave it a bath and a feed,

and glared at it

eating my food.

The ridiculous thing

filled me with great clumps

of repugnance and benevolence,

that churned equally

in the gut of my regard

for this broken world.

I stroked it gently,

while it shuddered

and even as my own stupid glow

quietly expired.

Superfluous creature,

skirting the edges

of the last dried up lake

of compassion,

did he not hate the

bitch-mother who

tossed him into this world

full of hard heads and

hard hands,

and hers the hardest of all?

And yet, he just sat there,

on my cold kitchen floor,

with a brutal hold on life,

purring, lapping up my milk

and spilling his

untamed benevolence

all over my floor.

What can we do?

That tenacious love

was only his need

to cling to the here and now,

to a fleeing warmth,

ardent for this life,

like one who knows

every other day is his own

personal apocalypse.

And my compassion?

I needed that here and now with him,

just the same,

needed corners without

hidden horrors,

corridors without an abyss

to gaze into,

just as others need central heating,

hot chocolate,

a DVD box set collection.

After two nights, I sent him back

to the wild,

with hard hands and a hard head.

I don’t know what became of that cat.