The Burghers of Calais


Some with eyes of bold acceptance
Of impending horrors
That cancel others.
And this one turning back,

With open pleading mouth
To the city that
Already goes about its daily business,
And hears the hawkers in the streets,
And sees the watchmen at the wall.

And this one with grim determined cheeks,
Gazing straight ahead
At the arrayed captors,
While the condemned hour
Dances on his lips

And he almost smiles.
And at last, the key holder,
In the centre,
around whom the others
Revolve like abandoned stars,

His head bowed with the weight
Of the sacredness of his death,
While it is not despair
That floats across his gaunt face.

That the city may be saved,
These five must go away.
And so, like one without a homeland,
Whose body is no longer chained

To anything,
His feet move toward the open field
As though they were
Of another’s volition,

And how light,
How pleasant the wet grass
As he gazes into immense distances,

Eyes filled with reverence,
Far beyond the bristling soldiers
And the walls of the surrendered city.



What We Give

From head to toe, I ache.
All day, I stood between the trees,
the rain running down my neck,
my back, till my skin was sodden.

This work, deftly, swiftly pulling
away the unripened fruit,
the smooth sensuality of sustenance,
is not just a passing of time,

while pockets fill with quick hopes.
No, the trees demand from me
nothing less than precious life hours.

Hungrily, they slake themselves on
my fast decreasing song,
while each day, I give a little of myself over to
the grass.
Before long, what will be left to me?

Like beads of dew licked by the morning sun,
I am becoming a sky of blue wind.
I lose myself here in rhythms
dictated by the branches.
And yet there is no loss.

What I burn in myself to hot exhaustion,
and what leaves me alone like a husk
at the end of the sun,
takes the shape of a thousand fresh years,

and is like a pip of incandescent seasons
that travels along the infinite tendrils of the
lithe, red earth,
to reach far into the mouths of others.

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.