Japanese Villa

This old villa, long abandoned,

ringed by a crumbling wall,

unkempt trees pushing out,

bursting the seems

of the respectable street,

defiantly shows its rags, its decay.

It’s already given up

the mad business of getting on

and surrendered to

the fearless grasses

that reclaim the lost time

and the nights of the drunken moon.

The world spins on and on

around it

like a hurt animal

licking over its wounds,

villages, towns, cities,

itch upon itch,

the beat men reeling in the gutters

and the multiplied fevers.

But the villa just takes

all that clamour to be something

deep into the wide leaves

of the banana tree,

the long buried stepping stones,

the slipping tiles,

the strangled gutters,

and sends out the cicadas’ song

louder than anything you’ve heard.


Copyright Ricky Barrow 2014

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.

Japanese Shrine

Everything that surrounds it
has advanced and decayed
time and again
in waves of returning grain,

while this copse,
like a primordial cairn,
remains unchanged,
only brushed cleaner
by the moss and the wind.

And deep in its recesses
the ancient insects have gathered
to make their silent music,
true silence,

the shrill of a cicada,
the pained cry of a cricket,
sounds that plunge depths into you.

The path has already
grasped your hand,
and leads you past
the wilting stone guardians
and green rice fields,

perspiring their rich, humid summer,
the shards of terracotta tiles
at the garden’s edge,
past these things you know already.

But in there,
under the spiders’ webs,
tangle of branches,

and thicker web of leaves
that sheath the light,
that return you to the scabbard,
everything fails, everything retreats.

What was once a human voice,
an aero plane humming overhead,
plunges, suffocates
in the abiding dark.

What is the outer world
to you who glimpse,
through the dim particles
of dust and insects,

the god in his bare hold,
who doesn’t speak,
who listens
like a sealed pool in a stone urn,
who listens.

Copyright Ricky Barrow 2014