Lucien Stryk

Zen: The Rocks of Sesshu (1969)

What do they think of
Where they lean
Like ponderous heads, the rocks?—

In prankish spring, ducks
Joggling here
And there, brushing tails,

Like silly thoughts shared,
Passed from head
To head? When, gong quavering

About a ripened sky, we
Up and go,
Do they waken from a dream of flesh?

In the Three Whites of
Fuji, the snow, the crane—

What startles is the black: in
The outline
Of the mountain, the branch-tips

Piercing the snow, the quills of
The crane’s wing:
Meaning impermanence.

Here, in stainless air, the
Artist’s name
Blazes like a crow.

Distance between the rocks,
Half the day
In shadow, is the distance

Between the man who thinks
And the man
Who thinks he thinks: wait.

Like a brain, the garden,
Thinking when
It is thought. Otherwise

A stony jumble, merely that
Laid down there
To stud our emptiness.

Who calls her butterfly
Would elsewhere
Pardon the snake its fangs:

In the snowy garden
Where she flits
Are sides so sharp, merely

To look gives pain. Only
The tourist,
Kodak aimed and ready for

The blast, ship pointing for the
Dare raise that parasol.

To rid the grass of weed, to get
The whole root,
Thick, tangled, takes a strong mind

And desire—to make clean, make pure.
The weed tough
As the rock it leaps against,

Unless plucked to the last
Live fiber
Will plunge up through dark again.

The weed also has the desire
To make clean,
Make pure, there against the rock.

It is joy lifts those pigeons to
Stitch the clouds
With circling, light flashing from underwings.

Scorning our crumbs, tossed carefully
To corners
Of the garden, beyond the rocks.

They rose as if summoned from
The futile
Groveling our love subjects them to.

Clear the mind! Empty it of all that
Fixes you,
Makes every act a pecking at the crumb.

Firmness is all: the mountain beyond the
Garden path,
Watch how against its tawny slope

The candled boughs expire. Follow
The slope where
Spearheads shake against the clouds

And dizzy the pigeons circling on the wind.
Then observe
Where no bigger than a cragstone

The climber pulls himself aloft
As by the
Very guts: firmness is all.

Pierced through by birdsong, stone by stone
The garden
Gathered light. Darkness, hauled by ropes

Of sun, entered roof and bough. Raised from
The temple
Floor where, stiff since cockcrow,

Blown round like Buddha on the lotus
He began
To write. How against that shimmering,

On paper frail as dawn, make poems?
Firm again,
He waited for the rocks to split.



‘Zen: The Rocks of Sesshu’ first appeared in The Pit and Other Poems and is © Ohio University Press / Swallow Press. It appears here with the kind permission of Ohio University Press / Swallow Press.

For a note about Lucien Stryk and his titles in print see Hearn in Matsue.







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Titles by and about Lucien Stryk
from Ohio University Press /
Swallow Press, links to

Encounter with Zen (1981)

Collected Poems, 1953~1983 (1984)

Of Pen and Ink and
Paper Scraps (1989)

The Dumpling Field:
Haiku of Issa (1991)

Zen, Poetry, the Art of Lucien
Stryk, ed. Susan Porterfield (1993)

And Still Birds Sing:
New and Collected Poems (1998)