A few years ago I fell into the lovely habit of sitting on my fire escape every morning with a pot of black coffee and The Roaring Stream: A New Zen Reader.  Edited by Nelson Foster and Jack Shoemaker, each chapter in the anthology introduces a famous Buddhist figure from China or Japan and provides excerpts from his most significant writings and lectures. In order to deepen my reading, I began jotting poems in response to the ideas and images that I encountered—one poem per chapter, one chapter per morning. I completed the project in the fall of 2017: 46 poems spanning 1,300 years, Bodhidharma to Hui-neng to Dogen to Ryokan. Below is a selection from the manuscript I’ve taken to playfully calling “Eddies in the Roaring Stream.” This poem is part of that series. Find more here.

Kuei-shan (771–853)

Kuei-shan has taken his place in Buddhist history as the co-founder of the first of the Five Houses of Ch’an. According to one story, he was handpicked by master Pai-chang to start a monastery on Mt. Kuei, while according to another, he lived there for eight years with only wild monkeys for company before people got wind of his whereabouts and built a monastery for him. At the age of 83, after washing his face and rinsing his mouth, he took a seat and—so it is said—passed away with a smile.


Waking from a crazy dream,
a dream that feels rich with meaning,
one might be inclined to analyze.

Thus books are sold,
experts paid.

Years later, the old dream returns,
but now, penniless, one just
washes his face,
sips her tea,


and gets on with the day.

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