This past spring I fell into the lovely habit of sitting on my fire escape at dawn with a pot of black coffee and The Roaring Stream: A New Zen Reader, an anthology published in 1996, edited by Nelson Foster and Jack Shoemaker. Each chapter in the book introduces a famous master from China or Japan and provides excerpts from his most significant writings and lectures. I began jotting down poems in response to the lines, images, and metaphors that I encountered—one poem per chapter, one chapter per morning. It was an enjoyable, aimless exercise, and it was exciting to see what my own mind did when allowed to build upon the wisdom of the ancients, using scraps of their language as a foundation. (Of course, I am neither ancient nor wise, only caffeinated.)
As the spring progressed and I worked my way deeper into the history of Zen, I settled on the idea of making a poem for each of the 46 profiled masters. After about 20 poems, though, my library copy of The Roaring Stream was due back, and the next person to check the book out lost it. Ha! Transience! I told a friend about my predicament and he suggested I go out and buy myself a copy—apparently the quirky beauty of the situation escaped him. I suspect that one day the dawn will find me back on the fire escape, my pencil running wild on the blank white page, old men in robes looking over my shoulder. Until then, here’s a brief selection from what I’ve taken to calling “Eddies in the Roaring Stream.”
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