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 ReaderEdited 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.

Yung-chia (D. 713)

A well-known Ch’an teacher during his own lifetime, after his death Yung-chia was given the honorary title “Master of Formlessness” by the imperial court. Today he is chiefly remembered for his long poem “Song of Realizing the Way,” which begins: “Haven’t you met someone seasoned in the Way of Ease, / a person with nothing to do and nothing to master, / who neither rejects thought nor seeks truth?” My poem opens with another question that Yung-chia’s poem asks later on.


What’s there to do 
this clear, boundless evening,
moon shining on the river,
breeze stirring the pines?

among other things,

fuss and fret,
regret, rehash,
recall miseries of the past,
anticipate future pains,
wring hands,
stomp and shout,
add anger to the river,
add tears to the breeze,
add up all injustice
and multiply
by infinity.

Or maybe

the question was rhetorical.