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.

Jakushitsu (1290–1367)

Like many Japanese Zen masters before him, Jakushitsu traveled to mainland China in search of “the way.” After his teacher, Chung-feng Ming-pen, died, he returned to Japan, but instead of taking a leadership position at an urban monastery, he spent 34 years rambling the countryside, visiting rural temples. Some 350 of his poems exist today, many of them brimming with waterfalls and birdsong, many others with the muted sadness characteristic of so much great Buddhist poetry.  


Sleeping in an old friend’s room
with only the window-framed moon
and the aging that became illness
that became death for company.

Once, you two babbled like brooks in spring,
fell silent together like a lone leaf
released from autumn’s tree.

Tonight, no conversation,
just memory and that big quiet
moon slowly leaving the frame.

Sleeping in an old friend’s room,
it’s an inaccurate phrase.

Sleeping in an old friend’s bed
you are fully awake.