Speaking of Zen
When Alan Watts talked about Zen in a room
—it was 1966—filled with scents of oranges
and incense, his intertwined fingers made a world,
then opened and let it go. Already I lead you
astray he began as world after world spilled
from his hands. I want to say he went on to quote
that old hermit Lao Tzu: The way you can go / isn’t
the real way. / The name you can say / isn’t the real
name. But I’ve forgotten his words, remember
only a murmur rising and falling like water
swirling over stones. We were present, we were
cocooned, we were listening for something
from which words rose and to which they returned.
Like his hands they made a story that washed
through a large silence and dissolved the room.
(Where were we then?)
Then he swept his hands together as if praying
and bowed. There we were on our hard chairs
and benches, redolence of oranges fading
as we stood, stretched, stumbled into the soft
San Francisco night where, wings not yet dry,
we lingered. A hum of quiet conversation
rose in a cloud of warmth, or maybe kindness
as, almost enlightened, we shifted like that water
against a shore, then turned towards home.
Rivers and Tides: Portrait of Andy Goldsworthy as Avatar of Lao Tzu
Everywhere he looks—light, weather, emerging forms.
His hands, blunt-fingered, itch to make them material.
Watching water’s surrender to gravity and terrain
he gathers leaves, threads them in a line, and gives it
to the river. It snakes downstream, the serpentine shape
that haunts him come alive, a form that might make
even rocks flow riverine across a landscape.
Here on this Nova Scotia beach he has almost mastered
how to be present to the stones. It’s the sand that’s
evading him he thinks, the press of the tide’s return
like the return of another form, a cone fallen from
some pine in his mind. His hands, knowing the eros
of hover and pause, place slabs of rock harvested
from that sand. Will this one settle, or tip and dissolve
into formlessness again? Four times it collapses,
stones gone dumb and waiting for resurrection.
Like the cone itself, when built, then swallowed by the sea.
Maureen Scott Harris has published three collections of poetry: A Possible Landscape, Drowning Lessons, awarded the 2005 Trillium Book Award for Poetry, and Slow Curve Out. In 2019 she won the Great Blue Heron Poetry Contest and was runner-up in the Edna Staebler Personal Essay Contest.