2 Poems on Monday…

Never give children a chance of imagining that anything exists in isolation. Make it plain from the very beginning that all living is relationship. Show them relationships in the woods, in the fields, in the ponds and streams, in the village and in the country around it. Rub it in.—Aldous Huxley, Island

Art: John William Waterhouse

2 Koans/2 Poems

off to work!




Koan: Inch Time Foot Gem

A lord asked Takuan, a Zen Teacher, to suggest how he might pass the time. He felt his days very long attending his office and sitting stiffly to receive the homage of others.

Takuan wrote eight Chinese characters and gave them to the man:

Not twice this day

Inch time foot gem.

This day will not come again.

Each minute is worth a priceless gem.

Sleeping in the Daytime

The master Soyen Shaku passed from this world when he was sixty-one years of age. Fulfilling his life’s work, he left a great teaching, far richer than that of most Zen masters. His pupils used to sleep in the daytime during midsummer, and while he overlooked this he himself never wasted a minute.

When he was but twelve years old he was already studying Tendai philosophical speculation. One summer day the air had been so sultry that little Soyen stretched his legs and went to sleep while his teacher was away.

Three hours passed when, suddenly waking, he heard his master enter, but it was too late. There he lay, sprawled across the doorway.

“I beg your pardon, I beg your pardon,” his teacher whispered, stepping carefully over Soyen’s body as if it were that of some distinguished guest. After this, Soyen never slept again in the afternoon.


2 Poems:

A Poem for the Shekinah on the Feast of the Sabbath

Isaac Luria (Aramaic, 1534-72)

I have sung

an old measure

would open

gates to

her field of apples

(each one a power)

set a new table

to feed her



drops its

light on us

Between right & left

the Bride

draws near in

holy jewels

clothes of the sabbath

whose lover

embraces her

down to foundation

gives pleasure

squeezes his strength out

in surcease of


& makes new faces

be hers

& new souls

new breath

gives her joy

double measure

of lights & of

streams for her blessing

o Friends of the Bride

go forth

all’s sealed

within her

shines out from

Ancient of Days

Toward the south

I placed


(o mystical)

room in

the north

for table

for bread

for pitchers of wine

for sweet myrtle

gives power to


new potencies


give her many

sweet foods to taste

many kinds of


for fertility


of new souls

new spirits

will follow the 32 paths

& 3 branches

the bride with

70 crowns

with her king who

hovers above her

crown above crown in

Holy of Holies

this lady all worlds are

formed in

of words for her

70 crowns

50 gates

the Shekinah

ringd by

6 loaves

of the sabbath

& bound

all sides to

Heavenly refuge

the hostile


have left us

demons you feared

sleep in chains


From The Wishing Bone Cycle

by Jacob Nibenegenesabe, tr. Howard Norman

Swampy Cree

One time I wanted two moons

in the sky.

But I needed someone to look up and see

those two moons

because I wanted to hear him

try and convince the others in the village

of what he saw.

I knew it would be funny.

So, I did it.

I wished another moon up!

There it was, across the sky from the old moon.

Along came a man.

Of course I wished him down that open path.

He looked up in the sky.

He had to see that other moon!

One moon for each of his eyes!

He stood looking

up in the sky

a long time.

Then he suspected me, I think.

He looked into the trees

where he thought I might be.

But he could not see me

since I was disguised as the whole night itself!


I wish myself into looking like the whole day

but this time

I was dressed like the whole night.

Then he said.

“there is something strange

in the sky tonight.”

He said it out loud.

I heard it clearly.

Then he hurried home

and I followed him.

He told the others, “You will not believe this,

but there are ONLY two moons

in the sky tonight.”

He had a funny look on his face.

Then, all the others began looking into the woods.

Looking for me, no doubt!

“Only two moons, ha! Who can believe you?

We won’t fall for that!” they all said to him.

They were trying to send the trick back at me!

This was clear to me!

So, I quickly wished a third moon up there

in the sky.

They looked up and saw three moons.

They had to see them!

Then one man

said out loud, “Ah, there, look up!

up there!

There is only one moon!

Well, let’s go sleep on this

and in the morning we will try and figure it out.”

They all agreed, and went in their houses

to sleep.

I was left standing there

with three moons shining on me.

There were three … I was sure of it.


One time

all the noises met.

All the noises in the world

met in one place

and I was there

because they met in my house.

My wife said, “Who sent them?”

I said, “Fox or Rabbit,

yes one of those two.

They’re both out for tricking me back today.

Both of them

are mad at me.

Rabbit is mad because I pulled

his brother’s ear

and I held him up that way.

Then I ate him.

And Fox is mad because he wanted

to do those things first.”

“Yes, then it had to be one of them,”

my wife said.

So, all the noises

were there.

These things happen.

Falling-tree noise was there.

Falling-rock noise was there.

Otter-mud-sliding noise was there.

All those noises, and more,

in my house.

“How long do you expect to stay?”

my wife asked them. “We need some sleep!”

They all answered at once!

That’s why now my wife and I

sometimes can’t hear well.

I should have wished them all away

first thing.



1. Trickster stories go far back in Cree culture (as elsewhere), but the figure here is the invention, specifically, of Jacob Nibenegenesabe, “who lived for some ninety-four years northeast of Lake Winnipeg, Canada.” Nibenegenesabe was also a teller (= achimoo) of older trickster narratives, the continuity between old & new never being in question. But the move in the Wishing Bone series is toward a rapidity of plot development & changes, plus a switch into first-person narration as a form of enactment. In the frame for those stories, the trickster figure “has found the wishbone of a snow goose who has wandered into the Swampy Cree region and been killed by a lynx. This person now has a wand of metamorphosis allowing him to wish anything into existence; himself into any situation.” Howard Norman’s method of translation, in turn, involves “first listening to the narratives over and over in the source language, then re-creating them in the same context, story, etc., if notable, ultimately to get a translation word for word.”

2. Writes Norman, further: “The Swampy Cree have a conceptual term which I’ve heard used to describe the thinking of a porcupine as he backs into a rock crevice: usá puyew usu wapiw (‘he goes back ward, looks forward’). The porcupine consciously goes backward in order to speculate safely on the future, allowing him to look out at his enemy or just the new day. To the Cree, it’s an instructive act of self-preservation. Nibenegenesabe’s opening formula for the wishing bone poems (and other tales) consisted of an invitation to listen, followed by the phrase: ‘I go backward, look forward, as the porcupine does.’”

The act of telling, then, is one in which traditional ways (as process) do not imprison but free the mind to new beginnings & speculations. This is the basis in fact of the “oral” as a liberating possibility: an interplay that preserves the mind’s capacity for transformation — as important in an ecological sense as that other preservation (of earth & living forms, etc.) that we now recognize not as nostalgia but a necessary tool for our common survival.

Reprinted from Jerome Rothenberg, Shaking the Pumpkin and Howard Norman, The Wishing Bone Cycle.

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