金継ぎ kintsugi

       
       This heart 
       longing for you,
       breaks
       into a thousand pieces—
       I wouldn't lose one. 

       ~Izumi Shikibu (974-1034)

Recently, the traditional Japanese art of repairing broken ceramics with a mixture of lacquer and powdered gold has become quite well known in the internetosphere. We can even buy inexpensive kintsugi-kits online, making what was once rarefied, readily accessible to anyone. Of course authentic Japanese kintsugi with the use of real lacquer and gold does remain quite a rarefied art, but the spirit of kintsugi can be applied broadly through the use of other materials. So when my cat’s bowl—which I bought at a small shop on Kawaramachi street in Kyoto—was broken, I was grateful to have instant access to inexpensive kintsugi-kits!

But why kintsugi? Why not throw away the broken? What is the merit of holding onto broken pieces when there are plenty of new and beautiful replacements? Why fuss with the inconvenience of sticky glue and uncontrollable gold powder, and waiting 24 hours for it all to dry? The well known answer is the aesthetic quality and value which emerges when the totality of loss, brokenness, and healing is embraced fully. An object, rather than defective, is seen to deepen in qualitative beauty. The fractured lines are not faulty nor hidden—they emerge as new elements of design and expressiveness.

Perhaps that is why Izumi Shikibu’s poetry written some one thousand years ago remains with us still. She treasures every single one of the one thousand pieces of her broken heart, conveying the depth of her love and longing. In a few lines, Shikibu invokes the timeless and transcendent spirit of kintsugi.

If we likewise treasure one another and our relationships, indeed, if we truly cherish our own hearts, we may find within ourselves the rarefied and priceless beauty of kintsugi. We may discover that in the end, we are the gold.

Matriarch

four generations, and counting
they come and they go
but they always return, home
to this place of beauty

a door to the east opens with dawn
and she feeds all the hungry children
the cats and dogs, the sheep, cows, horses and chickens
and on the stove, boiling tea and fry bread
for the strays who visit
hungry for stories, ritual, medicine, and ceremony

she laughs easily and cries easily
sharing her heartful with tenderness and pain
the stories of the people
the land and the ancient ones
her memories strong in the bright arch of blue day

and into the quiet glow of dusk
all the busy sandpink footprints are swept
and the table cleared
while her shy, slightly awkward, and more or less vegetarian daughter
prepares salad, fried vegetables, and rice
her daughter
from that small floating island country far to the west
smiles softly for shimá

in the dark nighttime of dreams
and in the firelight of a winter ceremony
her daughter was called home
to heal and be healed, together
long centuries of a battered land
scarred and broken under the crushing weight of greed
and the submerged continent of the massacred

but she stands firmly
on the ground of her mothers
and her mothers' mothers
with offerings of pollen and song
a door to the east opens with dawn
and she feeds all the hungry children

who like me
return
again and time again
to shimá


In trying to write about the background and inspiration for the poem above, I found that it cannot really be done. It would be to contain the ocean in a tea cup, or to capture the sky in a butterfly net. There is no encyclopedic text which could adequately describe or explain the entirety of what shimá, a Navajo word translated as “my mother” means… and what shimá means to me. But I can tell you that I am eternally grateful to the woman who I am standing next to in the photo above, who is shimá. And although shimá “walked on” a couple years ago, she guides me still—in my heart and in all that I have become. It is for her and because of her, that I wrote Matriarch.

As I was struggling to write about Matriarch, however, another poetic passage emerged. Apropos, Matriarch birthed a new poem! I wonder how this one, like a little child, will still grow?

On this land, we walk the path of beauty. 
The sacred breathes through our bodies, and breathes throughout all that there is.
We are beings of fire and coral sand, of summer rain storms and the unfurling green...
we fly on the wings of song and through endless skies of blue light.
We dance.
We are diamonds in the night.
And together with the land, we are hózhó.
We are home.

wild

                     
                          the beautiful roses in my garden
                                                                                 will always be
                                                                                                                    wild .
 

When you stop and smell the roses, what do you hear?

edge

          perhaps
          it is at the edge 
          of this world
          where
          in one another
          we find home
          and together 
          with the wild birds
          run free 

公案 kōan

dancing
i step into this
the stream of forever emerging
and of forever vanishing
what remains?

Kōan is a type of riddle or story used in Zen Buddhism designed to steer the practitioner out of and beyond the mind into direct realization. A famous example is, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” So I submit for your pleasure, a poem-koan. 🤓🖤
There is no right or wrong answer… What is yours? Mine is, um, hiding in plain sight?

pockets

hell in one pocket
and heaven in the other
the choice is all mine
i claim love and golden light
This here today is heaven!

(tanka 5-7-5-7-7)

A wise, old, loincloth-donning and cave-dwelling yogi in the northwestern state of Rajasthan, India once told a little girl a secret. “Heaven and hell” he explained, “are in my pockets!” Perhaps the eleven-year-old girl didn’t quite understand. I imagine she must have looked at him with a quizzical expression on her face. “Here!” he exclaimed. He had a very dynamic way of speaking and of being. Occasionally while walking on a hiking trail, he’d suddenly jump up in the air and yell, “Boom! Life is great!” and resume along the path light-footed and seemingly as light-hearted as can be.
Looking seriously at the little girl, her sister and her parents, Yogi continued. “Look, I want heaven? I take it out of my left pocket. I want hell? I take it out of my right pocket. I can have both! Anytime, I just take heaven or I just take hell out of my pockets!”

My eleven-year-old self did not understand Yogi’s story back then. But like a lucky charm or talisman in my pocket, it has given my life depth and texture—a sense of nuanced calm and komorebi*.
What do you carry in your pockets?

*komorebi: a Japanese word for sunlight shining through the trees; scattered or dappled sunlight; light filtering through the trees

surrender

A little poem for autumn-lovers, and lovers of autumn leaves and love🍁🍂❤️

                                             
                                                      this dance on the horizons
                                                                                   of time
                                                                     of all beginnings and endings
                                                                                                is aflame
                                                     in crimson windblown waves
                                                                       and i 
                                                       i surrender  deep
                                    into the dark and soft soil
                                                                of 
                                                                                  love

lullaby

as i travel home
moonlight sparkles upon the river
follow me
and together we sing
a lullaby
to the tired shadows
of night

Do you sometimes wonder where the poems come from? I do, even at times for those which I’ve written myself! The story of the poem above is quite simple, but enchanting.

I was cycling home after work one night, and as I pedaled along Kamogawa (the Kamo river in Kyoto) the moon was shining brightly and sparkling on the flowing river water. As I watched the sparkles while riding my bicycle they appeared to stay by my side, to be traveling along in the night together with me. Enchanted, sparkles and I sung a lullaby together, to the tired shadows of night.

Not long before that night I had visited Byodoin Temple, a UNESCO world heritage site in Uji, Kyoto. In the Phoenix Hall of Byodoin is a collection of 52 wooden bodhisattva statues, of which the one in the above photograph is my favorite. It’s playing the biwa, a traditional Japanese lute. With its serene composure, this lute-playing bodhisattva looks to me like a moon-deity playing heavenly music to the troubled and tired human souls on earth. And so I later imagined myself cycling along the river, together with moon sparkles and a benevolent bodhisattva, singing a lullaby to the tired shadows of night.

It’s a simple poem that I wrote a little over three years ago.

Recently, for the first time since before the covid pandemic started, I came down with a cold. That is to say that luckily, I have not gotten sick—not even a slight cold—for about three years! So I was going over some old poems for this week’s blog post and this one, lullaby, made me smile. This time, I am a tired shadow in the night, and this time, it’s my turn to be sung to. Good night. 🌜✨

magic

“You don’t need to believe in magic.
You are magic.
Believe in yourself.”

Emmanuel Dagher

The above quote crossed my path the other day, like an unexpected butterfly or rainbow in the sky. Riveted, I stopped. “Yes!” I thought. “We are indeed magic, and if we just believed in ourselves… no—if we truly knew that we are magic, why anything wonderful, miraculous, and beautiful could be possible!” It is true, don’t you think? That if we arrive, if we show up each day simply as we are—unadorned, messy but real… unafraid to be whatever particular expression of life that we just so happen to be—then our days cannot be anything other than magic and magical. So I was inspired to step out of my personal comfort zone and share this quickly snapped, unfiltered, messy-haired selfie-on-a-whim… to say hello to the world and to you, whoever you may be. We are all, after all, one light and one love.

But, what precisely is magic?

magic

         maybe magic is, 
     a heart cracked open
   to the tender beauty of the world
                    to be
     raw    open     and real
   and tumbled like broken pieces of sea glass
    worn smooth with the grain of tides
   high and low
    of time
                           to be
               to just be
     in this one world 
   both wounded and wondrous
 allowing the soft edges of shadows
   to dance
          into the light
   like sparkles and glitter of rain
     in the sun
   and finally
             finally and at last
                            to stand on the shore
                                      with arms outstretched to the  wide  open  sea
                                                           and declare
                                              here i am my love
                                              here i am
 

blackness

the deepest shade of love is black
that unknowable depth
from which all creation comes—and ultimately returns
is the kindest love
unconditional   embracing   infinite
in black, there's every shade of grey
and white is taken in everywhere

in this moment
feel raven wings alight
and hear the midnight of winter solstice
they swirl an elemental vortex
folding into itself
the sharpest cut of diamond

and in the tender arms of blackness
even rainbows find reprieve 
from arching displays of color writ loudly in sky blue

and now somewhere far, far out in the distance nearby
lies a   black   panther
limbs resting softly on the dark belly of the earth
she stirs into the heart of all being
a power
the deepest shade 
of love