[Tuttie's Porch View. Peaks Island, Maine. August 2013.
Photo by Warren Falcon.]
Photo by Warren Falcon.]
From a preface to earliest publication of Han Shan's poems 'Lu Ch'iu-Yin...claims to have personally met both Hanshan and Shide at the kitchen of the temple in Kuo-ch'ing, but they responded to his salutations with laughter then fled.' - Wikipedia on Han Shan
Red Pine poem 18:
I spur my horse past ruins;
ruins move a traveler's heart.
The old parapets high and low
the ancient graves great and small,
the shuddering shadow of a tumbleweed,
the steady sound of giant trees.
But what I lament are the common bones
unnamed in the records of immortals.
Dates of Han Shan's life are uncertain, anywhere from 5th to 9th century A.D.
'How strange is life in old age
- an old mountain waking up'
White haired, nearer now to
Yellow Spring**, a few teeth remain.
My humor with the world remains intact.
Toothlessness does not block endless
laughter, a small favor of the gods
perhaps. Perhaps not. A human virtue
at any rate. And a strong constitution.
Even alone I laugh out loud, a
victory over my enemies and those
frivolous, ill-tempered gods,
all my youth wasted given over
to their sly manipulations.
Useless it is to demand those lost
years back but suffice it now to
presently steal more boldly from
Kings, Lords, the 'Glorious State.'
Even the temples are not safe from
my pilfering. I kindly repay them
with a poem scrawled on the door
or wall or a nearby rock. It really
is enough recompense for what I
take, a root, some rice, a persimmom.
Nothing more than I need for a day
or two. If they do not know how
to spend my words then so be it.
They have been paid in full. My
conscience, silly thing it is,
is clear as is my mind. Blood
hot, I fear no god yet respect
most men for both good and
bad suffer alike.
My fight is with the gods.
These fickle powers control
mortals who fear invisible
things but I have seen through
them and I laugh and I am unfettered.
Look to your minds mortals and
there find the open sky, the full
land you seek. There are some
others like me who freely roam
without explanation or excuse,
without self rebuke. After so
much youthful, frivolous sanctity
I am an old fool emptied of all
that. I know the ways of those
who speak for the gods. Naivete
about them is especially
dangerous for men.
Still, I cry out time and again in
a dream where I am remaindered
to Silence. When awake I laugh
through tears and avenge nights
from hostile heaven's envious thieves,
their priestly minions mumbling on
robbing men of years on earth.
Even my cave is taxed!
and so is my sleep by such a dream.
Some real troubles come only in sleep.
Why should I be exempt?
A habit now, I sit at the Buddhas feet.
Their faces are convincing enough. I
ignore much evidence to the contrary.
Undergarments even of Buddhas reveal
a truth which does not flinch and I
may perhaps pinch my nose in disgust
even of holy stench all the while
celebrating my own for what else
am I here for? Odor is the Thing!
Even so, in spite of meditations long,
I am flung further into life's fray though
I sway charmed by chants up to the Eight
Celestial Flights, my steps light forgetting
their feet of dung.
Long in exile,
dizzy with The Path,
human beauty broken there beside,
in every field shy flowers want all
our windows and stoops to proudly
present themselves upon.
This only now but happy do I discover.
And I am old, my scent upon the wind
down human lanes where even dogs
take pleasure from the air, where
children play and narrow water flows
and petal by petal night and day the
joyous moon swoons in the liquor of
splash upon stones happy to be worn.
There, almost within reach, the blossoming
tree brightens between darker bricks to truly
dwell. It is for me a shy son of mists to see
in spite of big chunks missing, lost, wasted,
torn out, that the Celestial World is not as
it appears to most, It yearns for much needed
hardness for spirits without shoes still long
to be bread that they may dwell in our finitude.
To them then I am a daffodil dandy at a rusty
gate where heaven and hell conjoin. There
where the thinned road ends vague statues
sway out of focus lamenting their redaction
to stone, no river to move them petal by petal,
unable to move at all, for movement is not nothing.
Even pretty Buddhas pretending eternity
cannot move by themselves alone in need
of human feet and arms. In this way then
they become like me for I too will be
borne by men or wind to the grave no
longer able to move on my own
Nothing to lose, this rag of selves.
With what glory remains of hungry pockets,
I skip forward singing, La La La, a willful
don, a lord of nothing-much, poems a'pocket,
knowing it's all a shell game but I'm clever
having learned something from all the dice
rolled knowing that here and there (Heaven)
weight matters and that there is more to here
than there. Wised up now I always pack a
change of draws, a piece of broken mirror in
my pocket to gaze within practicing my smiles
to fool the gullible gods who think they are
smiling at themselves.
If stopped and questioned at the Gate to
Yellow Spring, I'll blame you, old Ghost
of too many former selves, a meandering
rumor still muttering the old hymns, who
grants me permission the entrance to boldly storm.
Between what these final breaths remain and
the horizon closing in, my fingers still work.
On behalf of all sentient beings I will plead
I'll write until the quill is taken from my cold hand.
Even then I shall be dirty with righteous indigence,
only the gods to blame - they love a good
argument anyway. Why should I disappoint?
In dying I become human through and through
which comes from doing.
Be damned and done with mirrors and pockets,
a man can curse at the end having earned the
right to do so -
a wink and a
then come the flies.
Whose hands shall
shoo them, whose
hands un-shoe him
and run quickly
I leave my poems just as they are.
When I'm gone let the worms correct
spelling and punctuation.
Meanwhile beneath willow tips
I will tease slowly the grasses to laughter
which is the only horizon I have known.
**Yellow Spring is a Chinese version of 'purgatory'