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Fifteen Ways of Looking at a Zen Garden

A pond, an ocean,
strangely still, strangely serene,
no water, dry waves.

The yellow koi leaps,
slipping splash off the lotus.
Damn! Missed it again.

A simple sozu,*
a drip of wood, splash of stone,
cool spring, liquid time.

I left a footprint
where the cloud cuts the circle.
My signature-chop.

Cherries were in bloom
all through this year’s Sakura.
Nature was with us.

The kingfisher squats,
still and sharp in the bamboo.
Oh, for a paintbrush!

Ho! Poison ivy
tangled in the azaleas.
Work for the backhoe.

The grass carp swimming
nose to tail around the lake
make work for themselves.

To rake is to dance.
For a tree to drop its leaves
is also to dance.

The priest threw ricecakes
from the roof of the teahouse.
No one could eat them.

Yesterday it rained.
The gravel froze, crunchy waves.
Winter must be here.

Then should the iris
not bloom next year, not die back
to winter’s tough stems?

“Old saying in Zen:
Trust no one who does not dance.”
Zen from Hollywood.

I should write a book:
Zen Gardening for Dummies.
Lines go here, curves there.

What the sages did:
carried wood and chopped water.
What the sages said:

*Note: A sozu is a contraption used by Japanese farmers to scare off deer, now often included in gardens. A length of two joints of bamboo is set on a lever to catch spray from a waterfall in the first joint. When that joint fills with water, it dips to empty itself, after which the rear joint hits its butt end on a stone, producing a knocking noise. Then the whole process repeats, usually knocking about every fifty seconds or so.

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Fifteen Ways of Looking at a Zen Garden by 


  • smitisan
    smitisanover 6 years ago

    Author here. There was an asterix (Gauls!) after the word “sozu” meant to point to the note below. Evidently in translation that means “make the next two lines bold.” Maybe being bold in weird places is my schtick. Story of my life. . .

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