(with Cups of Sake Four)

It is because what we say is unfinished, always, that we can say
without fear. The gatekeepers themselves, in speaking back law, say
only what they have been given to say by signs. It is always
unfinished. Thinking of this I gathered courage, making prostrations.
The land to the East or West of us is there because we are here,
speaking of it. (My sister wrote that.)

Anyway, when I arrived at the first gate, I was told I could not
pass. The guards were dressed in coats of black scales, with
half-moons of gold covering their mouths. They spoke in tongues from
the West and told me to return there. Beyond their head-sets, sparks
flew in the night across the wooden houses, and I imagined that those
of the foreign community inside were shimmering and transparent
so that their bones mingled as one with the tea-fires and the frozen
flight of the cranes. (Awkward, but I am writing quickly here.) And
then, by magic, Dean, the Western Guards became tethered to long and
shiny poles of discourse (though it was dark and I couldn't quite
see) and were spun round and round so that a breeze lightly scented
with bream and salt cooled my face. I smashed the turtle's shell and
passed boldly through the gate.

You see, it was the thought of Witter Bynner that led me on. I
desired my dust to be mingled with his, forever and forever and
forever. I also thought of the following things, though I would never
dare to speak them openly:

The State of Hand Not Joined to Body
The State of Being Perfectly Not Here
The State of Disconsolate Thought of Wings
The State of Myouka Writing "Hand Not Joined to Body"
The State of Rose of the Snow Kimono
The State of Poem Written on Throat of Turtle
The State of Shikantaza as Loving Cunt Enfolding
The State of Kissing Son on Loving Lips
The State of Sons as Suicidal Aviators Exultant
The State of Being a Staff or Whisk
The State of Stillness in Self-Fulfilling Samadhi
The State Where the Moon Swallowing Is Brought Forth

Weary, I took a piss, making great steam in the Autumn grasses. Then,
preparing ink on a large stone, I wrote:

[xx] shungyo ya hito koso shirane kigi-no ame [xx]
Which I choose to translate thus:
[mourning his son he crosses the hills with a large sack of eggs]

When I arrived at the second gate it was May, and all was in the
State of Three Heads and Eight Arms as Rain on the Trees. The guard
of this gate had the corpulent face and body of Amida, but I knew
that was just a disguise. He spoke in hoarse whispers and in a
language I could only understand by imagining. He told me to display
wares in my laquer-bone-poet-box, and I did so. He told me to
ornately describe the Eastern Suburbs with their alleys full of
squatting whores and peddlars, and I did this. He told me to squat
thusly and shit in my beggar's hat and I did so. He told me to write
one wonder-haiku on cicada husk's soundless cry, and I did this, his
sword suspended in threat above.  I wrote:

Towa x ni x ikitashi x onna-no x koe x to x semi-no x ne x to
Which I choose to translate thus:
[my soul passes through those of others: hydragena exhibit]

Thus, this apparition vanished, and I went deeper into the mandala,
having no idea where I was headed (and admittedly half-wishing I had
heeded the cautionary advice of my grad school advisors).  Wide-eyed,
I witnessed:

The Room of Looking through a Bamboo Tube
The Room of Scholars Who Count Letters
The Room of Poets with Strings of Law Leading Back to Their Names
The Room of the Theory of Five Ranks
The Room of Mud Within Mud
The Room of Merely Being "In the Mountains"
The Room of Oneness Within Differentiation
The Room of Udumbara in Shameless Flower
The Room of "Life Streams Issue from Plum Blossoms"
The Room of Everyday Rice-Eating Activity
The Room of Sky with Palms Together
The Room of Mind Moon Alone and Full

I felt fear and trembling, I felt the insistent repetition of all
phenomenal things, I felt an anxiety and dread of concepts that
verged (is it possible to say it?) on the irony of Being itself, and
I felt a sickness unto death. You see, Dean, I had come to
the gate through which the masts of Foreign Ships are visible! It was
like a forest after a great fire, or a city of people who have been
burned to a crust but are still standing. And I realized that this
was the Room of No Turning Back.

The guard here was dressed in elegant suit. He both was and was not
(if you can imagine that!), like the brittle sumi-e I had seen at
Eihei-ji: a single Not-Thinking stroke bringing sudden form out of
no-form. He appeared to me as an American executive from Toshiba, and
he brandished a scroll of unfair treaties, all inscribed in the most
delicate calligraphy. He said I could pass only should I beat him in
Poetry-Duel-to-Death. "I go first," he growled, "and my poem is
titled 'State of Siege.'" He read in rapid-fire bursts, his voice
screeching as ten-thousand shikirichi, and through the great roar of
rushing waters' sound, this is what I heard:

shaving dace [...] now stomping [.........]
town wall [....] place for gossip or [...]
[.......]daughter's dream--silkworm dealers?[.......]but[..]
But [......]market flooded. Why Pentium Chips if
[............]waving fan--clay stove [..]
[................] so [.....................] no, [................]
Ah, Hiroshima's blessing [...] fast track is [.......] better and
[.] for one thousand vats of nightsoil [.................] but legs
spread for love-making [.........] while far away [.......]
geisha expert [...] quick web-search for [..........]
thirty seven Mexicans suffocated in freight car clawing eyes out

I was fearful and trembled at his fierce visage. A device for
measuring time glowed with Oriental splendour on his wrist. Sparks
flew in the night across the great wooden ships beyond. I knew now
the foreigners had been waiting there, shimmering and transparent,
for thousands and thousands of Springs. I dipped my brush and raised
it slowly back, knowing death-poem in my bones, knowing the darkness
there in the glistening point of it... And I wrote:

Which is untranslatable thus:
[                                                                  ]


And when I woke, drenched from the dream, it was my teacher, serene
in Electric State of Coming Wonders, speaking to us in measured and
instructional tones. And this is what I heard:

"This paradox cannot be mediated, for it depends specifically on
this: In attachment blossoms fall, and in aversion weeds spread. The
single individual is only the single individual. As [inaudible] as
this single individual wants to express his absolute duty in the
universal, becomes conscious of it in the universal, he recognizes
that he is involved in a spiritual trial. [extended inaudible
section] Do not be limited to the narrow views held by human beings.
Even where there is no sun and moon, there is day and night."
(I taped that.)

He was a monk from Japan. He was vegetarian and ate his rice and
things with chopsticks. And I spoke every Orientalist dream that
came to me that sesshin, into the black hole of his succulent, papery

Volume One Index
The East Village Poetry Web
Kent Johnson