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Lee Evans

Five Poems


 

By the Roadside

(after Chuang-Tsu and Bunan)

 

One evening on my way back home,

I spied a human skull

Bleached ghostly white, retaining still

Its former shape, wherein the will

To live had swelled its bones.

 

I tapped it with my walking cane,

And asked it, “Did you, Sir,

In all your greed for life, bestir

The twisting fibers of your nerves

To come to this in vain?

 

“What brought you here? A civil war,

Perhaps? or just old age--

Your grand finale on this stage

Of losing battles, where the wage

Can never compensate the scars?”

 

This said, I took it in my hands,

And underneath my head

I made a pillow for my bed

Among the weeds and trash that hid

My sleep from beast and man.

 

At midnight when the town clocks tolled,

That skull became my dream,

And whispered, “What you said to me

More like an orator beseems

Than one who sifts for gold! 

 

“Your words described the way of life

Of men who drew their breaths

While in pursuit of happiness

And liberty, in spite of death

Preventing all their strife.

 

“But in the grave those baits and lures

Can never satisfy the Saints

Whose deaths take place without a taint;

Who wipe away the foolish paint

That masks a hollow core.

 

“Perhaps you’d like to hear me speak

About the end of woe.”

“Oh, tell me everything you know!”

The skull resumed, “In Death are no

Distinctions that men seek.

 

“No seasons waste each other there

With changes soon undone;

No phase of moon or fire of sun

Surpasses Wisdom’s light for ones

Who move beyond your sphere.”

 

I heard his words with skeptic doubts,

And said, “If magic arts

Could somehow cause you to depart

From your abyss, and take your part

Once more in your own house,

 

“With mother, father, wife and child,

And all your wealth and friends,

Would you refuse the chance to blend

With what you loved, to live again,

If only for a while?”

 

The skull stared fixedly at me,

And said, knitting its brows,

(This was a dream, remember now!)

“No one who casts away life’s shroud

Regains that misery.

 

“While living, be a dead man, then;

Be dead so through and through

That anything you think or do

Will be as though there were no you--

And dwell here as my friend.” 



 

In the Wilderness

 

When rambling in the East one day,

Conducted by a gentle breeze,

Yun Kiang espied Hung Mung, amazed,

Because the latter hopped and played,

Slapping his buttocks with such glee.

 

“O tell me, sir, just who are you?

Why are you doing this?” he cried.

Hung Mung looked up and answered, “Pooh!”

Yun Kiang said, “Is there gospel truth

Your antics have from me disguised?

 

“You see, I long to seize the Wind,

And harmonize the basic Six—

The Darkness, Light, the Yang, the Yin,

And Rain—all in myself to blend.

Don’t tease me with fantastic tricks!”

 

“I do not know! I do not know!”

Hung Mung just shook his head and sprang

Away into the reeds that blow

With harmonies of Rain that flow 

In Light and Darkness, Yin and Yang.

 

Years afterward, when yet once more

Yun Kiang was rambling in the East,

Hung Mung he noticed as before,

And hastened to be taught his lore,

And laid his head down at his feet.

 

“O Heaven, do remember me!

Have you forgotten, Heaven?”

Hung Mung said, “Wandering listlessly,

I know not where or what I seek—

But you aspire to govern Man.”

 

Yun Kiang replied, “I too am tossed

About by aimless influence,

And yet the People follow close

Upon my heels; and since they press

About me, shall I lead them hence?”

 

“Do so, and you will be their bane!

Do nothing, and the world will be

Well guided, as you hold the reins 

Preventing men from seeking gain

Beyond what their best Good beseems.”

 

“And what, O Heaven, is that Good?”

The Recluse answered, “Empty minds

And weakened wills; sufficient food;

The dearth of knowledge; being trued

To Nature’s stillness, and resigned.”

 

Yun Kiang said, “Heaven, you have taught

The meaning of your Way to one

Who all his life for it has sought—

Who now within its net is caught!”

He bowed twice to him, and was gone.



 

Double Vision

 

                     I

 

As I came down from Vulture Peak,

My venerable Master grinned--

Because he saw a skeleton

Pursued by wings and beaks

 

Which followed it across the sky

While pecking it between the ribs,

And stabbing it and tearing it

To pieces as it screamed and cried.

 

My venerable Master said,

“It surely is quite wonderful

That such an individual

Exists among the living dead!

 

“That being, in a former life,

Was one who butchered cattle here,

Then burned in Hell for many years,

And afterward became a sprite.”

 

                          II

 

As I came down from Vulture Peak,

My Venerable Teacher smiled

At something that appeared to howl--

And yet methought it strained to speak.

 

Above us, yet below the vault

Of Heaven, was this thing pursued

By forceps and by suction tubes,

And drugs that made its flesh dissolve.

 

My venerable Teacher said,

“It surely is no miracle

That one so modern and so full

Of bright ideas, should yet be wed

 

“To deeds some former life has sown.

That being was a doctor then,

Whose living made an early end

Of those whose pain is now his own!”



 

Somnambulist

 

I knew a narcoleptic cook,

Who when he didn’t take his pills,

Hallucinated black robed monks

While scrubbing down the restaurant grill.

 

We took our constitutionals

Each day upon the city streets,

Confabulating whimsical

Yet philosophic fancies sweet.

 

One cloudy Saturday we strolled

From town toward the shining sea,

To contemplate a local grove 

Where Monarchs held court on the trees.

 

The butterflies clung close in throngs

On eucalyptus and cypress,

Enveloped in a looming fog

That blurred all boundaries with us. 

 

We barely saw the tiny wings

Ten-thousand-fold upon the limbs, 

Like autumn leaves prepared to fling 

Their glories to the reckless wind. 

 

I turned to him and framed a thought,

But he spoke first. “What do you think?

“Perhaps I’m really nodding off

While leaning on the kitchen sink.”  



 

To Sleep: On Veteran's Day

 

Whatever is not present, one therefore sees as empty; whatever else is present, one sees as truly present. Ananda, this called truly dwelling in emptiness, without distortion ~ Madhyama-agama

 

On a Duck Tour of twilight Baltimore

We ride and listen to the droning guide

Reiterate a tourists’ litany

Of highlights; and I soon begin to dream, 

And fight the sleep that slowly drains my mind.

The night is coming on as though it were

The being in and of itself of things

That by the light of day is Camden Yards,

Fire hydrants and the Bromo Seltzer Tower.

I’ve heard that what goes on by light of day

Continues in the night; and yet I feel

That more than continuity looms there,

Behind the crude façade of what we see.

The Inner Harbor’s fascinations are

Too shallow to detain me from this sleep.

No novelty, such as the amphibious Duck,

Whose kin rolled up the beaches on D-Day,

And in which now we ride tooting duck calls,

Can keep my mind from lapsing once again

To the profound unconscious whence it crawled

Like some Darwinian lungfish ages ere

The earth became the Lord’s in seven days.

No tour guide’s commentary could detain

Me in my passage to the dreamless depth

Beyond all being, where old Gnostic seers

Took refuge from the Furies of the Faith;

Or apprehension of that Buddhist state,

Cessation of perception and feeling.

No vista o’er the harbor’s oily waves,

No six foot circle dotting the red “I”

That is a basketball court length in size

In sugary Domino’s great glowing sign,

Could tempt me back to consciously enjoy

These narrated highlights of Baltimore.

Nor Federal Hill that looms like Tara’s mound,

So Irish, o’er the city’s row houses,

Or World Trade Center, towering so high,

With oohs and aahs of tourists from its top,

Or Shot Tower, pointing to the shrouded sky,

Or the first monument to Washington,

Can keep me from dissolving like a mud

Statue, engulfed within the ocean’s rising tide:

For I have prayed the prayer unprayable,

And I have dreamed the dream undreamable,

And I have touched the sphere of nothingness—

All while the Duck sprouts wheels and rolls ashore,

Onto the streets of Fells Point’s Normandy.



 

Earth Day

 

A skeleton lurched past the graves and paused,

raising up its skull to the cloud-swept sky.

Was there pain in the spine and the hip joints?

Ah, but the bones themselves felt not a thing.

Muscles and skin were attached to the bones,

and viscera swayed in its body bag;

but the pain was elsewhere, everywhere; yes.

There were intricate nerves that pulsed and fired

electrical spasms into a brain

that pressed its lobes to the vault of the sky;—

but the brain felt no pain, nor the senses,

spying through narrow slits at the springtime scene.

Then the bones collapsed to the earth at the feet

of the ancient pines that groaned in the breeze.



 

Lee Evans lives in Bath, Maine, where he and his wife work for the local YMCA. He has self-published several collections of poetry and his work has appeared in such periodicals as Mused, Contemporary Rhyme, Visual Verse, and Shot Glass Journal. Bienvenue au Danse, Lee.