Poetry of Robert Fisher
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The master has forbidden the monks to chant
No rumbling bass in unison shaking reality,
No bells or gongs, only the silence of zazen.
Some monks listen to the patternless crash of the sea,
Others to their breathing, yet others to the random screeches of gulls.

The master arises and on the cliff above the temple
Looks down on its dark rooves on a niche above the sea.
He meets the soul of a dead youth and walks with him,
Side by side, feeling the grief of his mother.
Another soul of a dead youth joins them, for there has been a war,
And the master sees the old parents reading the officer’s letter,
In flowing characters only sorrow could inspire.
They stare at the grief in the ink, they hold the box of his ashes,
They take in the strange name of where he was killed.
Another soul of a dead youth joins them, a sailor lost at sea,
And the master sees the wife still holding the torn envelope,
The few lines of plain hiragana pasted on note paper,
All she will ever have of her husband swallowed by the vast rolling sea.

By now the master moves amid a troop of souls of dead young men,
Amid the sense of loss that strangles the parents,
That heaps mountains of unreasonable guilt that crush the chests of parents,
And those young men who withdrew from their parents,
These burn their parents alive with contempt, even hatred,
Nevertheless they walk with the master like the others.

He led them by paths cut in the cliffside,
At one time he was at the head of a long column,
Into the silence of softly breathing monks.
When they saw the meditation hall filled with the souls of dead young men,
The monks chanted sutras in low voices that made the air waver,
The rocks vibrate, the birds fly in vortices,
The waves caress the rocks and roll backwards into the sea.
The monks struck bells to punctuate their sutras,
The monastery clutched the rock all the harder to keep from ascending to the
clouds.

The farmers straightened their backs, sickles at their side,
The blacksmith lowered his hammer and let the iron cool,
The letter-writer stopped grinding his bar of ink.

Everyone came into the main street and knew
That sorrow was in the rice stalk and the sickle,
In the hammer and the red iron,
In the ink and the brush of wolf’s hair,
In the columns of characters the master would write in letters to parents:
‘Your sons nourish us, we shoe our horses with your sons,
Your sons are the characters in this letter,
Your sons are home in a little temple by the sea.’

February 26th, 2016