Willows I was walking where the willows ring the pond, meaning to reflect on each, as never before, all twenty-seven, examine twig by twig, leaf by pointed leaf, those delicate tents of greens and browns. I'd tried before, but always wound up at my leafless bole of spine, dead ego stick, with its ambitions, bothers, indignations. Times I'd reach the fifth tree before faltering, once the seventeenth. Then, startled by grinding teeth, sharp nails in the palm, turn back, try again. Hoping this time to focus on each bought, twig, leaf, cast out all doubts that brought me to the willows. This time it would be different, could see leaves shower from the farthest tree, crown my head, bless my eyes, when I awakened to the fact -- mind drifting to the trees ahead. I was at fault again, stumbling to the flap of duck, goose, a limping footstep on the path behind, sun-flash on the pond. Such excuse, easy to find, whether by willows or bristling stations of a life. Once more, I'm off. This time all's still. Alone no one to blame distractions on but self. Turn in my tracks, back to the starting point. Clench, unclench my hands, breathe in, move off telling the leaves like rosary-beads, willow to willow. Mind clear, eye seeing all, and nothing. By the fifth, leaves open to me, touch my face. My gaze, in wonderment, brushes the water. By the seventh, know I've failed. Weeks now, I've been practicing on my bushes, over, over again.
Willows by Lucien Stryk
The poet and Zen scholar Lucien Stryk died yesterday at the age of eighty-nine. He was a professor at Northern Illinois University for decades, and published numerous volumes of his own poetry, as well as translations of Zen poetry and books about Zen and Buddhism. He was my teacher and friend, and was very encouraging of my work years after I left school. Here is a great, and my favorite, poem by Lucien Stryk.