Saturday, May 19, 2007
He took the path from Katmandu
(though he knew there was no path)
to seek a holy man who sat
alone up in the high places.
It was said he knew Everything,
this holy man, enough at least
to shrink from the world’s dizzy riddles,
an oracle completely centered
in the perfect flower of his being,
a lotus in the teeth of creation.
There was no office space up there,
no phones, no secretary’s books.
A hut, or a cave, a certain announcing
radiance would point him out.
After all, he wasn’t up there
to natter on at every passing shadow;
he was the very soul of saintliness,
strider on the illimitable stream.
So the pilgrim set out, all ways one way,
to find what couldn’t be found: couldn’t.
Snowblind, blistered, he picked the trackless
underpinnings of the sky
for seven years without a sign,
only the giant silence of Nepal.
Without hope, he went on. Then,
a miracle on a flat rock,
a metamorphosis: a black,
twisted root bled red
where a bird pecked, and the two eggs
in the nest were white, uncanny eyes.
The pilgrim threw himself flat.
“Master, what is the essence of life?”
He held his breath, afraid to look,
bit the thin, particulate wind.
The root seemed to move:
“Boiling oil on fast fire.”
An enigma for innocents.
“The essence! Please! Teach me the essence!”
Nothing for an hour. Then,
gravel on a frozen slope:
“Hungry, eat. Tired, sleep.”
“Tell me! You must!” He raised a stone
as if to crush the knowing head.
It was still. The mountain rattled on.
Truth was a scorched angel in the passes.
The pilgrim then regained his knees.
“But please. Am I unworthy? Please.”
“All I ask is that you teach me.”
His tears froze as they fell,
three grains of rice. The master said:
“The rose is not red, nor willow green.”
The pilgrim turned his face up
to the shrouded peaks and knew despair.
But years later, D-train riders
hardly noticed when some guy
you wouldn’t half see in the rain
dropped his books all over the floor
and giggled like a loony
back and forth, back and forth,
Coney Island to Bedford Park,
King’s Highway to Katmandu.