From Suchness: zen poetry and prose by Richard von Sturmer


As the sun slips below the horizon, a swan closes its eyes
At a Chinese restaurant, a Chinese waiter eats his evening meal with a knife and fork
A woman drops her child on the carpet, and instead of crying it laughs
In the car-wrecker's yard, fragments of window glass sparkle in the sunlight
A strip of red balloon hangs from the beak of a seagull

After a fight at school, acorns are found on the toilet floor
At the edge of a storm, someone is heard sweeping leaves
In the back garden, rain drips from the eaves of a doll's house
The sunset glows pink inside the ears of a black dog
In a takeaway bar, a machine for killing flies is switched on

A man holds a bicycle wheel and walks into a cathedral
In the middle of summer, a band-aid has melted on the asphalt
A wooden swan sits in a bakery, its back hollowed out and filled with loaves of bread
A wasp picks up a single grain of rice, disappears, then returns to pick up another grain
The dark clouds are darker through the skylight of a limousine

When its master blows down a cardboard tube, the dog cocks its head to one side
A wire coat-hanger is found lying in the snow, and later on, a slice of white bread
A man sells oranges in front of an empty field that stretches towards the horizon
On the beach at night, as the fire dies down, the sound of the ocean increases

A jogger runs past with "Stop Acid Rain" printed on his tee-shirt
In the crowded men's room, all three toilet doors change from "occupied" to "vacant" at the same time
At a serious accident, an ambulance arrives before the tow trucks
The letters on a tomato sign are the same red as the tomatoes
When the corn field is harvested, the hedgerows rustle with mice

At the airport, baggage tickets hang from the circular light above the check-in desk
A steel girder casts its shadow across the side of a concrete building
A gust of wind sends the cellophane from a cigarette packet high up into the evening sky
On a late-night bus, an old man smelling of beer manages to complete a crossword puzzle
A cat slips between two candles without singeing its tail

Cleaning under his bed, a writer finds his lost pen covered in dust
In the archeological museum, a series of crystalline pings are heard when the lights are switched on
Two painters in white overalls each stand on a white ladder and paint the same building white
In the Japanese garden, a carp with a human face glides by
On a corrugated iron roof, a seagull opens and closes its beak

A pile of cigarette butts lies at the end of a long pier
In a house by the sea, a man in his night-shirt is changing a light-bulb
In the hair salon, a small girl places two red plastic straws in her hair
An empty cassette box shines like a pool of water on a dark bedspread
The shadow of a cat sits on the shadow of a fence

Outside a tropical hotel, a hotel worker is struck by a large leaf
A young mother drives around the block until her babies are fast asleep
A chandelier of icicles hangs from the underside of a rusted fire-escape
Light shines through a blowfly as it settles on a television screen
Lotuses are opening beneath high-tension wires

An ice-cream van breaks down right beside a waterfall
A dog barks, and snow falls from a tree


Early spring: unaware that the old house has been sold to a developer, the starlings continue to make their nest under the eaves of the roof.

Pure happiness is fleeting, as when you make a pun or a joke in a dream and think it's extremely funny, only to realize, on waking up and recalling the dream, that your witticism is in fact rather childish, or completely incomprehensible.

They talk about "The Great Way," or "The Royal Way", but long ago it was just a simple path, overgrown with weeds, and night had fallen, and you were lost.

Auden says, "Beams from your car may cross a bedroom wall," the light, segmented by Venetian blinds, forming a fluid zebra crossing, while the sleep-walker, that unconscious pedestrian of the early hours, remains safe in bed, his feet moving beneath the sheets as is he were passing through the air.

On the other side of the world, on the door of a fridge, there is also a photograph of a small dog who sits on the kitchen floor and looks up into the eye of the camera.

What do we record if not those moments that keep slipping away: the play of light on a body of water; the one who makes light of herself, with a shawl, with a scarf; the crack in a pane of glass, glowing like a vein of blood as the sun sets in mid-winter.

While pouring sand out of the eye-sockets of a skull, the lonely giant hears the percussive sound of a large goose running across a bamboo bridge.

Sometimes I think that dogs have an awareness, however vague, that they will die, and therefore let out a sigh every now and then; whereas cats, who are so self-contained, have already returned from the dead, and just sit there, suffused with a strange understanding.

Someone you have always loved is in love again, but with another person, and you are free to stand out of their circle and watch them spin in the midst of a fine rain, a rain that drifts towards you, mingled with the sweetness of their breath.

His left shoulder-blade twitched as if a wing were growing from inside the bone, and he realized, perhaps for the first time, that the horns he had secretly worn were in fact a half-formed halo.

A little bird, chirping outside my window, covers this bare tree in red flowers, and I sigh, and the sigh remains like a faint star in the twilight of my room.

He wanted to paint the crucifixion from behind, but when he imagined the scene, the back of the cross began to recede as the surrounding landscape spread out, the hill of Golgotha leading him down to a stony plain, and then to a river beside which there stood a small thatched cottage.

At the end of the world, on a deserted beach, a young god has been transformed into three circles of cut glass, the size of headlights, which lie embedded in a long plank of driftwood.

He wrote, "I wish to be able to live my life without metaphors," and then he added, "like a fish swimming through clear water."

Another winter spent in a northern land: looking at the icicles that lengthen beneath the eaves of the houses, I can't help but think, "I'm getting long in the tooth."

When we've gone, the wind will lean against a lamp-post; and the solitary heron, who usually walks beside the water's edge, will take up a piece of seaweed and fly into the branches of a pine tree.

©Richard von Sturmer