Breathing, Frontiers (Nara–Kyoto, 2009)

prayers in rough wood

One morning late in the summer of her death, I leave the swanky Kyoto hotel with only two things: a sense of desperate adventure and a bus map I have no way to make sense of. It is mid-morning, full sun. I step into the street & catch the wrong bus. Lost, I find another traveler with a better head for direction and a to-see list the same as mine. Together, we make the rounds of temples with names like stones dropped in still ponds, take pictures each of the other. Kiyomizu-dera and its golden waters. Moss & graves at Honen-in, echoes in the hillside. Eikando. Nanzenji. I touch my right hand to the cherry-lined path of Tetsugaku-no-michi, green now, no blossoms, wonder how many wiser heads have held thoughts here. Ears trained to stream’s murmur over street traffic. The day clouds as the sun sinks, and then at long last Ginkaku-ji, the Silver Pavilion that was never silver, umbrellaless under matching skies as rain begins to fall.

I hang a prayer
in wood by a heron’s pool
but do not forget.

ghosts always come out better in black and white

This poem came out of the ekphrastic workshop we did at Crossroads Art Center last weekend, and was inspired
by the untitled piece by photographer Mel Talley above. To see more of the artist’s work, check out

“Koi grow exponentially to their surrounding, as artists do.”

There is a poem just outside
the frame of the photographer,
its filter heavy-lidded, its contours
soft-lit and stark. It is covered in a sheet
of memory, like a Hallowe’en costume,
dense and grainy and a little
sad. It has questions like

What regrets do you hold
by cobwebbed brass handles,
only half-wanting to let go?
What doors do you wish
you had left
open? What good is your strong left
arm against shadows, black
on black?

i remembered the fish
in the pond to the side
of the philosopher’s path,
orange and glowing. Then
i read this today, and
“Make no apologies for your breathing.”

There is no coyness
in creosote dreams.
(You cannot connect.)
The poem will laugh at you,
and still you will try
to catch it costumeless, naked.
Always fuck with windows
open. Always end with a jab….


he walks backward
down a philosopher’s path
racing threat of rain
with the unmeasured cadence
of his breath, burying
regret deep
with each unhurried
footfall, denying every silvered
the treachery tattooed
on his soul.
You can read about the author’s own journey on the literal Philosopher’s Path here.  🙂