|Cold Mountain 2,000:
Han Shan in the City
The way to this place is laughable,
there's no straight path.
Grubby streets and back alleys
littered and grungy.
Citizens pass on the way to work
from my old neighborhood
but I've lost the shortcut home.
Sometimes I just sit and wonder
where it all leads.
Deep in the city I choose a place
most people don't want to be.
What's in the next block?
I can't even guess.
Now I've lived herehow many years
they pass, I don't know how many.
Go tell the folks I left behind
they're wasting time
chasing what doesn't matter
It's bleak here
it's always been bleak.
Dark buildings half-blown down,
shadows enough to spook a saint.
But grass still sprouts each June
school kids return each autumn.
Now I'm here, which is nowhere
looking for a vision that just won't come.
I push onward
through this desolate landscape.
Past aging tenements
and broken down two-flats.
I shake sometimes for no reason
and forget the old admonitions.
I pity ordinary people.
Where I want to go, they don't matter at all.
I wanted a good place to settle
and this place suits me fine.
Wind, rain and people pass on by
listen, it gets better.
I'm aging it's true
and I read an awful lot.
I've been gone a long time
and forgotten how I got here.
People ask how to get here
but it's tricky business
the way keeps changing.
When you're depressed
you think it's close by
when you're elated
you think you might already be here.
If your heart was like mine
you wouldn't need a mood to find the way.
I settled here long ago
already it seems like centuries.
Drifting I prowl the city's back streets
and linger watching the straight world.
Few people want to come this far down
where it's smelly and unclean.
Me, I'm happy to be alive
let the Dow Jones go about its changes.
Getting to where I am
is an exercise in courage.
It's more than the streets
it's the things you have to get through.
Danger at every turn
and there's no predicting tragedy.
But if you really want to, I'm sure
you'll join me in this heaven-on-earth.
Rough and darkthe city night
Sharp cobblesthe unfamiliar alley
Yammeringpeople on the street
Bleak, alone, even with people nearby.
Whip Whip the wind off the lake
Whirled and tumbledI'm easily lost
Morning after morning I'm out of touch
seeking forces that mean something to me.
I gave it up
a long time ago.
Yesterday, looking for connections
I got on the phone
and found out a lot of folks
I care about are gone.
Now, I face my lone shadow
I'm here and that's all there is to it.
Rain drips from roof gutters
moonlight can barely be seen.
Silently I contemplate
what I've got and what I haven't.
In my first thirty years
I tried to make it in school.
and the 9 to 5
tried drugs but couldn't get there;
tried booze but that didn't work.
Now I'm in the middle of it all without trying
I think I'm making progress.
I can't stand these damn sirens.
I'm going back to my place and crash.
Weeds push up between sidewalk cracks
garbage blossoms with fungi.
The morning sun brightens the alleys
as much as it brightens the mountains.
Who knows that I'm down here
making it in this dingy part of town.
This neighborhood has many wonders
but people who come here get scared.
When the street lights shine
and the gangs are out
things don't look the way
they look in daylight.
When it rains, the reflections
on the street are like rainbows
I swear it
they're like rainbows.
There's a ragged poet on this city street
in an old turtleneck and faded jeans.
His one hand holds a copy of On the Road
and the other Naked Lunch.
He's thin and hasn't got much.
He's a sorry sight,
but he's close to his roots
and that keeps his head on straight.
My place is my place
with only me to define it.
The doors, such as they are,
open to my friends.
The rooms feel empty
and the walls sing.
Me in the middle.
Borrowers don't bother me.
In the cold, I keep warm,
when I'm hungry, I eat.
I've got no use for the drone
with his house and car.
He a slave to success
he can't escape.
Think it over
the trap fits you too.
If I hide out here
living off what I beg or find
all my lifetime, why worry?
It's how I am.
Time passes like that
like everything else.
Let the world change around me;
I'll just do my thing.
Lots of people
don't know me.
Don't know my real thoughts
and think I'm a fool.
Once here, troubles cease
everything is clear.
When poems come I write them down,
I take life the same way.
Somebody once told me
"you're not hip at all"
and I recall the early Beats
who didn't care.
I laugh at him,
another misguided soul.
Men like that
ought to stay in the suburbs.
I've lived herehow many autumns.
Alone I recite my poemswithout regret
HungryI read a few great poems,
sustained for little while longer.
Down here it's good as anywhere.
I can see clear to the Milky Way.
I honor what I have
and offer praise.
My home was down here from the start
free and unconditional.
Gone, with no trace
I let go and fly free.
The air and the skin are inseparable;
nothing is out thereit's all me.
Now the pearl of Buddha-nature
is uselessthat's just how it is.
When people see me
they say "good luck"
and don't know what to think,
I'm a strange new species to them.
They don't get my story
because we're from different worlds.
All I can say to folks like that
"get out of your shell and see what's happening."
This series of poems parallels the sequence of Cold Mountain Poems
by Han Shan as translated by Gary Snyder and presented in Snyder's book, Riprap & Cold Mountain Poems. The idea of putting Han Shan's poems in an urban context was suggested by Dan Wilcox, of Albany, NY.
as published in Backwoods Broadside #63, Ellsworth Maine, 2001
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