San Francisco Renga

Wow!  What a great day we had yesterday!  Thanissara was in town for a few days and offered to lead a group in the practice of Renga.  Nine of us – nine women – gathered at my house on a cold crisp sunny winter day.  Cozy inside.  Thanissara taught us the basics of Renga…  It’s an ancient Japanese form of poetry, based somewhat in Haiku (though we did a Much Looser form of it).  The basics are that you start with winter, and as the poem progresses you write about all four seasons.  The first verse is 3 lines, the second verse is two lines, and it continues to alternate like that.  Somewhere near the beginning (but not in the first verse) there should be mention of the moon, and a few verses later, some mention of love.  Each verse furthers the theme of the verse before and at the same time moves the poem forward.  Thanissara, who had been taught this form by a Buddhist monk, played the role of our Renga master — the person who ultimately decides which verse will be included at each point.  As we each wrote each and every verse, and shared them aloud, there was quite a lot of discussion to decide which would be the best verse to include.  As there are usually many wonderful verses offered, it is not an easy task to decide which verse to use each time.

Ultimately all nine of us wrote the poem.  And here are the poets:

Renju (renga gathering)

Joyce Futa                                                                                                                              Lucy Hilmer                                                                                                                                       Anita Kline                                                                                                                                          Joan Kresick                                                                                                                                     Colleen Lookingbill                                                                                                                                 Gayle Markow                                                                                                                                    Kathy O’Brien                                                                                                                                        Cathy Wickham                                                                                                                               Teishu: Thanissara

Here is our collective poem:

San Francisco Renga

San Francisco mist gone

sunlight floods yellow room

silent winter waiting


thoughts wanting to be spoken

the evening comes soon


golden pool of lamplight

smell of supper’s soup

steam upon  the windows


outside buds burst open

ten thousand tasks to do


mist of plum blossoms

footsteps on white petals

a dream of moons to come


ninety degrees at ocean’s edge

still, carry your coat!


morning fog hangs heavy now

heaved past peaks by inland heat

green gold hills bleached by sun


wind bends the cypress down

postpone dreams of sun ’til fall


fruit hangs heavy on the tree

as love hangs ripe upon the heart

I bite into the sweetness


gather apples in the baskets

fallen leaves, like love, become loam.


I really want to thank Thanissara for so generously sharing this wonderful practice with all of us.  It was so inspiring, and so fun, and most of all, so enjoyable as we went around the circle each time for each verse and everyone read their own aloud.  It was just, well, really beautiful.  I think writing Renga in a small group of people who love poetry is a great way to spend a winter day,  cozy, collaborative, and inspired – inside.

♥  Gayle


a few thoughts & a poem about my dad…

I loved both of Sati’s beautiful poems about her father.   I was especially moved by Sati’s second poem, the whole poem, but esp. these two lines:

Even coldness has a holy touch-
your forehead white and proud against my hand.

It brought back my last experience with my father — at least with my father’s physical body. As my father lay there – cold – in the funeral home – a private viewing for my mother, sister, and me before the closed casket funeral the next day – I too ran my hands over the forehead and structure of my father’s peaceful 91 year old face.  I’ve always been told I looked exactly like him. Being there that day I saw my own death mask.   I was deeply touched by the connection I felt with him, and the inevitability of my being in that  self same repose one day.

Although this is a Dharma Road poetry blog, I imagine — and hope — there will be buddhists and non-buddhists alike meeting here.   Some will believe in reincarnation or won’t;  others, in heaven or not.  Personally I am most comfortable with not assuming anything. The truth is simply that I don’t know. What I know is there is great mystery and love and compassion.  And gratitude. (and lest I fall into the trap of pollyana-ism, what I also know is that there is dukkha, or suffering).  My dad was definitely not a buddhist;  he was culturally Jewish, but a dyed-in-the-wool atheist.  Still he lived his aging and dying with a huge amount of equanimity.  I was amazed, and so grateful.

Here’s a poem I wrote shortly after my dad’s death.  Two years after his death, it still rings true for me.

Reflection in the Wake of Dad’s Death

Part I

So here’s the problem.

If I believed in heaven OR reincarnation,

I would know where my father’s spirit has gone—

Well, more or less.

Without a particular belief system,

I don’t know.

Dad believed when you die, it’s just all over.

I don’t know if that’s true either.

What to do?

Develop some expertise in

Not knowing.

Part II 

You ask, how do I do this? Funny you should ask.

 Part III  

Gayle’s recipe for developing expertise in Not knowing: 

One part Mary Oliver poem —

              …Still, what I want in my life

             is to be willing

             to be dazzled —

             to cast aside the weight of facts

             and maybe even

             to float a little

             above this difficult world.

             I want to believe I am looking

             into the white fire of a great mystery….

One part David Wagoner poem—

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you

           Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,

           And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,

           Must ask permission to know it and be known….

One part David Whyte saying—

The deeper conversation starts right here, and the first question is not far from       exactly where you are.

One part the Dalai Lama’s laugh.

Put it all in the oven and bake daily.  Don’t stop baking.

Prep time:  none.   Oven temperature: as hot as you can tolerate, and cooler when you need it cooler.   Baking time: as above, forever.  Serves: all beings.

Part IV  

So this is how it is now.

I wake up every day not knowing.

Dazzled, or floating…

I try to find my nearest question.

I laugh, sometimes I cry.

I think of you, Dad.

Wherever else you are (or aren’t),

you are here now,

in my heart,


Part V

Months later, the baking continues.

There is Not Knowing and there is peace, an okay-ness with not knowing.

♥   Gayle

Excerpts are from the poem “The Ponds” by Mary Oliver; the poem “Lost” by David Wagoner; and from a talk given by David Whyte at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco on May 29, 2009.

two poems from Sati

I have two poems that I wrote after my dad died. Here they are..

The process..

I see you take in a shallow sip of air
gently tether the pulse
for just a while.

I watch you keep the patterned cycle
flowing softly
now and then.

In the space between
I hear a new sound
Playing with the breath.

In the space between
I sense an opening
dancing with forces.

In the space between
I feel the leaving
Of one heart for a greater.

In the space between
I see how gently you pick it up,
embrace the beauty that you are.


and this one too..

For Tim.

We wrap your form, carry you,
feeling the bodies weight
one last time, watching.

Details of your form
the lines and moles,
the tiny frame, humbled by the struggles
show a heart that sought freedom
that carried burdens silently
and too alone.

Even coldness has a holy touch-
your forehead white and proud against my hand.
I am in the domain of angels,
humans- what can they do here?
In a place of remnants
where all we know has fallen
leaving a shell for angels and the earth
to cherish and take apart in their holy way.


the quietude of the sepulchre

from Dhammiko…

I wrote this poem when I was a monk while on a long solitary retreat in the woods at Chithurst (I think it was during the vassa in 1994). I don’t remember much about it – I was probably using death as a reflection and must have reached some pretty deep, dark areas of my mind. But I do remember the image on a shaft of light coming through an open window into a dark underground room which looked like a crypt, hence the title.

the quietude of the sepulchre

to explore
the labyrinthine
of the mind
is an awesome

to come
face to face
the demon
within the
one’s own death
is terrifying

the discovery
is made
all the demon
wants is
and fear
of death
is nothing
more than
of life

diaphanous light
shines through
the quietude
of the sepulchre

How To…. post your poetry

Yes. We know.  We know.  We invited you to post your poetry, and then made it really difficult. Well, WE didn’t.  It’s in the nature of the blog.   We’re sorry.  It’s techno-dukkha.  And just because we’re on Dharma Road, that doesn’t mean there isn’t dukkha to practice with.  Yes, we’re practicing! and hope you are too.

So, here’s the next step in our attempt to make posting easier.  Because it’s a blogsite, you  can’t post directly, but you can send your post to this email —  and we’ll post it for you.  (please do your best proof-reading and editing prior to sending to us.  thank you.)

Please let us know if you have a poem title, or some other title you want for your posting.  Also Exactly what name you want us to use (ie first name only or full name or pen name).  Also we’d would like you to say a few words about who you are and/or a few words about your posting (ie what this poem means to you, and/or a brief reflection about the poem).

with much metta,

♥  Gayle

further into the edge

Moving to the edge, camping out in city squares and patches of green, ‘OWS’ rushes from the cemented pathways of our trajectory to self destruction. It resists a future scripted by soulless machinery which cheer leads a less than human military-industrial-empire that pummels the earth in its maddened claw. It is a reclamation of soul….we shall find our soul waiting or us in the night, at the brink, in the exile from the known. I’ll meet you there, in the wilderness of the now.

“You, darkness, that I have come from
I love you more than all the fires
that fence in the world,
for the fire makes a circle of light for everyone
and then no one outside learns of you.

But the darkness pulls in everything –
shapes and fires, animals and myself,
how easily it gathers them!
powers and people –

and it is possible a great presence is moving near me.

I have faith in nights”


“…everything which surrounds the conscious, its edges, its limits and which threatens death and extinction, which can be a place of misery and exile, may also be the occasion of new insights for the community or individual” chetwynd

🙂 thanissara

from the edge

🙂 thanissara here –

to start with the dark… this was a poem that i wrote somewhere along the way, probably after a therapy session! – but i started rummaging around for it today as i felt it spoke to the times we are in… well the darker side of the times.. but then with OWS i feel some hope, something is breaking through, some sanity, some cry from the heart that screams out… we need to turn round, we need to return, to truly touch the earth….before its too late..

From the Edge

It is only
the long stretch of night
that draws into my wounded soul
which heaves
under a neat exterior.
The wail
of a beast
who knows no soothing
I hear your pain
circling and circling
ripping thru
shreds of coherency
The night darkness
The night of no stars
I can’t sense the holding

the bandages removed
and the raw
gash opening
thru that trap door
open shut tight.

We fall
like drunks
no reference points
we rush
thru layers of sainty
that dissolve quick behind me
Where shall we land?