(Bongjeongam is a temple complex set pretty deep in the mountain range of Seorak in the North East of Korea. Monks go there to live & study, as it is more remote than most temples.
Last September i spent 10 days wandering around these mountains with a Man Dressed like a Forest. This is quite an old poem now & part of a short(ish) collection of poems about Korea, titled Glass | Cement | Granite | Salt, which i am working toward trying to get published.)
He wakes with a start | as if returning from the dead | his arms
relax from hugging his chest thawed. Flustered & trying to catch his breath he struggles
to come to terms with getting his 2nd wind—an opportunity to make amends.
Reason is useless but all we have. i may as well name a tree | Boat
& call a pebble the best-of-my-intentions. The runnel is clean |
our actions poison even the purest will— i am speechless
to baptize myself in the cold water. A female monk on the trail
never stops smiling | indelible. A smile is cheap | like saying I love you
on the church bell’s hour— it wears. Smiles should be reserved
for exact occasions | there aren’t many. i’ve heard & read much on quiet of mind.
How much silence does a mind need? Is there a thermometer of mind silence?
It was quiet there. The monk’s chant cackled out of loudspeakers |
the forest full of the shadow of sutras as we approached Yeongshiam. The monk’s
voice like an animal yawning. He beat a wooden moktak in 4/4 |
a stiff heart beaten empty | water out of stone | wind battered
into the forest | temples erected | the roof bent into bows | hands of origami |
statues into the likenesses of men nobody ever met | pigment into paint |
opens doors | power behind muscle | wakes monks | the mountain | lights lanterns |
electric currents | heating | water | the will to grow in the soil |
the smell in cabbage | heat in chili | draws wind down the sky
to dry seaweed—if he stopped throttling the moktak |
time ends. Afterwards | as we set off again | i was unsure if
i’d veered from the idea of mountain | if i’d mistaken syllogism for metaphor.