The Holiness of Plants

by Nathalie Sorensen Email

On the island of Shikoku, near a small Shinto shrine

towers an immense pine tree. Worshipers circle its trunk

with a ring of thick rope; this is sacred ground.

In Thailand Buddhist monks conduct

tree ordinations, wrapping orange

robes around the boles. Ritually blessed water

is passed around, and foresters spare

these aboreal clergy from the axe.

In tenth century Japan, priests and monks

debate the question

“Can trees and plants be enlightened?”

Yes, says Ryogen, Abbot of Mount Hiei, who

sees the shrubs and flowers in his garden

asd yogis in meditation, sitting

silent, still, on their way to nirvana.

This morning I, too, sit in my garden,

hands folded, head bowed.

Around me nasturtiums

glow orange under leaf umbrellas.

Rose azaleas flicker scarlet

against purple aster, deep blue monkshood.

The early sun, without distinction,

burnishes us all.

Drenched in light, we glimmer and glisten

enlightened, enveloped, so tenderly

held in the mystery.

Reflections

by Nathalie Sorensen Email

In July the river ripples alternate

violet and green, violet and green

tree branches catch the shimmer

the whole world vibrates.

On the bank, the tall grass explodes

with the last bright sun of day,

we bathe in pure light

stroking through gold grass.

In October still water turns bare trees

upside down, reclothes them in floating leaves

our canoe slips through the water trees,

glides among branches, paddles into clouds.

In April every bush and tree is lit with pale green fire,

finches and warblers blaze and flicker.

Hushed, attuned, we become what we behold

here between earth and sky.

Zen Garden at Kokedera

by Nathalie Sorensen Email

In the year 1339, in the city of Kyoto

Muso Soseki built a waterfall

without a drop of water,

a dry cataract of boulders

tumbling immobile down the hill

these six centuries and more.

Approach with care

here the silence roars.

Everywhere else, moss, moist and fresh

a hundred kinds, mauve, brown,

orange, grey, shade upon shade of green

envelops the rocks, spreading gently, calmly,

to the pond below, Pure Land garden of paradise.

All around it, a path, following curves,

leads through the trees to the water

and up again, yes, up again

for the dry cascade

immutable, enigmatic,

stripped to the bare bones

is calling, shouting

wake up! wake up!

The Springs

by Nathalie Sorensen Email

Pressed hard against jagged craters and

sweeping lava flows of dead volcanoes

frozen to stone eons ago,

the bones of the Roman city lie exposed.

Low stone walls, delicate, orderly

delineate streets and squares, homes and shops.

Here and there fluted columns stand

as they did two thousand years ago

when this was Glanum, outpost of empire

in the wild western region of Gaul.

I stand on a ridge of cliffside, peering down

looking for something,

not stones, not fragments of carvings,

not broken figures from friezes of war.

I am looking for water.

For in this hot dry city, I have read,

there is a spring, an ancient spring

known to the indigenous people of this place.

I see them, the Ligurians, the old ones

before the Romans, before the Gauls,

before the Western Goths who sacked this city sixteen centuries ago.

They gather round their campfires in the gloom

telling of the hunt, sharpening arrows,

refining bits of wisdom in the night,

and pulling clear pure water from their spring.

Back down in the city

I search through the streets and alleys,

and come upon the spa of Valetudo

goddess of health-giving waters. There she is

carved in her niche, headless,

still presiding over her bath --

down well worn steps, a pool of

brackish water, festooned with algae,

holding the dregs of empire all these years.

Then I see them --

more steps, leading up, away

from Valetudo’s spa, straight up the mountain.

High on a pinnacle, high over the city,

there is the cleft in the rock, the orifice I seek.

I clamber closer and peer down. All is dark and dry

no sound of water.

I listen, pitch my ear for echoes

beyond the dry grass, the volcanic rocks.

When did the sacred spring last gurgle through this well?

My whole being bent to attention, I wait

but everywhere, silence.

No faint murmur, whisper of flow,

no scent of wetness coming through.

All I hear is dry grass rustling

cicadas shrilling in the heat,

and I am comfortless as I depart.

Months later, I am swimming

in the river by my home

in the river I call home.

The mist is golden in the early sun

the undulant surface green, green and amethyst.

By the bank a white water lily,

gently rocked by ripples, opens its heart.

I drift in the tranquil current dreaming

And there they are, the ancient ones, gathered

here into me, smiling, complete.

As I calmly stroke, water washes through my mouth, soft and clean.

Canticle of the Whales

by Nathalie Sorensen Email

The humpback whales are gathering

from northern oceans off Kodiak, off Kamchatka.

Three thousand miles -- such a journey,

to play, to mate, to bear their young.

Fluid forms turn slowly in the dappled light,

sound the depths, breech and blow

in the pale blue waters off Maui.

Hundreds here are playing the waves.

Great bodies dive low and long

then rocket thirty tons, full in the sky,

crash the water in a lather of foam.

And they sing, they sing

long elaborate melodies, low booms and rumbles,

queer high squeaks, unearthly moans.

Over and over, their songs swell through the waters.

Haunted and enchanted, we come, we listen.

For their songs, so like -- so unlike our own,

voiced here by these prodigious cousins,

branched off the family tree aeons ago,

show us our realm, show us ourselves,

larger, stranger,

more magnificent than we knew.

© Nathalie Sorensen