Richard Solomon

Springwater Journal (for Toni Packer) When the 5:30 a.m. bell to sit rings—no talking for one week. Room for every soundnot spoken: breathing coughing belchingfarts borborygmi On my way to sit I listen to finchessquabbling at the feeder— seeds all over the lawn. My seat, number 65, faces east. I sit in a squareof dawn light, watching the sun rise like an ingotover the mountain. Bare tree branches justabove the mountain’s crest hold the sun. I watch myself watching the beautiful event.Russian Doll consciousness begins: Who box withinthinking box what within box to whom? For five days after that, cloudy. Those wholive for distinction must sit in silence foreverbefore nothing becomes interesting. Between sittings, while reading Basho’s Narrow Roadto a Far Province, I smell the sweet mountain air.After visiting the Buddhist temple at Mount Haguro he writes:How cool the crescent moon Faint above the leafy blackOf Mount Haguro! At 10:30 Toni Packer talks to us with her eyes closedbehind thick lenses framed in a white page boy,hands in air gesturing to this moment. "Can we listen. . .right now: eaves and noses dripping, crows arguing?How are we to listen? In being here quietly, attentivelynot escaping, not resisting there is no danger at all." I am assigned the washsink mopfloor routine. My method:continuously asking who: Who dumps compost? Who’s boot prints impress the icy field?Who eats kasha, who tofu, in silence with forty others chewing?Who watches April snowflakes in the no-tadpole-ponddissolve? In my meeting with Toni I wept because everythingis just as it is. A gentleness in snow and in strangersa quietness and nothing said but a hurt gentle falling,a sitting that is filling, a sitting that is emptyingso there is no use in a center. Until Sunday and the last bell to rise.Finches still fighting. Seven daysin the same blue jeans. What’s the use of changing? Sunday, After the Retreat Sparrows in the snowy magnolia. Sirens in the distance. Dawn— next to you again— after the silent retreat. Last night you said Susan’s mother had a massive stroke. I listen to you breathing feel the curve of your thigh. Last night’s ego dreams: Carried on shoulders. Dodging bullets. Lost in an attic of branches. Awakened, you tell me you missed me and want bagels tomatoes onions green peppers and cream cheese. Writing Itself Late February at Springwater Center*. Thawing out after years of winter.Haiku writing itself: Awakened by the moon snowflakes flutter between our faces After sitting for hours and days in silence, listening tochurch bells from far in the distance, my boots on the muddy road— trees divide the wind. And after reading Hopkins wrote: ‘Went down at dawn unseenclambering the sun–tinted, still, wet, slanted pine and pied hemlock ravine,down to the cataracts calling yet.’ I set out to meet ‘the family’ of six falls coursing to the valley:Three brothers, sister, mother and father. My wife had three brothers.I remembered asking her to marry me then tried to take it backmore than twenty-five years ago. All night a cold rain ran off the hills down the steep banks of the ravine. I could hear two falls calling.When I came back from Mexico I proposed. She said yes. Below the New York finger lakes, in the foothills of the Northern AllegheniesSpringwater Center sits high on a hill overlooking the town in the valley.To the west, a deep ravine drains the hills in a series of six cataractsthat feed the Springwater River below. Buddha simply held up the flower to his disciples and twirled it between his fingers. He never wrote a thing. On the bank at the edge of the waterfall deep in the ravine, half caught in ice half flowing over a ledge of slate the current’s silver arc breaks into chaos toccatas & fugues a hundred feet down a filigree of ice.
As Gertrude Stein in How to Write writes: It only goes to show that liking is the same as leaving and letting is the same as Indian. When I asked her father for her hand he changed the subject to the weather. *A silent retreat center directed by Toni Packer. Richard Solomon is a developmental pediatrician, Tibetan Buddhist practitioner, and poet who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He is married, has two children and four grandchildren.