by Ken Jones

By firelight
The Lives of the Saints
bound in leather

In our black robes we have filed back from Evensong across the cathedral close. "You should come more often", says the canon, who welcomes our Zen retreat in the Deanery. I leave the candle-lit meditation hall to prepare for interviews here in the library. Pale evening light filters through the tall Georgian windows, and the sandalwood incense wafts a different odour of sanctity. On a side table the Goddess of Compassion raises her hand in blessing above a box of Kleenex tissues.

Wind scoured beach
to every tiny pebble
its tail of sand


Young and earnest, all in black, he pads in, sporting a martial arts t-shirt. His designer stubble is well maintained and he takes us both very seriously. I try him with a few playful sallies, but he hangs on to his shop lifted goods. A nice lad in a Zen mask, taken in for further questioning.

In its little cage
a clockwork bird
wound up


Halting steps, a timid knock, a growl of welcome. Thin and anxious, her clothes dowdy, her hair lank. Life frightens her. But she is brave enough to come here. She and I, we take a kindly interest in her fear. She loves William Blake. "Joy and woe are woven fine". A wan smile lights up her face;. she will be alright.

How is it, spider,
fleeing across
the bright colours?


The stride of a well-established self. He has a degree in Buddhism and goes on about Zen. His Japanese pronunciation is impressive. I stare at his highly polished shoes and wait until he's finished. We shall have to turn out his pockets, to discover where he keeps his anger, his fear, and, hopefully, his love. I discover he is having difficulties at home, so we start there.

Climbing steeply
through storm clouds
fly on the window


Red salopettes and long blond hair. The way she moves, she knows a thing or two. She also knows that I know she's just called in to share the cosmic joke, or something of that sort. Playfully, I try to test her sense of humour to destruction, but we end up laughing again.

My false teeth mug
filled to overflowing
with her yellow flowers


Sensibly dressed and impaled on virtue. She has so much to do. Peace and justice. Children and aged parents. A husband, too. And enlightenment on top of all that. I invited her to reflect on the fact that Nothing matters; everything matters -- which is also giving her a hard time. However, she has taken up singing. There is a singing woman deep inside. But still, as yet..

Round and round
the squirrel woman
in the wheel she's made

Martha's the last one for tonight. In the silence the cathedral clock gathers its strength and strikes ten times, each stroke a little less than perfect. Tears spring in my eyes..

Where sweet water
meets the rising tide
a tang of salt

Any resemblance to any specific person is wholly coincidental.


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