How Zen Ruins Poets


Chase Twichell

Before I knew that mind
could never marry the words
it loved, in which it lost itself,
in which it dressed itself,
in which it sang its most secret
tender and bitter hymns,
I also loved the thrill of thinking.
Since birth I’ve swum in the clear,
decisive muscles of its currents,
the places where the water seemed
to reconsider its course before continuing,
then the sudden onrush of falls.
I lived inside language, its many musics,
its rough, lichen-crusted stones,
its hemlocks bowed in snow.
Words were my altar and my school.
Wherever they took me, I went,
and they came to me, winged and bearing
the beautiful twigs and litter
of life’s meaning, the songs of truth.

Then a question arose in me.
What language does the mind
speak before thinking, before
thinking gives birth to words?
I say to my thoughts, Leave me!
Go elsewhere! but they are the million
leaves of the tree that is my life,
each first a bud tightly furled,
then open, its secrets released,
then empty and falling.
Thus they come and go.
I asked it and asked it
until language turned paint-like-
animal bristles and unguent oils,
slight grits and grains
suspended in transparency-
and I forgot who wanted to know.

What other poetry could I
possibly be writing now
than the poetry of that?