Mountains of the Heart

Elizabeth Spires

An artist’s book drawn by Kameda Bosai in 1816

If I were to pray a prayer, would the prayer unfold
like a scrolling landscape of mountains, rivers, valleys,
where here, there, a figure sits in calm contemplation,
praying, composing a poem, or just being there,
where a boatman poles his slender craft upstream
against a current trying to take him elsewhere,
or a solitary traveler walks on a winding mountain path,
her cloak wrapped tightly around her, her face obscured.
Here, here, and here, mountains and the ghost of mountains,
mountains repeating themselves, mountains everywhere,
and playing over, under, and through it all,
the sound of a lonely qin, echoing, echoing, echoing.

• •

Ink on the page. Ink. In Edo two centuries ago,
on the fifteenth day of the third month, the literati
had a party. Among ink sticks and laughter,
sake and toasts, Bōsai drew deep into the night.
Waking the next morning, wondering, turning
each sheet over, disbelieving, Bōsai asked,
“Who drew these things? Who? Not I, Bōsai.
Not Old Dullard, Great Fool, Lazybones.”
And who writes these words that follow me
here, there, like unfamiliar footprints? Who?
Who am I among all this? Surely not the I
that stands here now. No, not that I.
If I am anything, I am only Sage of the Dust,
Scholar of the Small, Historian of the Drifting Clouds.
But no, even those names are wrong.
Call me Muddled Ink Carrier, Lost Traveler
on a Moonless Night, Mute in a Howling Storm.

And you who are here beside me, tell me your name,
not the name of the one who woke in the usual way
this morning, but the name you have always carried,
both jewel and loadstone, secretly inside you.
Are you Heart-Flutterer, Bird Hopping on One Foot,
Fox Dressed as a Monk
? Tell me so that we may
speak freely, from the heart, as we never have before.

• •

It grows late, later than it has ever been,
as we pass on narrow mountain passes,
some bravely going forth, some coming back
to places of sad and happy remembrance,
so many paths ascending and descending,
past pines that make a gentle susurration,
whispering to any listeners listening,
Change is unchanging! Change changes all!
I must leave you now among mountains,
as the qin plays on and on, its sound advancing
and retreating, both questioning and sure,
while we continue on, the seamlessness
of the present flowing, ever flowing,
                               past us like the barest breeze.

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