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John Guzlowski

6 Short Poems about the Monk Ikkyū 




Ikkyū stands

at the edge

of the great sea—


there are waves

in his eyes

so he shuts them.




If Ikkyū falls asleep,

his dreams don’t. 


They live

in the river country

of trees and sunshine.




Ikkyū sits

in the marketplace

and tries to explain



Here’s what he says

to a soldier:


A tree is

the palm of my hand

and the face

of all there is

in the universe

to wonder about


It is the tree to heaven

and its roots start

in my heart and yours.




Ikkyū knows

Buddha can’t tell him 

why the rain falls

or why sin is a wide road

with many curves


or why he grows old 

when he has struggled 

so much to know 

so little of life.




Ikkyū watches

the snow fall

at night


He’s happy

it’s warm

and that others

sleep in the shadows

with him.




Ikkyū  eats

a black cherry

and remembers

a dead friend


how much he loved


their dark


early in the morning


the harvest

never lasted

long enough



John Guzlowski's writing has appeared in The Ontario Review, Salon, Margie, Poetry East, Exquisite Corpse, Atlanta Review, Crab Orchard Review, Mississippi Review, Negative Capability, War, Literature and the Arts, Madison Review, Manhattan Review, The Drunken Boat, and other print and online journals. The poems in his book Language of Mules won an Illinois Arts Council Poetry Fellowship Award in 2001. His poems have been nominated for four Pushcart Prizes.