The Empty Bowl

Bilingual poetry book - $11.95 (Borealis Press, 1999)

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One afternoon in April, I was at the cabin, just sitting there looking out the window at the snow, which was still several feet deep in the forest. Then I turned my attention to the interior of the cabin. I saw a bowl sitting on the wooden counter and suddenly remembered the Buddhist monks who traveled from village to village, carrying with them their only possession - an empty bowl. As a monk entered a village, he would go to a householder and hold up his bowl, asking for rice. It was considered a great honor to put rice in the bowl. The monk would eat the rice and then return to his meditation. It was important to keep the bowl empty.

The Empty Bowl

The outside of the bowl is light blue,
the color of the spring sky.
The inside is white like the snow.
The rim is a perfect circle, ready to receive.
On the inside edge
the reflection of the window gleams in miniature.
Tiny images of trees shift and vanish
and reappear as I move my eyes.

This bowl could be filled.
Anything could slip
into its smooth white circumference -
An apple or a hot soup, cold milk or clear water.

It could hold the vast snow fields,
lit like diamonds,
fading into running streams of water
that fill the creek and rush away in waterfalls.

It could hold the clouds, grey and turbulent,
blowing high above the branches
of the silent, leafless trees.

It could hold a thought -
A memory of other Aprils,
lost and found and lost again.

It could hold the circle of the days,
the rain and sun and stars and moon,
turning and returning -
Sunrise and sunset,
summer, winter, spring and fall.

It could hold the universe and all of time.

Or it could stay as clean and shining white
as now it rests,
still and ready on the wooden counter top,
round and smooth and unassuming -
Serene and purely empty.