The Wheel Spun....

Prompt: When the pot breaks the potter laughs


The wheel spun at steady but not fast speed, humming to itself like a craftsman engaged in a monotonous but meaningful task. Its surface was clean and a thin sheen of water
reflected the morning sun that came through the window. A shadow passed over the reflection as the potter sat down on a wooden stool to start his work. He looked at the spinning, humming wheel as if he were reading a poem or a scripture. After a long pause he reached over to his side and scooped a double handful of wet clay, holding it as if it was a small newborn child.

A slight smile crinkled his blue eyes and he firmly but gently put it on the wheel that turned slower with the weight. His hands formed a short wide cone that became smooth quickly even though the hands were calloused. The hands moved slowly down on the cone and it began to get wider and flatter until the shape of a dish appeared on the steadily spinning wheel.

As the wheel slowed and stopped a smile showed through the graying whiskers of the potter. “Here is a dish that someday will serve bread or potatoes or even a fine chocolate cake!” he thought. He took a length of fine wire with wooden handles on each end and carefully slid it across the face of the wheel, under the dish to free it.
He rose, went to the sink to wash his hands and then took off his spattered apron.

The day passed and the studio grew dark and the dish dried. As the full moon rose and its silvery light hit the plate the potter came in to move it. He picked it up, turned and walked toward a high shelf. As he lifted it he stubbed his toe on a wooden form and the dish left his hands and crashed to the floor.

The potter stood in the moonlight looking down at the pieces and suddenly began to laugh, slowly, then louder, for he had owned this dish in his head where it could never be

—Robert Porter


1. If I had an
anxiety disorder
I'd be worried

if things were
peachy like
once I had a

car accident
and I called my

"Dad," I said,
"good news,
I'm not going

to have a 2nd
car accident
today," and

"don't count
on it," he
replied, cautiously.

2. The fox found
the most delicious
grapes in the world,

only to discover
that he couldn't
reach them

and didn't want
them anyway
or so the story goes.

3. The potter sees
an opportunity when
the pot breaks and he smiles.

Dragged by her hubby's car,
my sister made it through
the dinner that followed.

4. God was in a vessel,
as big as everything.
Then he smashed the

vessel to make room
for you and me ...
and now we must

put the pieces
together, which might
be why nothing

runs that smoothly,
esp. when we expect it
to be unbroken.

5. The power
in our house went out
the other day

and I laughed,
remembering how earlier
attempts to give

my daughter and her hubby
an evening out
ended in a mini-disaster.

Kim Mosley

Useful Books for Zen Writing

We talked about wanting some books that would help with getting started in writing or would make it clearer what zen writing might be. The books I know tend toward poetry but not all of them are poetry-oriented. Anyway, here are some thoughts.

Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones (easy entry, zen approach, good for self-exploration & journaling, overall system with examples) We are trading around some tapes of this book.
“Our task is to say a holy yes to the real things of our life as they exist – the real truth of who we are: several pounds overweight, the gray, cold street outside, the Christmas tinsel in the showcase, the Jewish writer in the orange booth across from her blond friend who has black children. We must become writers who accept things as they are, come to love the details, and step forward with a yes on our lips so there can be no more noes in the world, noes that invalidate life and stop these details from continuing.”

Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge, Poemcrazy: freeing your life with words (easy entry, story-essays, ideas/strategies & prompts related to them)
“When the juggler said devil sticks my perception shifted and for a moment the sticks looked sharp and their clatter sounded sinister. When he called them flower sticks, the rods suddenly looped into a daisy in the air. Names are powerful. ... Take a walk outside. Pretend you are the first person who has ever seen the plants and trees on this walk. It's your job to name them.”

Deena Metzger, Writing for Your Life: A Guide and Companion to the Inner Worlds (easy entry, writing to examine one's life, explanation of principles and strategies with many examples from nonprofessional writers, tasks and prompts. She has sections on creativity, story, archetype and myth, and writing as spiritual practice. The spiritual practice section comes from a mixture of traditions, but has useful ideas for zen writing.)
“I am not suggesting that the path of the creative should or can replace other spiritual disciplines: I am only saying that it, too, has a series of practices and is a way to complement and amplify one's spiritual life.”

“These gratitudes, written as small pieces, can capture the freshness of the moment. They ask us to be present in the event as we write. ... It is too easy to give thanks absentmindedly.”

Kim Stafford, The Muses Among Us: Eloquent Listening and Other Pleasures of the Writer's Craft (easy entry, entertaining story-essays on writing, approach resembles zen, useful and surprising concrete strategies, good for beginner or upgrading skills)
“The feeling of not getting it is a good sign, not a paralyzing signal. The writing is hard because I am seeking connections that I did not know before—that nobody knew before. To proceed under such conditions is the hardest thing to do and the only thing worth doing. ... My wife says I get quiet when I have something big coming up—a speech to give, a new class about to begin, an essay brewing. 'If I didn't know you,' she says, 'you might seem depressed. But that's not it. You're gathering new stuff, that's all.'”

Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity (easy entry, essays which combine story with idea, good for self-exploration & journaling, increasing creativity in general rather than writing alone, good overview-system for an approach to creating, homework tasks)

“Grandmother was gone before I learned the lesson her letters were teaching: survival lies in sanity, and sanity lies in paying attention. Yes, her letters said, Dad's cough is getting worse, we have lost the house, there is no money and no work, but the tiger lilies are blooming, the lizard has found that spot of sun, the roses are holding despite the heat.”

William Stafford, Crossing Unmarked Snow, Writing the Australian Crawl (easy entry, new ideas to think about writing, approach resembles zen, also includes ideas on teaching writing in a non-dominating way, fairly accessible but not overview aimed at getting you started—more a collection of interviews and bits) Whenever I read his essays or poems, I find myself writing.
“So, I mean I'm looking at the room I'm in.... Or it may be the sound of the birds outside, or it might be the residue from a dream I just left from my sleep. I don't try for being relevant to current experience but if it invites itself, I welcome it. The feeling is of greeting anything at the door and saying, 'Come on in.'”

Jane Hirshfield, Nine Gates:Entering the Mind of Poetry (advanced, ideas, poetry, draws on zen specifically, upgrading skills,)
“Writers, too, must be persons of no rank, for whom no part of existence is less—or more—holy than the rest. The writer turns to the inconsequential and almost invisible weeds for meaning as much as the glorious blossoms, values the dark parts of the story as much as the light.”

Mary Oliver, A Poetry Handbook (advanced, poetry, upgrading skills, overview of skills, her poetry often seems zen-like)
“It can wait. It can stay silent a lifetime. Who knows anyway what it is, that wild , silky part of ourselves without which no poem can live? But we do know this: if it is going to enter into a passionate relationship and speak what is in its portion of your mind, the other responsible and purposeful part of you had better be a Romeo.”

Gregory Orr, Poetry as Survival (advanced, ideas on poetry for healing) I recently got this and haven't read much of it yet, but it seems to be on the healing and transformative power of writing, how it helps us make order of our lives and its pain. I notice that the first essay concerns the self and what it might be, so I am guessing a zen-like approach. It is more philosophical about what poetry does but it draws some on personal example and a lot on particular poems. Dipping ahead, I find intruiging things about the need to open to the nameless. He speaks of “giving over of the self,” standing on the “threshold.”
“I had a sudden sense that the language in poetry was 'magical,' ... that it could create or transform reality rather than simply describe it. ... I felt simultaneously revealed to myself and freed of my self by the images and actions of the poem.”

Gary Gach, What Book!?: Buddha Poems From Beat to Hiphop (anthology of Buddhist poetry, short intro essay on Buddhist poetry, not as Beat-oriented as title sounds)
“Poetry reveals energies we need in order to live. Different energies are revealed by different forms. There is no one model for a 'Buddhist' poem.”

Kent Johnson and Craig Paulenich, Beneath a Single Moon: Buddhism in Contemporary American Poetry (anthology of Buddhist poetry, Buddhist poems, 30+ essays on Buddhist poetry)
from Jane Augustine's essay: “Rules for oneself maybe be unbuddhistic, but I have some:

1. Don't write what anyone could call Buddhist poetry. If this category existed, it would have to be as corrupt as Christian or Communist poetry, or Catholic mathematics—a propaganda tool for an institution or a sectarian point of view.

2. Avoid Buddhist terms whenever possible. Readers don't know what they mean, and often get the impression the poet is showing off his mysticism or 'higher levels' of achievement, wnich strikes a wrong note and defeats the poem.

Still, when writing on my father's death I used lines from The Tibetan Book of the Dead because I said them for him then, but even so, now I question this seeming inevitability of word choice. It was probably a mistake—too high-sounding, as if I were religious when I'm not.”

many authors, Writing Our Way Home, a group journey out of homelessness, pub by Doors of Hope, a homeless support center in Memphis where they gathered. (easy entry, utterly absorbing writing by people who tell about "the long process of becoming homeless and the long process of becoming housed.") Not explicitly Zen, and many of the authors speak of God, but is there anyone more qualified to describe what it is like to live in the moment? Well organized, flows beautifully. Group process they used almost identical to AZC. Every voice is a lesson for writing from the heart. 5 stars on Amazon

Steven Pressfield, The Art of War,
"I've never read a self help book that wasn't fatuous, obvious and unhelpful. Until The War of Art. It's amazingly cogent and smart on the psychology of creation. If I ever teach a writing course this would be one of the first books I'd assign, along with the letters of Flannery O'Connor."
—Jay McInerney, author of Bright Lights, Big City and Brightness Falls

Coffee Break

Prompt: “Coffee Break,” by Kwame Dawes

When my father had his stroke he held our hands tightly and squeezed—the only words he had were words of touch. I said the Lord's Prayer for him, though I had been a Buddhist for many years already then, and his squeeze said thank you. I did not want him to go—we never want them to go—and I did not want him to go alone. So I made sure I was always there when people needed to go home to rest or to eat. On the second day he could no longer respond, but I talked to him anyway and if he were alone I held his hand and sang to him. But in the third day it came to me strongly that I should leave the room. I walked down the stairs and stood among some trees by the river. When I came back, his body was still. And I thought, my father has always taken care of us. He would not go while I sat there asking him to stay.


            “the balloons sat lightly on his still lap”
                                   Kwame Dawes “Coffee Break”

A globe of air
sits lightly on the lap of a man
a man of air

his lungs, his blood charged with air
air filling the body
making the cells

the bones, the eyes, the nails
all of him air
and around him air.

If a breeze came in the open door
it would lift the balloon
spiral it onto the floor and out

as the man who has let go of the balloon
lets go of his lungs and bones and hair
and lifts

held so lightly
letting go so lightly
over the sill and out.

Sarah Webb, 1-20-15


Coffee Break

Going down slow.
One friend meets me for coffee no more.
The cleaning lady will not be coming.
She's waiting in ICU for a husband
who is bouncing downhill hard,
off the breakfast stool, crumpled
in the driveway, and now she waits,
cold coffee in hand.

—Jeffery Taylor


No way, José!
Is life
this short?

Yesterday I had
my yearly checkup
with the eye doc.

And then
had the next one.

I don't think
we had aged, either
he nor I.

The balloon man
waited for coffee,
and it was too late.

First time I read it as
he'd skipped out, which
I guess he did,

in his own way,
leaving his balloons
on his still chair.

Was his lap his lap?
Does condensed or cow's milk
even matter.

In retrospect,
we'd do
things so differently.

Much differently!

I did something
almost 50 years ago.

If only I could go
back in a
time machine,

slightly wiser,
and make some
better choices.

What was I
Or was I?

It would have
been so easy just to
choose cow's milk.

Who would complain?

I could have just thought
a little of the consequences
of my actions.

Or, to save a dime,
I wrote instead of called...
and it was too late.

When you are on
a speeding train,
it doesn't take long to be late.

The eye doc said,
which is better,
a or b, and I'd blink,

and ask him
to show me a and b
over and over again.

Life is that
Isn't it?

Kim Mosley

Pomegranates Prompt

Pomegranates III

Only the rind remains,
    carcass bleaching
in the dining room light,
    echoes of an
empty ribcage on
    some African plain.

Toothmarks are really just
the impressions of seeds,
    but still the illusion
persists amidst rational
    explanations that,
though true, have not the
appeal of illusion.

Calvin's image of Hobbs is
    so much more than
his parents' and we...
    we treasure Calvin's vision.

—Jeffery Taylor


Exercise of Appreciation: Pomegranate

Sarah led us in an Exercise of Appreciation. A gorgeous pomegranate, really deep crimson—the biggest pomegranate I have ever seen.

Something very intimate—being in the kitchen together—up close, around the island.

A plastic knife—surprisingly sharp. Kim was very sure of himself, cutting through the elegant layers of rind.

Seeds,like jewels, encased in multifaceted gossamer pulp.

The rind, now like some toothless jaw, only the sockets remain.

Justin and Brian—no longer new, or strangers. Mysteriously woven into the group by Sarah's Exercise of Appreciation.

Is this Zen Mindfulness? Bro. Lawrence might say we were practicing The Presence but perhaps The Presence was engaging us?

This vessel of safety—how does it happen? Is it skillfully woven of intense curiosity, deep affection for the journey, a willingness to embrace the stranger? No, this isn't it.

It's like raking the gravel in a Zen Way.

Kitchens are places of transformation. We came raw, cold, strangers. Now we are warm companions on this journey. No longer raw, but held, encouraged. It is The Presence.

Everything is connected when we pay attention.

—Janelle Curlin-Taylor

Zen and Poetry

What is it about Zen and poetry? There are so many Buddhist poets, enough for anthologies dedicated just to them, and—despite the warnings against reliance on words and scriptures—poetry has come to seem a Zen artistic discipline, much like archery or calligraphy or tea. The sudden flashes we call haiku are a well known part of the Zen tradition, but Zen poets write in many forms, as we learned from Norman Fischer’s recent reading at AZC. Why is poetry so natural to Zen practitioners?

In writing poetry we are mindful, not of the drying cloth on the plate or the door knob turning but of the movement of our minds. Yes, we are square in the world of form, just as we are when we sit on our cushions or experience our steps in kinhin. But we see our thoughts arising from nowhere. They appear, they turn into a poem.

Long or short, multi-layered or spare, personal or detached, poetry does something other words cannot. It is a bridge into the unsayable. We quieten and listen, let ourselves be the ground in which the void spills into form. How intimate!

Sarah Webb

myriad objects

myriad objects


in the sea

the full mass

of being

is sitting upright

one small movement,

and all the senses flood

the open heart

a hot coal


mist rises,


to the mirror

dry for an instant

wet for all time

—devin grobert


               to William Greenway “Good Stories

The story where he didn't win
the Nobel prize or any prize
but he lived his life anyway
waist-deep in the blue-green water.

The one where he walked waist-deep
through blue-green water
and let it change him
dry to wet, bitter to salt.

The one where there was no job
no child, no book, no song
except the song inside him
the song in the blue-green water.

The one where he built a house
from wood the storm had tossed.
Thank you, storm, he said
through lips that cracked with sand and wind.

The one where he walked
waist-deep, heart-deep
wet through and through
in the blue-green water.

It's to "The one where he won the Nobel Prize
and finally got to live by the sea,
fishing every dawn
waist deep in the blue-green water"

Sarah Webb


The question surfaces.

          Where is it?
          the one everyone has.
          Not only 'Where is it?'
          but 'What is it?'

          Is it a story that writes itself?
          While finding paradoxes day-by-day.
          Is it a story of reckoning with the immensity of the universe?
          Finding one's way to feeling awe, gratitude,
          and needing God only when filled with fear.

          Is it that presence underneath veils of formality, culture, and feeling

          Containing the mind's billowing breezes as we fall
          and fly.

          Looking back, at the end,

observing keenly—knowing
          You could not have lived any other life than the one you did.

—Bobbie Edwards


5 Stories

1. Gas leak.
Daughter moves
With little ones.

Daughter goes for
Happy hour. Kids cry.
Right pacifier? No dice,
Called daughter.

2. Lover of cranes.
Metal ones, not bird ones.
Critical to modern buildings,
Temptation arises.

She sneaks into construction site
Photographs one. It preens
Against a sky,
Displays a long thin cloud.

3. Massage today.
Who is your trainer?
You're a walking

Reflections on her glass table.
I liked better the
Reflections under her table
...Last month.

4. New battery, old laptop.
Less ump than the ancient
Needs returning.

New glass for sunroom,
Fogged just after
Warranty ended.
Bad luck/planned obsolescence.

5. See art tomorrow.
Eat Indian food.
Stupid to plan.
Maybe gas leak again,

Maybe crane will eat the Indian food up,
Maybe reflections will become the object,
Maybe the sun will end the fogged glass,
Maybe tomorrow will go as planned...not!

Kim Mosley


After the Grail

What do you do after finding the Grail?
    Live by the sea and fish every day?
Head into the Western Desert, pausing
    only to write it all down at the request
of the sentry at the gate?

Or board a ship to the Western Havens,
    too weary to remain?
Live in the Calcutta slums, wise mother
    to all?

When you have reached
    the mountain top,
the only way forward
    is down.

—Jeffery Taylor

Pear Poems

Zen Writing prompt: “The First Days” by James Wright

A pear smashes open on the walkway.
Cracked yellow to the compost
downed dove, heavy in the hand.

Squirrels scramble branches
leap and clutch.  A pear bounces.
Tooth marks.

Fermenting masses darken the fern
brown drips through fingers
the air smells sour.

Pear scraps sweep before the broom
water curls on mottled wood.
Thud of a pear.

Above us
against green,
pear like a maiden.

Pear curved round itself
yellow flecked with red.

Where pear has fallen
white flesh, yellow flesh.

Sun has met moon.
The child is lovely.

“He would have died if I hadn't knelt down”
James Wright

The misfortune of the bee--
the pear has tumbled upon it
crushed its ecstatic fumbling.

A man sets it free
cuts the white flesh from it
hands careful.

A life regained.

The bee does not stay to thank the man
or know there is a man to thank.
He tilts drunkenly as he flies away.

Behind the screen the TV drones its agony.
The man looks at the fragments of pear
the kind knife.

Many are leaving this world as we speak
and coming to it.

—Sarah Webb