Crowded Silence, Shaman in the Library, Three Pounds of Flax


Naked except for a loin cloth,
ritual scars, and streaks of red clay
he attends the staff meeting.
Bowl haircut, back straight, face impassive.

Why is he here? No one knows.
Since the library opened he’s pushed
the loaded book cart and replaced
Suzanne Somers and Gwyneth Paltrow
in the diet and exercise section.
Trembling patrons pay late fees promptly
when he stands by the circulation desk.

A few parents complain their teenagers
shadow him chasing rumors
of hallucinogenic Ayahuasca vines
hidden in the botany section.
And after the singed carpet incident
management forbade cooking fires.
No more fresh rabbit meat
only packets of microwaved cassava.

He pricks his fingertip at shift’s end
and fills out his timesheet with human blood.
It’s a good life. His employer provides
health insurance and a retirement plan but

when the wild parrots come
to strip fruit from nearby trees,
he remembers the land of his birth,
his vision quest, fasting to the point of death,
and how his spirit animal came to him.
He remembers inhabiting the jaguar’s body,
its savage strength, and the power he gained,
power to take life and heal.
Free from culture and convention,
he hunted at night – the heart-pounding chase,
the taste of wild boar’s blood

The Crowded Silence

Sitting beneath a loudspeaker on a ten-foot pole
Laozi adjusts tuning pegs of a Chinese lute.
The tips of his wispy, gray mustache droop
around his lips which sing poems
that the loudspeaker drowns out with ads
for four-by-fours, feminine deodorant spray,
and superhero movies.

After hours of blather the announcer motions you
behind the big, picture window and sits you
at a microphone on a desk empty as his mind.
He needs a bathroom break so it’s your show now.
Only you don’t know what to say. You rifle
desk drawers looking for some formula,
some stale concept to pass off as your own.

Seeing your distress the announcer says, “Just choose an ism –
capitalism, communism, environmentalism, feminism,
liberalism, conservatism, Catholicism, Protestantism,
Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism. Doesn’t matter
as long as the volume is set to maximum
and the ideas have been chewed to pablum.
It’s simple. All you gotta do is blockade any gap
an original concept could slip through.”

(a reply to Philip Levine’s “Philosophy Lesson”)

What is the Buddha?
Three pounds of flax seed – Tozan
The oak tree in the garden – Joshu

Robe stained with sweat
Zen master Tozan toils in the store room.
I take a burlap sack from his hands,
ponder how mass warps clocks
and meter sticks.

Philip Levine stirs cream
into his coffee as a waitress sets
a plate on the Formica table.
I sample the omelet but find no answer
to his eggs-istential question on my fork.

Why is the work of the hand glorified
and that of the mind disdained?
Why was the monk hauling books
throughout China scorned?

Tear old Joshu’s oak tree from the soil
and turn it roots facing the sky.
Discuss Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem
with the gardener and Karl Popper with the grocer.
Check in hand the waitress asks if I’d like anything else.
“Yes, I’d like to know how closed, timelike loops
affect causality.”

What is the Buddha?
A Feynman path integral
The Cauchy Schwarz inequality

Jon Wesick hosts San Diego’s Gelato Poetry Series, is the author of the collection Words of Power, Dances of Freedom, and is an editor of the San Diego Poetry Annual. He’s published over three hundred poems in journals such as the Atlanta Review, Pearl, and Slipstream. He’s also published almost a hundred short stories. One was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He has a Ph.D. in physics and is a longtime student of Buddhism and the martial arts. One of his poems won second place in the 2007 African American Writers and Artists contest. Another had a link on the Car Talk website.