Suiseki Stone by Bob Carlson


That is the seclusion of sunrise
Before it shines on any house.
—Wallace Stevens,

Because he was making way, bringing way,
the voice comes from the river carrying water
along with river stone. Water stone itself
in recognition of its rule: it’s not enough to like a stone.

Add the horticulturist from the university
subjecting trees to everything trees encounter
in nature, amplified: wind, drought, deluge,
to find principles involving development

of the lead branch. Crossing time
in jet planes, young Americans apprentice
themselves to the sensei teaching them
to wash out cups and cut roots, surviving empire.


Reality is spirit’s center, the poet says.
Every poem is a poem within a poem.
Into this matrix, I enter the room,
a man too old to enter a monastery,

holding a tiny tree in a shallow tray.
beginning again.
The young teacher says, Sensei
pointed at the tree. I didn’t speak Japanese,

he didn’t speak English. He pointed
at a branch, and touching it,
holding it flat, straight out,
exclaiming, Pffft—wire it like that,

while turning his arms into tree limbs,
straight, at right angles to the trunk.
Pffft, I said, nodding in recognition
to my teacher, turned into a tree,

my arms as branches angled
at 90 degrees. Mr. Kamamura
looked at my tree, branches like this,
Pffft. Turning away in disgust,

he told his assistant, The worst
wiring of any tree in the garden.
That’s how I learned to wire
branches with movement.


I hold the scissors in my left hand.
Forty years ago a Ficus tree
died on the kitchen table before me.
Two years ago I entered this room

with a small bush, Pyracantha,
cutting the roots, wiring it
to a shallow pot, past lives
before me a running narrative—

a half-century with Karen,
seven decades spent
surrounding myself with the poem.
Each thing returning to its root.


Look at all of the fronts of your tree.
Which ones are the most interesting?
The black pine loves sun and heat.
It gives up strength for its lovely bark.

Don’t cut too many roots
and no excessive bending.
Let’s do a quick one-minute sketch.
OK, I know what your idea is,

I’m trying to follow your narrative
into this branch. What does
Wabi Sabi mean to you?
To me it’s time passing, shortness

of life. It’s a subdued all, low key.
We want the tree to come towards us.
To lean towards us, as in embracing.
Take out what absolutely can’t be used.

Yes. Cleaner. Increasingly sparse.
A little older. We’ll put some wire on
these guys so we can see
what’s going on inside. These

are the tools of length and space.
This branch helps this branch grow.
They all help each other.
A bonsai spends most of its life

being wired. The cost of beauty?
The freedom in discipline?
Shallow and long containers add height.
Shallow pots need to be wide.

Like a rubber band.
Deeper pots need to be wide.
Nitrogen for what’s green.
Potassium for roots.

Nobody actually knows how moisture moves
through trees. Only theories.
Especially with redwoods.
Monterrey Pines are totally fog dependent

with weak roots. As focused
as we are on the apex, we forget
how important it is to set that first branch.
The apex. It’s gone as far as it can go.

The tree exhausts itself to get here.


Handing me keys to our first house
45 years ago, the banker says,
This is a good starter house.

There are many words
for beginners, most of them disparaging,
all of them current, common in usage.

We knew something about humble roots,
setting out to make a house.
The house, the stone, and the tree.

Three children. And we had three children.
The Black Pine stands before me as my life
I will leave without seeing a finish.

Each of the words for beginner
belonging to me. How many stones
have I carried from the river to the garden.

The integrity in stones come from the stars.
I hold a mountain range in my two hands.
The stone is a six-sided temple.


Just as it was literature that brought me here,
it is literature asking the question of inheritance.
Three children, each of them beloved.
Literature is the house where we live.
A house, a stone, and a tree.
The two thousand year old Sequioia
stands, green peace grand.
The stone shows us the gold dust
from a dark star in our fingers.

This is the treasure for the children.
House, stone, and tree.
A portion for each.

Jim Bodeen
7 September—5 October 2013


The man who slips in water
wearing his rubber boots
finds out how long it takes
to fill the boot with water.
The imagination can work
with the fact of a wet sock
in a boot. The fire beside me
does not come from the fire place
or a campfire. Yet I am warmed
by Stevens as I put Kierkegaard
by my elbow. The poet says,
God and the imaginer is one.
I suppose the imaginer is God.
Poetry hands me the books
to see what might happen.
Switching languages every so often
because they’re here with coffee.
The left hander can put the hearing aid
in his right ear, but he always turns
the speaker for the left ear
to the world. He can’t do it
any other way. It’s part
of the deal he was given.
The lines are as real as the allergies
causing the old dog to scratch,
scraping away all of her fur.

Jim Bodeen
5 October 2013

No comments:

Post a Comment