Ryan Warren lives with his family in the Pacific Northwest. He is a 2016 Best of the Net and Pushcart nominee, and his poetry has previously appeared in numerous journals including California Quarterly, Poetry Daily, Amaryllis, The Scarlet Leaf Review, Wilderness House Literary Review and Firefly Magazine. Check out more facebook.com/RyanWarrenPoetry.
In The Land of Medicine Buddha
—where the dog and I sometimes walk
among the prayer flags flapping
through exhaling redwood groves,
past the stupa rising from thirsty grass,
around tiny stone cairns laden with coin and acorn,
perhaps to turn the prayer wheels that wait
to float merit and wishes
for the peace and enlightenment of all sentient beings
up through the salted light of the Santa Cruz Mountains,
out to the entire universe--
we are asked to please avoid killing any living being,
including mosquitos, while we are here.
What an unexpected relief it is
to be freed of the need to swat at every fly,
and instead be able to simply sit,
watch them circling above the meadow,
aglow in the low evening sun,
from atop a rough stone bench
under the shadowy spread of the black oaks,
in receipt of the warm and mild wind
blowing through me the tattered prayers
of red and green and yellow and blue and white.
Great Breakfasts of My Childhood
My grandfather liked to fry potatoes on Sundays,
peppery and thick with soft onions,
though he knew I did not care for onions,
people didn't seem to ask much then
children's opinion on food preparation.
My grandfather, who lived to pull crisp waffles
from the electric iron, though always soggy
by the time you ate them. Who loved a big stack
of Krusteze pancakes, cooked a little too black,
adorned by cold chunks of margarine and Log Cabin Syrup.
On weekdays, though, it was oatmeal,
thick from the pot, clumps of hardening raisins
softening as they were stirred in
with milk, with little rocks of brown sugar.
Occasionally, Cream of Wheat instead.
My mother rose later, with my brothers,
and breakfast from her was always a surprise--
though she loved toast the best. Cheese toast,
melted cheddar sprinkled with sugar, cinnamon toast,
toast with peanut butter, with honey, with butter and jam,
with a soft boiled egg quivering atop, sprinkled
with salt and pepper. Eggs, eggs so many ways.
Scrambled with hot dogs, with cheese. Poached. Fried,
yolk unbroken, toast to sop up that sunny puddle of delight.
We were a breakfast family, no "Just a cup of coffee for me."
Breakfast—to fortify your day, arm you for school, work,
occasionally, and for feverish stretches at a time, for church.
Different churches, different times. We moved in strange
cycles of devotion. But from breakfast we never wavered.
I've never understood those for whom food is merely fuel.
And I'm sure they've never understood me. How even a bowl
of sugar cereal, dug deep into a cartooned Saturday morning,
Lucky Charms or Captain Crunch or Frosted Flakes
or whatever had been on sale that week, could be a kind of devotion,
a ritual, richer than any of the churches we wove in and out of.
Or sometimes we just had it for dessert.
Don't even get me started on dessert.
Earth Touching Buddha
If I were a Buddhist
it would be sacred, that scene
of seeking Gautama, seated
under the bodhi tree, right hand
draped down over knee,
fingers grazing the awaiting
Earth. But I am not, I merely love
that, the Buddha's answer to the challenge
of Mara, crafty old demon
of distraction, discord, doubt:
"Who gives you the right
to seek peace, to be free
of suffering?" And his answer
is in the fingers, in the union
of skin and Earth. We are turf,
he seemed to say, we are dust
and because of it, our rights
rise from the rooted
soil. The stillness of the earth
can be ours, the Buddha's fingers
said. Or not, there is always a choice.
Which is also why I'm not a Buddhist
because the mind's voice of madness,
every artist's passion play, gives greatness,
too, to the world. Suffering ain't all
bad. Stillness, madness, each
can crack the Earth equally open,
can swallow our doubts, or us, whole.
Or maybe I am a Buddhist.
Maybe I am a Buddha. I could be
so long as I could keep
to the creed of those believers
that I admire most:
Don't worry too much about magic,
about the sacred,
about zero-sum games.
Love stillness or madness
equally. Take which you need,
what makes you better,
what rings true at the time of each test.
And then press the rest,
like small black seeds,
into the uncertain soil.
And then give everything else, too,
back to the permissioning Earth.
There is a small island rock
thrusting up like an angry brown tooth
from the licking Pacific
shadowing the little highway
through which we wind our daily course.
The rock, ever-folding, angled
striations of limestone and basalt
jagged and whitecapped in magnificent guano
obliquely collapsing, by degree back
to the rock-eating sea.
Not far from there
along that same winding of road
and cloudlocked late-summer sky
overlooking the wavewashed shore
a man hung himself this morning.
I did not see him, who returned to fill
his eyes with seawater, at the last
beside the high, roadside gate.
I saw only the police, lingering to take
a statement from the witnessing sea.
It's not always simple to be a lyric poet
on days like this
to trade in two-by-fours of wonder
the rock-eating sea to be the carbon in your bones
the quality of light, your air
when your mood is blackened
by senseless death
cities of suffering
people careening toward
high gates of despair.
You have to find your own path through
or perhaps you cannot see its ending
your own path, no path. Perhaps that's OK.
Or maybe you just drop to your knees
thank the skies, make an offering
or maybe, at least, there's something for you
in a rock, taken apart by waves
molecule by molecule, ever changing
ever folding into the universe.
Each day we all return, a bit more, to the sea.
A Short List of Ten Things I Am Currently Wrong About (Based on Historical Precedent)
How I should part my hair
The trustworthiness of my body
How much technology I require
What I require it for
The death penalty
How much sleep I need
How much quiet
The length of this list
New York City
My importance to the world
How much is enough
That I am now out of ideas