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Konda Yakushi Onsen, Japan

In memory of my mentor, Edmund Skellings (1932-2012)

The mountains are gray geishas
Wearing rain hazy kimonos
Over the green flesh,
Plying their service
Outside this hot spring pool,
Water heated by Mother’s forge
That made these islands.
Fresh islands by Her reckoning,
But for me, it only recalls
My tenuous grip on these rocks,
The short firecracker bang
Before my own coke
Returns to the hot forge.

The rain falls lightly on my hair,
Its breath on my back cools me
In the steamy mineral soup.
My mind wanders toward that
Wadenji Mountain and beyond.
How many samurai bathed
In this very spring,
Stared at these same hills,
Their sword and knife paused
For the moment within reach?
What monks washed here before
Trekking to the next village,
Set their incense and fire
by the near rock for prayer?
What poets immortalized this view,
Sang the flowing hot water,
Painted the distant hills?

My meditation distracted by splashing,
A five-year old, naked in the spring,
I think of my own childhood swims,
And the twisted trajectory of life
From there to here, from
Seven thousand miles and years
From my own five year-old days.
Inconceivable. Unable to see
Even the next moment, the next place,
Perfect hindsight sheds no light
On the path that was plotted, blazed,
Markers thrown in front,
Guides and fellow travelers
That directed the Way.
How could I then, as a child,
As a teen, as an adult,
Even yesterday, how could I dream
The scene before me,
This hot springs on the mountain?

My meditation restored to the
Quiet flow of water on rock,
I watch the thin leaves
Dance with the gentle rain,
Tease the wet wind.
I think there must be a metaphor here,
Something about dancing with fate,
Teasing death.
It escapes me.
Instead, I watch the rain drip
From the Japanese barrel tile
Into the pool below the eve,
Each drop sending its own
Circle of possibilities
Into the ether of the spring.

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