using the arrow buttons.
by clicking on the page.
the page around when zoomed in by dragging it.
the zoom using the slider when zoomed-in.
by clicking on the zoomed-in page.
by entering text in the search field, and select "This Issue" or "All Issues"
by clicking on thumbnails to select pages, and then press the print button.
displays sections with thumbnails and descriptions.
displays a slider of thumbnails. Click on a page to jump.
allows you to browse the full archive.
about your subscription?
Lions Roar : September 2006
Once I got a postcard from the Fiji Islands with a picture of sugarcane harvest. Then I realized that nothing at all is exotic in itself. There is no difference between digging potatoes in our Mutiku garden and sugarcane harvesting in Viti Levu. Everything that is is very ordinary or, rather, neither ordinary nor strange. Far-off lands and foreign peoples are a dream, a dreaming with open eyes somebody does not wake from. It’s the same with poetry—seen from afar it’s something special, mysterious, festive. No, poetry is even less special than a sugarcane plantation or potato field. Poetry is like sawdust coming down from under the saw or soft yellowish shavings from a plane. Poetry is washing hands in the evening or a clean handkerchief that my late aunt never forgot to put in my pocket. “WHAT IS BUDDHA?” asks the student, in a famous koan. “Have you eaten your breakfast?” replies the teacher. “Yes.” “Then wash your bowl.” This poem—in its description of handkerchief and field, in its description of poetry’s workings—offers much the same teaching. Ordinary and extraordinary, familiar and exotic, delusion and waking, the poem points out, arise from our human points of view. But reality simply is. It neither resides inside our opinions nor depends on the geographies of external perspective. Zen is the taste of your own tongue in your own mouth. The Es- tonian poet Jaan Kaplinski (1941– ) looks at the world in just this way in this poem, eyes and tongue open to just what is here, to the sufficiency and the limitlessness of just what is here. Yet the eyes must be open also to subtlety, to the thrown stone’s ripple. When Kaplinski writes, “Nothing at all is exotic in itself,” and “Everything that is is very ordinary,” the words also work, as words in both poetry and Zen so often do, to convey an opposite, undertow truth. To lift one end of a plank is to lift the other. Everything is ordinary but everything is also extraordinary. The potato fields of Estonia are as strangely exotic and interesting as the cane fields of Fiji. (To an American reader, of course, Muti- ku’s orthography and music are as unfamiliar as Viti Levu’s. We should perhaps substitute Hoboken or Duluth.) Similarly this paradox: the associations evoked by the word “poetry” are more sharply intense for us, not less, when we see and smell them as falling wood shavings or fragrant sawdust. In poetry, as in Zen, attention to the simple object is enough. Let- ting go of ideas and opinions, we fall into the immediate world. Like meditation, good poems create and awaken a renewed at- tention. They also deepen our affection for the things of this world, and for our life in the world with objects and others. “Wash your bowl.” Like an aunt tucking a clean handkerchief into a pocket, this poem sends its reader out into the world aware and connected, prepared equally for pollen or tears. I don’t know the specifics of Jaan Kaplinski’s relationship to the dharma, though it is clear from his writings that there is one. He has led a broad life. Trained in linguistics, he has worked as a journalist and translator, as a member of the Es- tonian parliament, and in academia. Readers unfamiliar with him can find more about him at http://jaan.kaplinski.com. In those pages, you will find this statement: I do not define myself. Defining a human being—this is what the Inqui- sition did. Definition IS inquisition. I have the feeling—perhaps I am not right—that in the Far East you hadn’t to define yourself. You had to fulfill your duties, but in your heart you were free, what you had in your heart was free as light, as darkness, as wind that comes and goes. This is my freedom. The freedom of somebody who loves to observe and to photograph floating clouds and little fish swimming in our pond. Two years ago, in spring I met two cranes close to my country home. They had spring in their hearts, making movements of dance. I greeted them with a Buddhist bow. They didn’t fly away. One of them answered to my greeting with a similar bow. I made some dance movements, swaying my hands as wings. They answered. I was really happy. I had the feeling that Nature had accepted me as one of its lost sons. ♦ “Once I Got a Postcard from the Fiji Islands” is from The Wandering Border, by Jaan Kaplinski, published by Copper Canyon Press. Translated from the Estonian by the author with Sam Hamill and Riina Tamm. About a Poem: Jane Hirshfield on “Once I Got a Postcard from the Fiji Islands” by Jaan Kaplinski PHOTOBYT.L.JONES