Perceptions: Poems from the Sangha

THE ROSES OF SHARON

She moves them 

one by one 

from one vase to another 

as if each 

were a goddess 

rising out of the water. 

She says, “you cut 

the stems 

diagonally 

while they are still 

under water, 

then take off 

all the lower leaves. 

Next put them 

in enough water 

to cover 

most of the stems. 

This is how I help them 

live a long time.”

And just when 

later life sets in, 

and the red petals 

show a slight wrinkling, 

she prolongs 

their capacity 

to uplift and bless. 

She pulls the petals 

into the womb of her hand 

and thinks of places 

where she will 

unleash them in love 

onto the the path 

of a bride and groom,

petals soaking the head 

of an elder turned 80,

or onto the remains 

in the grave 

of a beloved departed cat.

Sacred blossoms, 

blessings without end, 

Sharon’s roses live long. 

Long live the roses of Sharon.

Randall Mullins

February 2019

FAITH
What is it?
Where is she?
Have I abused thee?
What’s wrong with me?
Why can’t I see you,
Feel you, have you all the time?
I want you in my life
As a constant
and not an emergency measure.
Not as something measured out,
but a source of strength throughout
my life from here on and on and beyond.

-Timmer

LONG JOURNEY INTO FREEDOM Randall Mullins

I made that two-hour trip 

with a friend 

two times each month 

for five years. 

We drove from the city 

through the suburbs 

and onto a two-lane highway

over rivers, 

lined with trees. 

The seasons passed us by 

the green of Spring and Summer, 

the colors of Fall, 

and the barren limbs of Winter.

We went to prison.

I did my time as a volunteer

not knowing 

I was looking for my own freedom. 

I sat in communion with the Lifers. 

Prison would be home 

for all of life left to them.

They would not see rivers again

nor highways lined with trees.

One had a family he loved

and an addiction he could not manage. 

A Three Strikes Law sent him 

from illness into punishment, 

haunting the rest of us 

with our lack of compassion 

and common sense.

Another was there after 

a distinguished military career. 

He had stabbed his wife’s lover 

nineteen times, 

but he moved among us 

with grace, kindness, intelligence. 

I got word that he died there

A few months ago. 

Another was a gifted poet. 

He was in for rape, 

and endured the stigma 

in prison culture 

of rapists being 

the lowest of the low.

Another one told me 

that when he came, 

he and God made a deal,

that since he was going 

to spend the rest of his life here, 

he wanted God 

to help him make the best of it. 

You could see it in every move he made.

I arrived there worn down 

by shame and failure 

after blowing up in anger 

during a church meeting 

and and leaving a marriage 

after sixteen years.

I was lost but tried to look found. 

I hid behind the illusion 

that I was there 

to help the prisoners.

Years later 

new peace and compassion 

for myself began to take form in me. 

After much guilt and self-loathing, 

I was given the grace 

to write a few letters, 

say I’m sorry, 

try to make amends. 

Forgiveness came back 

swift and strong in letters 

and from within me.

I grew some new vessel within  

to hold with compassion 

all that had brought me torment. 

Great burdens became Light.

I remembered the Lifers, 

having to spend their lives 

bound by steel, concrete,

reminders of the worst mistakes of their lives.  

I marvel now 

at their endurance and dignity, 

their capacity to complete their lives 

with such little human touch and tenderness.

Now I see how they became 

spiritual guides for me, 

sacred reminders that we are never 

the worst of who we have been, 

that we are all 

beloved at the core 

and sacred carriers of hope.

Dear brothers bound by concrete walls, 

I send you my gratitude, 

now worn truer and deeper by the years.  

And I see us all moving together now 

at home on a boat called Love, 

on a river of perennial forgiveness.   

Randall Mullins 

August 2022

The Columbia

Just wind, just wind.

translucent stratus-spotted sky

reflected in the wrong way white caps 

of the mighty Columbia.

Just wind, just wind,

clean scentless rushing in

through the pores, flushing out

the debris of fires, Covid and elections.

Just wind, mighty tropical storm force wind

with no rain, no blowing dirt, just sky

blowing through the indian paintbrush

who dance like octopus arms in play.

Just wind, powerful unthreatening wind

knocking me to the ground

tumbling over me like boulders landsliding

breaking the bones of habituated thoughts.

Just wind, relentless wind 

beach grass laughing in terror

like children on a rollercoaster

“Again, again again!”

Just wind, my wind, I want to own it

to name it for me, to be it; 

unaided, unabetted, unapologetic

known, remembered, and forgotten in the same instant.

Just wind, sky chariot carrying me

Lifting me out of absorbed selfness

shattering shackles of the three times

unforming, unregressing, uncreating, unending.

_________________________________________________

The Tieton

Sometimes the River surprises

In the middle of the spike of a summer day 

That is baking the emergent flat boulders

When it sends a soft, mossy breath of cool affection.

Sometimes it rattles the visual perception 

Out of its habitual normalcy

Shaking loose blind focus

Opening an expansive circumspherical view.

Sometimes it dulls its persistent, insistent growl

Fighting with itself to reach the sea

Crafting its personality in the remnants of mountains

Leaving space for something old that is new now.

Sometimes the lasering sun reflections that burn the retinas

And leave permanent and shadow impressions;

That obscure simple seeing with winceful pain, 

Offer an easeful invitation to penetrate assumptions about the nature.

Sometimes in the quietest of the middle evening pitch,

Where the rapid roar becomes a drone

And the accompanists of all beings rest,

It trembles the bones through the tympanic bank and shore leaving me undone.

Sometimes the River 

Surprises

Rattles

Dulls,

Burns

Trembles 

me 

toward freedom.

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