The Cellar Stairwell at Jizō House
Forbidden the well-house, I turn
to a stairwell: this crumbling descent
into concrete, moss, rock, shadowed
oblong of emptiness, cement blocks
& railroad ties, sun-fed cascades
of dirt & dead leaf
What called me here? Who
is the guide?
poured out in river-stone,
down to the storeroom.
down to the old hoard. the fearful.
an all-shaded corner where
evergreen tree overhangs. a simple place.
an opulent well filled
(I sit on the first step, legs
white-painted shingle, Jizō House angles
round this damp, this un/ safe.
small house named for Jizō who is also
named Di-zang, Kishtigarbha—say, Subterranean
Treasury, Earth Cache or Gaia Crypt, Under-
ground Vault: buried chamber
& rescuing child. Jizō who travels. Jizō, protector.
Jizō the awakened, the hell-cellar god.
From the top of the well, I see what it comes to.
Each stairstep wavers, falling
in time, its pebbles rounded,
rounding, caught in grey
This earth or no earth, the cellar-well testifies.
Skin ices over. in time.
Make pilgrimage, then, into
wet dimness below the stairs
as Jizō the sure guardian
of all who must journey walks alongside. Eases
thresholds, marks crossroads, watches
the borders, steps down
to the cellar, carries
his priest-staff, shakes in warning its 6
(all who voyage between)
into death, death
into life, life
into life into life into
Look. Rot. Thick
mould. Spun-out snares.
1 trickling pipe.
The bulging walls gouged.
I will not
descend. Not today.
Acrid creosote vapor: high-stacked ties (gazing downward) are the right-hand wall
(muck seeping round them)
(propped on stream-tumbled rocks)
(slipping, sawn corners gone soft)
A noon hour past
fleet light illumines
Knot in timber
built wall caving, foundation
cracked (a twisted mouth),
mud ravine’d, stone-face gapped,
caving ash-colored hollow worn,
mortar oozed those years
ago, the edges
these foolish wounds
But I have not spoken, have I, of the cellar door below?
the wandering, fearful
its ending, if ending is feared)
Who reads these words learns nothing of the cellar
the cellar an Sich
of the door
of all that rests in lowness & eclipse.
Hours of talk, & rain, & now the silent
space behind the house. An unexpected
saltless pool, below
Below the stairs: Once (I recall in this moment), 12 centuries
gone, Hongdu saw sun-kindled bronze lamps blooming. Asked
Don’t you see? Chanted for her half-drunk guests
4 rhythmic lines, 1 performative riddle:
remembered, then written, then rendered at last. Don’t
you see, below the stairs? Once (& again),
I read her words’ remnants (12 centuries), see & saw
that thicket of russet-gold, saw & see (as she)
shrine lanterns swaying in alpenglow,
there, below the stairs.
Stop. Time to get on with it.
But pilgrimage where?
after step) through
many hells & along the 6
roads, which lead to 6
through which we have
passed, & again, will
asking: Is there a music to rainwater’s fall? Is there
—a liturgy in what rushes un-hymned
down cellar’s steep flight?
—a landscape (bloodroot by algae on mason’s
jade-marbled cliff, copses of lichens sprung up
out of moss), without separation, un-listened-to, free
of all viewing eyes?
O but is
there ever a current where no music is, is the eye
not the moss’s, the bloodroot’s, the 3
views all simply view? Every landscape
a liturgy, whether absent a viewer
or not? Are all views not 1?
1 distinct step)
Well, then, are such glissades (O afternoon showers, O
square rain-filled cistern), such
fruitfulness, vistas, such heard cascades
Yes. Don’t you see
what can be seen
in blurred webs, in spider-clouds,
in all the forgotten
at the fearful stairs’ foot?
I see: mouse-gnawed orifice forced through rough planks
(no, not today)
Then: watch-ward of passes, crosser of boundaries, save
our loved dead. save in the underworlds those
un-memoried, unloved. & save, O you hero-child, O
Jizō, save us all
all in the 6 realms, hell-
dwellers to gods & between
them, the animal, human, in our lives on
this earth, this cellared &
cellaring realm within wandering
Om hahaha vismaye svāhā.
O wondrous one, om, hail.
O would that this earth were as no earth.
O would that invocation would suffice.
This earth that is no
other, this cloud-webbed, tree-hung
earth, in which
we have buried us all.
Creepers transpire, up where sun angles through.
Here, old wood degrades. How many
gradations of texture: close fur, broken coal, skin-smooth, stratum-jagged, salt
Look. Tree-born. Pine-grained. Harboring rings.
& down on the boards of the rust-hinged door—
a stick for a padlock, broken & thrust
through steel loop of hasp
lavished with branch silhouettes when clear rays fall
or dulled, or dazzling, or flat white at times
—on the death-strewn webs: egg cases &
2 fine-jointed arc-legged who circle each (subtle) other
Go there. Squat down.
But: the no-color door, the moisture-split, peeling, coarse, pock-marked door
Only a splintering
(no. no no no.)
O utter angle of fear
No riddle, this poem.
No poem a riddle. Not
some trick to be solved, but
(What did she ask, when she asked, Don’t you see?)
Not to be solved.
To guide us below
(Not a riddle: an obvious truth: the sleek bronzy flowers
are lamps in a dawn-reddened shrine.
The copses are lichens. The algae, diaphanous jade.)
On a day here remembered, in sandalwood, lumber-niche’d
as if in the stairwell’s long home, Jizō: tall in draped robe,
head shaven, ears’ lobes
& holds forth—O bodhisattva, merciful guide
& at crossings guardian!—his flame
-edged healing pearl.
O leaves that dry on upper steps
O wall of cross-ties furnace’d by years
O stairs that collapse to scatter grey dust
O parched slug’s path, O aloeswood of loam
each hour the rift in the concrete must deepen,
gaping black & interior,
wounded. & moist.
O beautiful, you wound.
pah! memory’s idols comfortably
worshiped; anxiety cherished; scars idly tongued
as real forests—not pallid copses—are up
rooted, hacked, to feign humanoid form; sickening opium
stench of the pretty; perfume-y seductions;
cheap tromperie from mind’s overripe eye eye eye eye eye!
So a depiction of the cellar
is no cellar?
The cellar risks becoming
sheer depiction, here?
(Here, I mean: here.)
Better the sound
of the footpad cat, a wellside
scurry, undamped leaves’ tremors
& flights, the pierce of passing
traffic’s far-off keen, premonitory
soughing of hang-down boughs (promising nothing, not
even more rain, caring
for nothing at all)
Hence: not the cellar, the image
of cellar, but its cold-hearted
meaning. Or, no, not a meaning
( promises, cares not at all)
but the cellarer’s actual . . . ?
try again: on top step remembering: wandering far
atop (in northern Japan) Mount Dread, past sulfurous
rockpiles, fumaroles, on earth-cindered scooped-out
peak’s plain (O Gaia Crypt), climbing
Laden with rice wine, blossoms, the pilgrims come
with pinwheels! for a clustered thousand water-child Jizō
& the thin nearby branches down-laden too, & the hall piled thick
with jackets & rompers & light summer yukata
gifts for the well-loved, well-loved dead
(grinning, spry worker offered bottle of schnapps, 1
of the dead-offered Peace cigarettes, as he gathered
& in temple furnace burned heaped clothes to ash)
(thanks, but: no, no)
Or southward (Mogami’s broad valley) 1 pilgrimage route:
108 temples, each to Jizō.
A thirsting walk. & where
are they this moment, who laid those long trails down?
Or. Or. Or. Or. Or. Or. Or.
O why (not) descend?
Why (not) climb?
Hard rain & suppose today
in this unhindered flood
down the stairway, 1 carp
upward, then thunderclap-struck
& awakened: a dragon. Trans-
all these currents
& all currents still
But the dragon returns
as it must, to the wellspring, chill
depths of the staircase, 1 carp not large
among carp, pool-constrained, jostling,
eating what carp eat, merely waving
its pliant gauze fans, doing the fish-work, merely alive.
Will this not happen
carp after carp, the fish flesh, the fish
mind unbound (life
into life) & again?
& yet (the hour’s light paints the walls
with a pristine palette) depiction of remembered is
what cellar is, the only cellar, the spoken
of, the seen, again-collected cellar, dragged
along by mind (a sandalwood Jizō in furnace blazing) (dreamed),
from other moments dreamed, endreamed
into this 1, cellared
below the light-brushed stairs.
What thing, if not the thing expressed? If not for us
the sandy concrete (we cannot
reach it, touch it, going always
only half), if not
the very cellar
then why not
all this stairwell (this
one) is here made to bear?
bloodroot by algae on mason’s jade cliff
copses of lichens sprung up out of moss
& so, I will call O
O refuge of language, below
old words’ stairs
Analgesic of rhythms
in a waterless well:
O bright-pearl bearer
You who hold
the teachings that dispel all fear
Wake us with those clangorous rings
O lead us (light to darkness,
dark to light)
Lead us on the self-same stairs.
(for, without invocation,
The smell of the stairwell
pervades my sleeping
room. Dank, I told myself. Till dank
went rich with views, with image
& image returning, new days’ new
lights, words from the storehouse, scents re-
membered. Tasted. Thus.
(Those foolish wounds
(This pilgrimage through
Whatever the enfolded holds, it is
(I here say, now say) (where tree boughs hang & pebbles round)
in our unfoldings that we live
& call: ineffable
blocks under this over-grown house
yes, you below
who too are thus-come (all
from the manifest, us
to the implicate, O
& back again
Thus: every poem an invocation, an act of speech, a way
-ward faring, a calling forth
Thus: Still guardian of the roads, companion, he shakes the 6
-ringed staff. Cold
metal tolls & clashes, warns—
that to or by the traveler, no harm may be done.
His pure pearl flames, gem of the teaching of how things are,
truth (not hot, not pearly-cool)
that banishes all fear.
O you who go between, Jizō,
lead us to see
don’t you see?
[stairwell’s forms / enfolding empty]
dark well’s bright
-ness is umbra
of the solar, how
bright walls’ shades
are lunar to
the latent dark
how dull/bedazzling door is only door
& (O) save us from the cellar-crypt
that for our
selves (below the stairs) we dig
(once again) (still) Jizō House dusks
this grey-white, brown-green stairwell
(I sit, legs splayed) (& wayfaring)
These leaves are the shadows of their own going down.
Their smell is the populous earth they were born of.
Behind the door is
Behind the door is
(old paint cans, mostly
(a fuel-oil tank
(aroma of clay
(1 aluminum ladder
laid down on its side
(of metaphors, 0
(on 1 step, I sit)
Today’s morning opens
on dark bark of downsweeping
arbor vitae that casts
emerald scales to the fresh
well of stairs.
& know: no wound. No living
moss. No timbers
or blocks, no drying leaves.
No cellar & no, no Jizō, only
these stairs which (only now,
now only) travel here, between
(& again: breathe)
these leaves, their smell,
the sun-washed stairs: a
garden: 1 upward saw-toothed, 1 tender
perfoliate curved, 1 lush swath, 1 bloodroot, the wild
sour of sorrel, small transient blooms—
this fanciful naming, this pretence & art.
not behind, not beyond.
not (after all), no, not between; more than within
(or surrounding); more than contiguous;
not cognate, not
consanguineous. all points
not = to;
garden at all. No well & no
leaf. This smell. The raw
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