A Fifteenth-Century Zen Master

By Norman Dubie b. 1945 Norman Dubie

for Stephen

A blind girl steps over the red staves
Of a tub. Steam rising from her shoulders and hair,
She walks across a dirt floor to you.
I think you are not her grandfather.
You watch with her a pink man
Who has avoided taxes for two winters—
He is being judged by roosters
And has been chased this far into the countryside. Above him

Burning sacks of bat dung are arranged
In the purple branches of the thistle trees.
The river is indifferent to him.
And so are we.
You tell your mistress the burning bags of shit
Are like inert buddhas
Dissolving in a field of merit.

She giggles. A front tooth is loose.
With the river bottom clear as the night air,
The bargeman sings through the hungry vapors
Rising now like white snakes behind him.
You told his wife that Lord Buddha made wasps
From yellow stalks of tobacco with a dark spit.

Down in the cold bamboo a starving woman
Has opened a small pig—
The old moons climb from its blue glistening stomach,
Or is it light
From the infinitely receding sacks of shit?

Master, where is the difference?

Norman Dubie, “A Fifteenth-Century Zen Master” from The Mercy Seat: Collected & New Poems 1967-2001 (Copper Canyon Press, 2001). www.coppercanyonpress.org

Source: The Mercy Seat: Collected & New Poems 1967-2001 (Copper Canyon Press, 2001)

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Poet Norman Dubie b. 1945

POET’S REGION U.S., Southwestern

Subjects Relationships, Love, Men & Women, Nature, Landscapes & Pastorals, Animals

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Norman  Dubie


Norman Dubie was born in Barre, Vermont in 1945, the son of a radical minister and a nurse. Dubie began writing poetry at age eleven and was influenced by both his father’s Sunday sermons and his mother’s tales of hospital life. Acknowledging his debt as a writer to his parents, Dubie noted in an interview with Poets & Writers magazine that “I got the weirdest introduction to writing from them—my mother, because she would come . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Relationships, Love, Men & Women, Nature, Landscapes & Pastorals, Animals

POET’S REGION U.S., Southwestern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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