Three Versions

by John Estes

A version of a version of Shantidiva’s version of what the Buddha is said to have said

    I, too, tire of moving
    my bowels, yet each time
    I’m given something new
    to consider, a blind man
    stumbling upon a pearl
    in refuse. This albumen
    of eternity prepares us
    for deliverance, never
    exhausts us, but appears
    ever new like a shade
    tree, or bridge, or other
    common treasure come to
    us at a moment of need.
    As the sun and moon too
    possess this power to move
    though they do not try,
    milk cannot help becoming
    butter, or kindness love
    when churned in the right
    vessel. This recognition,
    in its turn a joyous feat,
    surprises me all over
    each time my body makes it.


Ananda Thera
  from the Theragatha

    Blackness, that subtracted sum,
    the benighted light of our good
    friend, obscures instructions
    he left and directions left to go.

    One is gone, and one remains
    but the best friend is a body
    awakened to its bliss, well-beyond
    but of the mind and emptiness.

    I let the old ones pass away; I saw
    them going. The new has nothing
    to protect. As a swan withdraws
    to nest, so I’m not asked to stay.


Scorched earth

    It’s a woman’s perspective, I know—
    but who could admire the horses
    or the sons riding off to war
    or the poets who immortalize them—
    if desire hadn’t conjured us first?

    Plenty more Troys await burning
    and plenty of Helens, too,
    praise the gods; there’s Anactoria,
    who binds me to her memory
    by how comely my yearning feels.

    I say it’s okay to prefer her
    white thighs to battle, to seize
    in her image justification for death—
    the soldiers and I sure as hell do.