The Unseen Power
We are the flute, our music is all Thine;
We are the mountains echoing only Thee;
Pieces of chess Thou marshallest in line
And movest to defeat or victory;
Lions emblazoned high on flags unfurled -
Thy wind invisible sweeps us through the world.
Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu
Buddhist, sufi, or zen. Not any religion
or cultural system.
I am not from the East
or the West, not out of the ocean or up
from the ground, not natural or ethereal, not
composed of elements at all.
I do not exist,
am not an entity in this world or the next,
did not descend from Adam and Eve or any
My place is placeless, a trace
of the traceless. Neither body or soul.
I belong to the beloved, have seen the two
worlds as one and that one call to and know,
first, last, outer, inner, only that
breath breathing human being.
There is a way between voice and presence
where information flows.
In disciplined silence it opens.
With wandering talk it closes.
Who Says Words With My Mouth?
All day I think about it, then at night I say it.
Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing?
I have no idea.
My soul is from elsewhere, I’m sure of that,
and I intend to end up there.
This drunkenness began in some other tavern.
When I get back around to that place,
I’ll be completely sober. Meanwhile,
I’m like a bird from another continent, sitting in this aviary.
The day is coming when I fly off,
but who is it now in my ear who hears my voice?
Who says words with my mouth?
Who looks out with my eyes? What is the soul?
I cannot stop asking.
If I could taste one sip of an answer,
I could break out of this prison for drunks.
I didn’t come here of my own accord, and I can’t leave that way.
Whoever brought me here will have to take me home.
This poetry. I never know what I'm going to say.
I don’t plan it.
When I’m outside the saying of it,
I get very quiet and rarely speak at all.
Trans. Coleman Barks