Norman Fischer


unless language is
    unless    it’s   or you    were
    a convenience  ,  now   it’s


as  the  way   a   ritual   is
in    time  , according  to  words

that   do   not  mean

as   they   appear

stone  , stone  ,  river  , river  , tree

freedom  , love  ,  shame ,   shame  , love
    freedom,   space  ,  house

as  is  or  that’s  what  it  is ...

“.....I can’t get used to the world!”


Untold Numbers

A million or trillion
Black ants scurry
Back and forth
Here and there
Into and out of a hole
Wavering movement
Alive to the urgent experience
Anxious and frantic

What could be more transparent
Than staring
Right into their eyes?
You are not here
What are you looking at
And why


The Purpose

Avoid a wasp’s waist
            Your letter at hand
                                    I’ll try to go into
Simply the means so that a poem is concerned
About writing verse or anything else for that matter….
                   Count the words carefully
                                          the development of one’s thought
In a few minutes conversation
            In a variety of forms
On the other hand no ulterior motive
            What one has to deal with here
                                               that seems no less important
With virtuosity in any field
             One was of a lovely race
And two or three caused harm
             But harm and race were a shame
             That cannot be proclaimed
Where the mountain hare has lain
But in the case of a different intention
             For example a little learning etc.
Can have its uses but also its misuses
And another word will follow
Conscious and deliberate



My little dog from Visalia
Remains impossible even to herself
As if a squat black lady with yellow hair
Dressed in an official blue suit
Couldn’t derail the detachments
According to the elderly man with the tired satchels, one in each hand
Dangling from his arms
And one thing follows after another
But never in that order
Indicating a very expensive steak
is a word?
This is now a final boarding of boards
Our board is a broom the further in
You go the latter it gets I’m referring
To last Thursday night after the fireman’s ball
Is there any state
We’re collectively in?
Is this a spell? How do you spell it?
And now is the final boarding of boards
Do I sleep or wake? Do I weep or shake?
And now is the final boarding of boards
People glide by crying among the celestial tides
Under gaudy skies
is a word?
What if — just what if…


Norman Fischer

Norman Fischer is a poet, essayist, and Zen Buddhist priest. He served as abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center, the oldest and largest Buddhist institution in the West, and is the founding teacher of the Everyday Zen Foundation (, a network of Zen groups and other projects. He has taught and lectured round the world. His latest poetry collections are Magnolias All At OnceEscape This Crazy Life of Tears, and The Strugglers. His latest prose works are What Is Zen? Plain Talk for a Beginner’s Mind, and Experience: Thinking, Writing, Language and Religion.