BARRY GRAHAM, Scottish author, journalist, Zen monk in U.S. Books include THE BOOK OF MAN (an American Library Association best book of the year), THE WRONG THING (finalist for SPINETINGLER MAGAZINE best novel of the year), WHEN IT ALL COMES DOWN TO DUST (a MYSTERY PEOPLE best book of the year) and KILL YOUR SELF: LIFE AFTER EGO, an Amazon Kindle bestseller in the Zen category.

Poem for Mother’s Day

(from Traffic and Murder)

I think I was three years old
when my mother punched me in the face
so hard I rolled across the floor
and under a chair, and knocked 
the chair over.

I don’t know 
if that was the first time
she did it, or only
the first time
my memory held on to it.

She hated me, always.
She told me with her words,
her fists and her feet. 

She was fat,
had a mouth full of brown teeth
and she smelled of piss,
sweat and cigarettes.

She has been dead for years,
turned to ashes
and given to the wind.

A wind blows this afternoon, 
and it smells of grass and rain.

I make an offering of incense,
and I bow to her memory.


More than thirty years ago, a young Paul Reekie was still making avant-garde/transgressive/punk music in addition to his poetry. He put out this song as a single, and gave me a copy of it on a wild night in Edinburgh in 1991. I remember playing it to a musician friend (and fan of Paul’s) shortly after, and he said, in quiet awe, “That redefines weird.”

Robert Burns: Scottish Zen

Today is the birthday of Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poet, and one of the great Zen poets of the West. Sadly, I haven’t managed to find any vegetarian haggis in Portland.

But pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flower, its bloom is shed;
Or like the snow falls in the river,
A moment white - then melts for ever;
Or like the borealis race,
That flit ere you can point their place;
Or like the rainbow’s lovely form
Evanishing amid the storm. 
A haiku is not a poem, it is not literature; it is a hand beckoning, a door half-opened, a mirror wiped clean. It is a way of returning to nature, to our moon nature, our cherry blossom nature, our falling leaf nature, in short, to our Buddha nature. It is a way in which the cold winter rain, the swallows of evening, even the very day in its hotness, and the length of the night, become truly alive, share in our humanity, speak their own silent and expressive language.
- R.H. Blyth -

What is found there

In this article, Jeanette Winterson writes:

I had no one to help me, but the T.S. Eliot helped me. So when people say that poetry is a luxury, or an option, or for the educated middle classes, or that it shouldn’t be read at school because it is irrelevant, or any of the strange and stupid things that are said about poetry and its place in our lives, I suspect that the people doing the saying have had things pretty easy.
So it was for me. Books saved my life, and gave me a life. I grew up in Maryhill, Glasgow, a Third World hidden within the First. The only physical contact I knew was violence, and most days the best I could hope for was not to be hungry. It was in books that I learned about something called love. Books became my parents and my friends. In a world that told me I did not matter, T.S. Eliot, Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson told me that I did. Ancient Chinese poets taught me that the moon and stars viewed by the Buddha were the same ones I could see from the window of a rat-infested cold-water tenement. While those around me could see only the next drink, Edwin Morgan’s From Glasgow to Saturn revealed geography - physical, psychological, spiritual - to me. Most of us knew we were being treated like vermin, but I knew how and why, because Karl Marx and George Orwell told me. And the books, all of them, told me that I wasn’t alone, that there was a conversation, and I could join it, and I did.

Without books, I think I would be in prison or on the street, if I was even still breathing. If you think books are not essential to survival, you have never had to find ways to survive.

William Carlos Williams knew:

It is difficult
to get the news from poems
  yet men die miserably every day
    for lack
of what is found there.