Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2008 Vol. 7 No. 1

The Cellar Stairwell at Jizō House

Forbidden          the well-house, I turn
to a stairwell: this crumbling descent
into concrete, moss, rock, shadowed
                                    oblong of emptiness, cement blocks
                                    & railroad ties, sun-fed cascades
of dirt & dead leaf
                                                                                      What called me here? Who
                                                                                                  is the guide?

                                    poured out in river-stone,
                                                down to the storeroom.
                       down to the old hoard. the fearful.
                                                            an all-shaded corner where
          evergreen tree overhangs. a simple place.
                       an opulent         well filled
                                  with stairs.
                                                                                             (I sit on the first step, legs


                                                 white-painted shingle, Jizō House angles
                                                             round this damp, this un/ safe.
                                                small house named for Jizō       who is also
                                                named Di-zang, Kishtigarbha—say, Subterranean
                                                Treasury, Earth Cache or Gaia Crypt, Under-
                                                                         ground Vault: buried chamber
                                                & rescuing child. Jizō who travels. Jizō, protector.
                                                           Jizō the awakened, the hell-cellar god.

                      From the top of the well, I see what it comes to.

Each stairstep wavers, falling
            in time, its pebbles rounded,
                        rounding, caught in grey

                                                                This earth or no earth, the cellar-well testifies.
                                                                            Skin                     ices over. in      time.


           Make pilgrimage, then, into
           wet dimness below the stairs
                                   as Jizō the sure guardian
                                   of all who must journey walks alongside.            Eases
                                   thresholds, marks crossroads, watches                                                  
                                   the borders, steps down
                                                                         to the cellar, carries
                                                his priest-staff, shakes in warning its 6                                      
                                                                         clanging rings.

                                                                                              (all who voyage between)

         traveling life
         into death, death
         into life, life
         into life into life into  
                                                                         Look. Rot. Thick
                                                                         mould. Spun-out snares.
                                                                                     Gnats enshrouded.                 
                                                                                     1 trickling pipe.
                                                                                     The bulging walls gouged.
                                                                         I will not   
                                                                                     descend. Not today.


Acrid creosote vapor: high-stacked ties (gazing downward) are the right-hand wall
                                                                                        (muck seeping round them)
                                                                           (propped on stream-tumbled rocks)
                                                               (slipping, sawn corners gone               soft)

          A noon hour past
                                                 fleet light illumines
                       wounds, these
                                                                         Knot in timber
                                                                         built wall caving, foundation
                                                                         cracked (a twisted mouth),
                                                                         mud ravine’d, stone-face gapped,
                                                                         caving ash-colored hollow worn,
                                                                         mortar oozed those years  
                                                                                     ago, the edges
                                  these foolish wounds


           But I have not spoken, have I, of the cellar door below?
                                                                                                      the wandering, fearful
                                                                       its ending, if ending                     is feared)


Who reads these words learns nothing of the cellar
                                                               the cellar an Sich
                                                               of the door

                                    of all that rests in lowness & eclipse.


                                                              Hours of talk, & rain, & now the silent
                                                              space behind the house. An unexpected
                                                                           saltless pool,    below

                          Below the stairs: Once (I recall in              this moment), 12 centuries
             gone, Hongdu saw sun-kindled bronze lamps blooming. Asked
                         Don’t you see?   Chanted for her half-drunk guests
                                     4 rhythmic lines, 1 performative riddle:
             remembered, then written, then rendered at last. Don’t
                         you see, below the stairs? Once (& again),
                                        I read her words’ remnants (12 centuries), see & saw
                                                     that thicket of russet-gold, saw & see (as she)
                                                                 shrine lanterns swaying in alpenglow,
                                                                             there, below the stairs.

Stop. Time         to get on with it.
                                                                              But pilgrimage                where?

                                                                                                         Down (step
                                                                                           after step)        through
                                                                                           many hells & along the 6
                                                                                           roads, which lead to 6

                                                                                            through which we have
                                                                                                        passed, & again, will


                        asking: Is there a music to rainwater’s fall? Is there
                                                   —a liturgy                   in what rushes un-hymned
                                                                          down cellar’s steep flight?
                                                   —a landscape (bloodroot by algae on mason’s
                                     jade-marbled cliff, copses of lichens sprung up
                        out of moss), without separation,       un-listened-to,                free
                                     of all viewing eyes?
                                                                          O but is
                        there ever a current     where no music is, is the eye
                                                 not the moss’s, the bloodroot’s, the 3
                                    views all simply view?                Every landscape
                        a liturgy, whether absent         a viewer
                                     or not? Are all views not 1?
                                                                                                   Or: not?
                                                 (each step
                                                                         1 distinct step)

             Well, then, are such glissades (O afternoon showers, O
                                                               square rain-filled cistern), such
                                      fruitfulness, vistas, such heard cascades
                                                                                                     even possible?


                                                  Yes. Don’t you see
                                                             what can be seen
                                                  in blurred webs, in spider-clouds,
                                                                           in all the forgotten
                                                                           at the fearful stairs’ foot?

            I see: mouse-gnawed orifice forced through rough planks
                                                                                                                      (no, not today)

Then:               watch-ward of passes, crosser of boundaries, save
our loved dead. save in the underworlds those
un-memoried, unloved. & save, O you hero-child,  O                                               
                                                                        Jizō, save us all

                                    all in the 6 realms, hell-
                                                dwellers to gods & between
                                    them, the animal, human, in our lives on
                                                            this earth, this cellared &
                                                                        cellaring realm within wandering

                                                                                                Om hahaha vismaye svāhā.
                                                                                                  O wondrous one, om, hail.

                       O         would that this earth were as no earth.
                       O would that invocation would suffice.

                                               This earth        that is no
                                                           other, this        cloud-webbed, tree-hung
                                                           earth, in which                        
            we have buried us all.


Creepers transpire, up where sun angles through.
            Here, old wood degrades. How many
gradations of texture: close fur, broken coal, skin-smooth, stratum-jagged, salt

                                               Look.    Tree-born.          Pine-grained.      Harboring rings.

                        & down on the boards of the rust-hinged door—
                                    a stick for a padlock, broken & thrust
                                                                                    through steel loop of hasp
                                               lavished with branch silhouettes when clear rays fall
                                                           or dulled, or dazzling, or flat white at times
                                    —on the death-strewn webs: egg cases &
                        2 fine-jointed arc-legged who circle                    each (subtle) other

                                                            Go there. Squat down.

But: the no-color door, the moisture-split, peeling, coarse, pock-marked            door

                                    Only a splintering                     
                                                 (no. no no no.)
                        O utter angle of fear


No riddle, this poem.
                                    No poem a riddle. Not
                       some trick to be solved, but
          an asking.

                                    (What did she ask, when she asked, Don’t you see?)

                                                            Not to be solved.
                                                                       To guide us      below

                                    (Not a riddle: an obvious truth: the sleek bronzy flowers
                                                            are lamps in a dawn-reddened shrine.
                                               The copses are lichens. The algae, diaphanous jade.)


          On a day here remembered, in sandalwood, lumber-niche’d
          as if in the stairwell’s long home, Jizō:              tall in draped robe,
                      head shaven, ears’ lobes
                                                            elongate, stands
          & holds forth—O bodhisattva, merciful guide
          & at crossings guardian!—his flame
                                                                   -edged healing pearl.

                                                                               O leaves that dry on upper steps
                                                                       O wall of cross-ties furnace’d by years
                                                                 O stairs that collapse to scatter grey dust
                                                             O parched slug’s path, O aloeswood of loam

                       each hour the rift in the concrete must deepen,
                                               gaping black & interior,
                                   gaping beautiful,
                                                             wounded. & moist.

                                                                                     O beautiful, you wound.
            no. no.


                                                                            pah!      memory’s idols comfortably
                                                      worshiped; anxiety cherished; scars idly tongued
                                                                  as real forests—not pallid copses—are up
                                          rooted, hacked, to feign humanoid form; sickening opium
                                                               stench of the pretty; perfume-y seductions;
                                 cheap tromperie from mind’s overripe eye        eye eye eye eye!


So a depiction of the cellar
is no cellar?
                        The cellar risks becoming
            sheer depiction, here?
                                                                                         (Here, I mean: here.)

                                                               Better the sound
                                                               of the footpad cat, a wellside
                                                               chipmunk’s thought-quick
                                                               scurry, undamped leaves’ tremors
                                                               & flights, the pierce of passing
                                                               traffic’s far-off keen, premonitory
                                                               soughing of hang-down boughs                                                                                                                          (promising                   nothing, not
                                                               even more rain, caring
                                                                                        for nothing at all)

Hence: not the cellar, the image
of cellar, but its cold-hearted
meaning. Or, no, not a meaning
                                                               ( promises, cares not        at all)
           but the cellarer’s actual . . .       ?



                       try again: on top step remembering: wandering far
atop (in northern Japan) Mount Dread, past sulfurous
            rockpiles, fumaroles, on earth-cindered scooped-out
                        peak’s plain (O Gaia Crypt), climbing
                                                Jizō-temple stairs.

            Laden             with rice wine, blossoms, the pilgrims come
                                   with pinwheels! for a clustered thousand water-child Jizō
                        & the thin nearby branches down-laden too, & the hall piled thick
                                   with jackets & rompers & light summer yukata
                                                           gifts for the well-loved, well-loved dead

            (grinning, spry worker offered bottle of schnapps, 1
                                                of the dead-offered Peace cigarettes, as he gathered
                                   & in temple     furnace burned heaped clothes to ash)
                                                                                               (thanks, but: no, no)

Or southward (Mogami’s broad valley) 1 pilgrimage route:
            108 temples, each to Jizō.
                                                  A thirsting walk. & where
                                    are they this moment, who laid those long trails down?

                                                                                               Or. Or. Or. Or. Or. Or. Or.

                                                                                                 O why (not) descend?
                                                                                                         Why (not) climb?


Hard rain & suppose today
                                    in this unhindered flood
            down the stairway, 1 carp
            upward, then thunderclap-struck
                         &         awakened: a     dragon.            Trans-
                                                 [             ]

                                                                                                      all these currents
                                                                                                                     1 water
                                                                                                      & all currents still

            But the dragon returns
                                    as it must, to the wellspring, chill
            depths of the staircase, 1         carp not large
            among carp, pool-constrained, jostling,
            eating what carp          eat, merely waving
            its pliant gauze fans, doing the fish-work, merely        alive.

                                                              Will this not happen
                                                 carp after carp, the fish flesh, the fish
                                                                          mind unbound             (life
                                                             into life)           & again?


                                                 & yet (the hour’s light paints the walls
                                    with a pristine palette) depiction of remembered is
                         what cellar is,              the only cellar, the spoken
            of, the seen, again-collected cellar, dragged
along by mind (a sandalwood Jizō in furnace blazing) (dreamed),
            from other moments dreamed, endreamed
                         into this 1, cellared
                                    below the light-brushed stairs.

                                                    What thing, if not the thing expressed? If not for us
                                                                             the sandy         concrete (we cannot
                                                                                      reach it, touch it, going always
                                                                                                 only half),           if not
                                                                                                              the very cellar 
                                                                                                              then why not
                                                                                                 all this stairwell (this
                                                                                      one) is here     made to bear?

                                                                             bloodroot by algae on mason’s      jade cliff
                                                                  copses    of lichens sprung up         out of    moss


& so, I will call             O
            O refuge of language, below
                       old words’ stairs
            Analgesic of rhythms
                       in a waterless well:

                                    O bright-pearl bearer
                                    You who hold
                                                           the teachings that dispel all fear
                                    Wake us with those clangorous rings
                                    O lead us (light to darkness,
                                                                         dark to light)
                                    Lead us on the self-same stairs.

                                                                                                      (for, without invocation,


The smell of the stairwell
pervades my sleeping
room. Dank, I told myself. Till dank
went rich with views, with image
& image returning, new days’ new
lights, words from the storehouse, scents re-
membered.       Tasted.            Thus.
                                                                                                        (Those foolish wounds
                                                                                                      (This pilgrimage through

            Whatever the enfolded                 holds, it is
(I here say, now say) (where tree boughs hang & pebbles       round)   
                          in our unfoldings that we live

                                                                             & call: ineffable
                                                                 concrete—you building
                                                   blocks under this over-grown house
                                                                           yes, you below
                                                              who too are thus-come (all
                                                                           things pervaded)—guide
                                                   from the manifest, us
                                                                                       to the implicate, O
                                       & back again


Thus: every poem an invocation, an act of speech, a way
-ward faring, a calling                forth

            Thus: Still guardian of the roads, companion, he shakes the 6
                         -ringed staff. Cold
            metal tolls &    clashes, warns—
                                                that to or by the traveler, no harm may be done.

            His pure pearl flames, gem of the teaching of how things are,
                                    truth (not hot, not pearly-cool)
                        that banishes all fear.              
                                                                                    (those wounds)

O you who go between, Jizō,
                       lead us to see
                                                don’t you see?
           how borderland
                       [stairwell’s forms / enfolding empty]
                                                dark well’s bright
                                                            -ness is umbra
                                                            of the solar, how
                                                bright walls’ shades
                                                            are lunar to
                                                            the latent dark
                                                how dull/bedazzling door       is only door

                                                                             & (O) save us from the cellar-crypt
                                                                                                                 that for our
                                                                                 selves (below the stairs) we dig


(once again) (still) Jizō House dusks
                         this grey-white, brown-green stairwell
            (I sit, legs splayed) (& wayfaring)

            These leaves    are the shadows of their own going down.
Their smell      is the populous earth they were born of.

                                                Behind the door is
                                                            nothing            much
                                                Behind the door is 

                                                                                    (old paint cans, mostly
                                                                                    (hard-packed floor
                                                                                    (a fuel-oil tank
                                                                                    (aroma of clay
                                                                                    (1 aluminum ladder
                                                                                                laid down on its side
                                                                                    (of metaphors, 0

                                                                                                            (on 1 step, I sit)


            Today’s morning opens
                                    warm umbers
on dark bark of downsweeping
                                    arbor vitae that casts
                      emerald scales to the fresh
                                    well of stairs.
                                                                                          (breathe in)

                                                & know: no wound. No living
                                                moss. No timbers
                                                           or blocks, no drying     leaves.
                                                No cellar & no, no       Jizō, only
                                                           these stairs which (only now,
                                                                        now only) travel here, between

                                                                                                 (& again: breathe)


                    these leaves, their smell,
                    the sun-washed stairs: a
      garden: 1 upward saw-toothed, 1 tender
      perfoliate curved, 1 lush swath, 1 bloodroot, the wild
                              sour of sorrel, small transient blooms—

                   (promising nothing)

                                                                         oh, banish
                                                                                            (breathe out)  
      this fanciful naming, this pretence & art.

                                                                                                   not behind, not beyond.
                                                           not (after all), no, not between; more than within
                                                                         (or surrounding); more than contiguous;
                                                                                                              not cognate, not
                                                                                              consanguineous. all points
                                                                                                   congruent. co-terminal.
                                                                                                                         not = to;

                            garden at all. No          well & no
                                                                                        realms. This
                                        leaf. This smell.           The raw