SATORI BLUES | a poem by Cyril Wong


The way is every place. Love appears

as nothing when we begin to know it,

nothing that is not its opposite, or

whatever opposites mean, in this case—

coming and ebbing, a kiss and heartache.

The place where no love waits

is also love. Legs uncrossed, benumbed

but tender, tenderly. Gratified when answers

rose up in a field without questions.

Eyelids lifted like hoods or wings,

then a mise en abîme of eyes

flying open, endless hoods and wings.

Still, a moment’s suspicion that existence

churns on without a doubt, without

significance or beauty. At least

we are not helpless in this:

remember that Ram Bahadur Bomjon

cut a path through the forest and sat

in a hollowed tree for days, defying

“modern science”. Not a relinquishment

in the banal sense, but as Jiddu Krishnamurti

calls it, a tremendous energy comes,

until the body registers its extremities again—

almost everything lost but that airy room

of memory. That one expansive room.

All knowledge is but a raft—zoom up

and out—on a sea of the unknown.

The poet focused on the nail-biting void

when a whole rainbow of interpretations

was always nearby. Leaning into air, uncertain

what air is; the body knows, inhaling

its secrets—air is everything we do.

Inhale and that radio is a death-trap,

melancholy unraveling this morning’s calm;

exhale, at last, and melodies are notes

arranged to mimic fissures in a life. Love

has no opposites, after all. How alarming

the impossibility, when reconsidered.

Every thought a reflex of memory

with no chance for a possible window

to be left ajar. Meditation is not

the mind pressed down for the void

to burn right through, but an awareness

that the senses are already on fire.

Years burn holes through clothes, brand

age-spots on skin, lick skeletal tinder.

Minds catch slowly, reduced to less than air.

All of us eaten by flames invisible

to the naked eye that melts faster

than butter at the crematorium.

Then no window, no room either

for the past to make a home

since infinity extinguished my borders.

Note that Thich Quang Duc neither

flinched nor cried out as Vietnam

blazed into him. The First Lady offered

to supply fresh gasoline if supporters

intended to hold another “barbecue”.

What is no longer alight is not necessarily

dark and cold. What fails to be reined in

pushes out, freezes, breaks off—crashes.

No telling who might place a chunk

in their mouth. (Who wouldn’t pay to watch them

taste it?) Some protrusions merge with air, but

not before melting a little, flowing everywhere

within the self, hardening in places it never

meant to make a home. Don’t misunderstand

when I talk about “nothing”; it is not

the fact of a deserted hallway, an empty pail.

Let me explain: habit-energies, habit-energies

cajole us into a romance with the absolute.

What have I been saying? Fire, windows,

thought, repetition, hardness and love. Love

for attention. Love, but attention. Attention

to love. Love then attention. Attention

is love. When the absolute is a lie,

a distraction from signlessness, aimlessness

that is ever-growing. Empty, not empty

but a plenitude. Stop hoping and

it arrives. Stop striving and suffering is

excised. After immolation, the monk’s heart

stayed intact and was displayed as a relic.

The trouble with things is that we believe

they are ideas made permanent—

bed to my bed, cheek to my cheek.

Notions lock us outside of that future

beyond imagining. Forget to be elated

and elation is already here.

A votive without motives in a moment

without distinction. The revelation stayed

long after the high was gone, that there

is a way to observe each chiseled body

as something foreign or terrifyingly

new. I took part in the orgy, but instead

of being ploughed by lust, I wanted

all of you to abandon self-hatred

for joy. Sometimes love is unfulfilled

vanity: touch me, hold me, fuck me.

He kept checking his iPhone to see if

there was another party in the other room.

Since nothing lasts, let’s rehearse

by saying farewell to this bed;

these curtains that kept nakedness

from view; not forgetting you, you and you.

Death’s dog pawing at the door of every

sun-filled gesture, every dogged embrace.

Time, no time; space, but in relation

to what? Words, just words when

nothing will do. No longer a vanishing

but a reappearance, a resurfacing.

The description is not the described,

no matter how close. Any desire

to blow out desire is also desire—blah,

blah, blah—when desire may turn on itself;

a means to an end or happy suicide

of the self. The last of any identification

redraws our exits from this mental hell.

Not difficult to see how dangerous

life can be if nothing changes.

Suspended in frozen states of “happy”

or “unhappy”, such that we neglect

a frown creeping up a face, or the mood

melting without reason as we speak.

That difference between love and

ambition, being and the vertical slope

of becoming. My heart repeats: to do,

to do. To experience means to go

through, and come out whistle-clean.

Stop swinging and the world swings

like a gate into you; the trick

is to move with the gate. Give the mind

an open road and watch it stagger to a halt.

To not-act is also to act. Ripple to

calm; wave to bigger wave to calm again.

Let the weather outside settle into

the weather inside. Sun beats, wind

sits, leaves rest in a circle around us.

Forget to remember; remember to forget.

Light carves my shadow into a rock,

beckons and merges it with the shadow

of a tree. A child’s laugh calls down

bridges into this world. That slow walk

back to the car, our minds filled with

inaudible music. Listening is its own silence.

Rocks and shells have nothing to say.

Why not pay attention anyway?

I think Shunryu Suzuki was trying to explain

that you are that which is sound.

Inhale, exhale: success is only possible

whenever you fail. He closed his eyes

to chant but nodded asleep instead.

Don’t do it because you want to arrive,

then nothing can appear as love

for the very first time. At the height

of their meditation, their brains lit up

in a way never before seen by scientists.

The difference between self-hypnosis

and meditation is the difference

between escape and a settling into clarity.

Wind chimes urged us into a sudden

state of knowing. After saying the word

Buddha, the monk rinsed his mouth

three times. An earthquake between

idea and reality. Belief, disbelief;

self, non-self; to cling or not to cling.

Look down and you have already fallen.

Look up and the sky is a bluer earth.

Look away and the way is everywhere.

Forgive the past for repeating for it knows

not what it does. No one truly vanishes,

which is the root of every crisis. Call it

a paradox; call it anything you like. What is it

about living that fills me with this gift

of fraud. Pain unconvinces. Neither does

relief. The difficulty of entering

the oasis of a familiar tree, the sky as sky.

We impose our straight lines upon nature

which is squiggly. Alan Watts describes

Euclid as possessing a weakened intellect

for his simplistic geometrical shapes.

String theorists themselves cannot agree

on which theory best describes

the universe. U. G. apologized for having

“no teaching here, just disjointed, disconnected

sentences.” And emphasized, “There is

nothing to understand.” If you must burn,

burn away every preconception and see

what happens. There is a place called alone

that we would rather die than visit.

Happiness is the poorest aim; we lose

when we think we have gained.

Mother was only interested in heaven;

nibbāna made no sense, no sense at all.

Why is birth so significant? Why is death?

Because, because, because. Edge thought out

so serenity spreads from cell to cell to cell.

Search for the mind and find only things;

search for things and find only mind.

I began to see myself from a distance,

a bundle of energies instead of feelings.

One enlightenment after another and another.

What have I said thus far? Webs

of images spun out of electrified air,

flickering and flickering out.

Everything, nothing; past and present;

design, no design; what do you cling to

to save your life? Deep breath now,

deeper, even deeper still. Your heart

sails to that old woman pushing her cart,

but what can you do to lift her burden?

To store the present: use, reuse,

abuse; compare, repair, despair.

At the coffee-shop, tired migrant workers

daydreamed in silence, an interval

like a sieve between past and future.

Time is the murderer of perception.

After I became aware, nothing was ever

the same again. Each night Gandhi

slept naked beside young girls to affirm

his sanctity. Even behind every ritual,

hope lurks like a seasoned stalker.

Don’t overrate your holiness!

Put down the prayer book and gaze

upon your innermost want without shrinking.

Listen, why won’t you listen

to everything that I have to say?

The mystery can be solved if you would

lower the gun or magnifying glass.

The molester who was arrested had

asked victims to place their hands

on his chest to “feel” his heart.

The hardest part is admitting that no wrong

has been committed. Thank you

for loving me in spite of yourself.

Waves of addiction rode me back to you.

Accustomed to oblivion, we repeat

our quarrel for no reason.

He pinned me in order to find release.

One gloryhole after another! Each fort-da

a re-enactment of an earlier loss,

a struggle for control that merely

deepens the wound. Then I understood

that everything was an end in itself.

The observer and the observed

but twin poles to a singular event.

No separation between the controller

and the controlled. Eyes saw the leaf

because of that light, but light and leaf

were possible because of the eyes.

Push or pull, the wheel doesn’t stop turning.

What sound does the ego make upon departing?

Suspended in eternity with nothing to prove.

The world as nothing beyond action

and relation. The self is simply a knot

along an endless piece of rope

that unravels like a magic trick

with the gentlest tug. Watts accused

Kerouac’s version of Zen Buddhism

of being too hostile and nihilistic.

Doesn’t matter which cave you retreat to

if the cave is not already within you.

That dream of a harmonious world

is the reason that I’m always on fire.

Love is not enough when the self

adheres to its core. What I cannot

retrieve mocks me from behind time’s

two-way mirror. Something else

is required; something a little more.

Without the mirror, past and present

penetrate. A circle, but with no circumference

you can touch. Days resume unnumbered.

Time, no time; no time to waste!

Crime, no crime. Don’t judge; don’t give up!

Fields of emptiness between the wild arc

of electrons and every atom—a vacuum not

nothing after all, but the purest form

of something like compulsion that fixes

us into being, stopping the self from

coming, no, flying everywhere apart.

Wake up, eat, drink, pass substances—

the ignorant laugh, the wise will understand.

A mirror is not a home but pale captivity.

For freedom to move, loosen the ropes

of language. Names fall off their hinges.

Every time I forgot to wrap my being

harder around love, so as to discover

a deeper love. The hours I squandered

without a note of poetry in my head,

gazing at the nonchalant moon.

Disregarding the light in a flickering

leaf; absorbing instead the dark

soul of a tree after a storm’s abuse.

Not playing the songs to restore the self,

so as to carry my misery a little longer.

What we talk about when we talk about loss

are the catastrophes: walls collapsing

and the terrible flood. What we forget is what

we fail to detect: the line opening like an eye

from one end of a dam to another;

a startled look and the averted vision

at a wrong word at yet another wrong time.

Loss is an ever-growing thing. The same

is true of how we win. Everything

woven through with its own unmaking,

a storm brewing silently in an apple,

that shattered net of clouds. Cracks in walls

rocket to a big finish in the ceiling,

one arm going suddenly numb, the final

poem of a life left unfinished on the page.

Particles, elemental dust, magnetized to form

new planets and suns with or without

a creator. Seeds of illnesses make camps

along bloodstreams, preparing for that war

on health. Nothing to be considered within

diminished vistas of hope and reason. Nothing

reconsidered, how it flows into an embrace,

revivifying every word and gesture.

Who says we cannot compartmentalise

heartbreak, break it open and employ

its parts? Grief to inspire tragic songs.

Anger stored for potential storms.

What to do, then, with resignation—how

to use it and what is it good for?

Stars faint from lack, freefalling into

deep graves of themselves, from which

no light may lean away. The future

revealed like an afterlife, which we fight

to occupy and exit with equal

courage and delight. So what if justice

is unfair? Anger is a chair. Tears

are just for show. The tenderness of doubt.

Happiness without. Nothing prevents

nothing from passing through.

Nothing, after all, to try; nothing,

after all, to do. Listen to what I’ve said.

If the truth agitates, perfect! If not,

sing along—this number is for you.


Publication Information

Singapore: Softblow Press (2011)
ISBN: 978-981-08-7361-5


“[A] sustained meditation that recalls turn-of-the-century Geoffrey Hill in its intricately patterned probing.”
– The Oxford Companion to Modern Poetry in English

“Phrasally, ‘satori blues’ is a sort of tonal totality that balances enlightenment with catharsis, high with low, insight with outsight. Blue is a color, as well as a state of mind. Satori is an inner lens, as well as the light it focuses. And satori is a bright word, while blues are naturally noctilucent. Cyril Wong’s Satori Blues is a book-length poem that sites the sights it cites, in sound—that concentrates balance, straddles its own meditations, follows its own suggestions, and lodges everything quietly between loud vowels.”
Mascara Literary Review

“Writing, almost speaking, in riddles and opposites, Wong teases us out of our complacencies and directs/guides our thinking along the long, hard route to self-awareness…Hence ‘blues’. Hence the extraordinary attempt to seduce the reader into somnambulance-via-rhythmic, rhymic language, the language of meditative poetry.”

An Essay

“Immeasurables: Four Ways of Writing about Cyril Wong’s Satori Blues” by Jee Leong Koh on Quarterly Literary Review Singapore.

Reading Excerpts