Zen Poem (For Dorothy Day) – By Dan Berrigan

Dorothy DayHow I long for supernatural powers!
said the novice mournfully to the holy one.
I see a dead child
and I long to say, Arise!
I see a sick man
I long to say, Be healed!
I see a bent old woman
I long to say, Walk straight!
Alas, I feel like a dead stick in paradise.
Master, can you confer on me
supernatural powers?

The old man shook his head fretfully
How long have I been with you
and you know nothing?
How long have you known me
and learned nothing?
Listen; I have walked the earth for 80 years
I have never raised a dead child
I have never healed a sick man
I have never straightened an old woman’s spine

Children die
men grow sick
the aged fall
under a stigma of frost

And what is that to you or me
but the turn of the wheel
but the way of the world
but the gateway to paradise?

Supernatural powers!
Then you would play God
would spin the thread of life and measure the thread
5 years, 50 years, 80 years
and cut the thread?

Supernatural powers!
I have wandered the earth for 80 years
I confess to you,
sprout without root
root without flower
I know nothing of supernatural powers
I have yet to perfect my natural powers!

to see and not be seduced
to hear and not be deafened
to taste and not be eaten
to touch and not be bought

But you-
would you walk on water
would you master the air
would you swallow fire?

Go talk with the dolphins
they will teach you glibly
how to grow gills

Go listen to eagles
they will hatch you, nest you
eaglet and airman

Go join the circus
those tricksters will train you
in deception for dimes-

Bird man, bag man, poor fish
spouting fire, moon crawling
at sea forever-
supernatural powers!

Do you seek miracles?
listen- go
draw water, hew wood
break stones-
how miraculous!

Listen; blessed is the one
who walks the earth 5 year, 50 years, 80 years
and deceives no one
and curses no one
and kills no one

On such a one
the angels whisper in wonder,
behold the irresistible power
of natural powers-
of height, of joy, of soul, of non belittling!

You dry stick-
in the crude soil of this world
spring, root, leaf, flower!

trace
around and around
and around-
an inch, a mile, the world’s green extent,-
a liberated zone
of paradise!

(Originally published in Cross Currents, Spring 1977)
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