Zen Poem (For Dorothy Day) - By Dan Berrigan
How 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)