The Grey Stone. A retreat haibun by Ken Jones

                                                      The Grey Stone

                                               A retreat haibun by Ken Jones                                     

                  Father Time on the weathervane
                                                   scything over green fields

Y Maen Llwyd — The Grey Standing Stone. Gives its name to a small farmhouse folded into the Radnorshire hills. Around a muddy yard are sheep pens and a barn, now a meditation hall surmounted by a weathervane. All silent and empty for my seven day solitary in the lean-to. KLONDYKE is embossed in cast iron on the stove.

                                                     Lightness of spruce
                                                      little dried blocks
                                                            iron belly

There is room enough for shrine, cushion, camp bed, desk, and easy chair.
The other occupant is a winter fly, who sleeps upside down above the stove.
Each morning, two hours before dawn, she and I and the pot belly all come to life together

                                                     The wind whistles
                                                the stove grumbles back
                                                       between them
                                                               I sit

Out for a pee under a starlit sky. One face of the cheesy moon is already
lit up by the sun rising, I suppose, somewhere over England. Owls return to
their roosts in the dingle. Back on my cushion, vast space.

  Later, I sit at the little desk…

                                                        Morning star
                                              hiss of the pressure lamp
                                              the sutras black on white
Turning off the lamp, staring out of the window.

                                                    Restless buzzing —
                                                  dawn filters slowly
                                               through ragged clouds

The bliss of morning coffee is not mentioned in the sutras. Nor marmalade on toast. I brush my teeth, and get into Dogen’s Life and Death.

Along the track another of my kind greets me. “Nice day, it is!” The
care-worn face of a farmer, heaving a dead ewe into the trailer. Later, in
fading light, I wander up onto the hill. Shoulders hunched, searching as
usual for something too shy to show itself. Hands tighten on the rust of an
iron gate.

                                            Warmed by the setting sun
                                                  my skinny shadow
                                             stretching across a field

Down in the valley the searchlight of an occasional car, swinging round a
bend. And then … against the evening sky, there it is.

                                             Again that thorn tree
                                               rooted to the spot
                                             standing and staring

Again the old fool is reminded. Doffs his cap, and bows to the tree.  For
only when the self retires do the ten thousand things advance and enlighten.

The Maen Llwyd is an electricity free zone, apart from my torch. It
picks out this and that as a  flood of light can never do. Once, a fly..

                                              Down on paper –
                                    drawn to the torchlight heart
                                     transparent speckled wings

And later a hatchet:-

                                                  Old axe
                                                 the sway
                                                 in its shaft

Here are two centuries of heat and light. There is the generous soft light
of the Victorian lamp, the ultimate in paraffin technology and elegance. And
the battered “VALOR” heater, recalling the draughty bed sits of my youth.
The oldest exhibit stands with a box of Co-op matches beside my bed.

                                      Made for thick fingers
                                       pewter candleholder
                                          its brass snuffer

Down in the valley lies Pant-y-Dwr — the Watery Hollow of some ninety
souls, with the lowest temperatures in Wales, and its most central pub, the
Mid Wales Inn. A ghostly moon, veiled in mist, floats above the nine sodium

I throw more logs into the stove, pump up the flaring Tilley lamp, and
heat a can of baked beans.

                                          Closing curtains
                                          opening curtains
                                              this long life
                                        of nights and days

Later, I light a single candle before the pale green figure of Kwan Yin,
goddess of compassion, austere and erect. A slender stick of pine incense
perfumes the air. Three times the sounding bowl ripples the silence, and the
first watch of the night begins.  An hour passes, and I stretch my legs
across the passage in the cold shadows of the meditation hall. On the other
side of the yard the weather-beaten planks of the old barn are silver

                                         Slow pacing meditation
                                          a floor board creaks

Returning, I wrap my black robe about me and ease my body into the last sit
of the day. The short chant has a depth and richness that takes me unaware. Kuan Yin stares back, with that elusive smile of hers.

                                        In the murmuring stove
                                             soft cry of owls
                                                  burnt out