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
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
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…
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
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:-
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
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.
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