Four Poems by Norman Fischer

Calling out to the nothing

Calling out to the nothing
That contains everything as shape
Sitting in an empty chair no one’s
Feet dangling above the marble heavenly floor —
All hell breaks loose into this world, as we know,
Of chatter and clattering, wheeling hallways,
Worlds that can be sucked away
In an instant of stars, just wiped clean
In a trice like an ax through the mind —
Why not smatter it, dot it with emotion —
This cloud that peppers the sky with woes and cares

Drops dripping on concrete — words

Drops dripping on concrete — words
Won’t signify what the senses command
In disguise, leather on a foreign cheek

Chance gets us to talking
According to desire’s whim
In a mothered mantled world
That seems too terrified to answer
Except in vertigo cacophony

That leads to domesticated singing
Against inevitable cloudiness
Regularly appearing creepy

Ear and air is sometimes cool

Ear and air is sometimes cool
How traffic will suddenly stop —
Disappear as the sun goes down or rises

Those flat roofs: how does


Work out?

To be alive, to be dying —
Don’t raise your head above her head
Who is teetering just there at the edge
God’s presence pitches forward into the world
And the swell and slosh might capsize your boat
If you stand too tall
So dip
Into the warm air of her labored breathing
As if it were your house and it is summer

The persimmon tree is handsome in winter
Now that you stretch out your arm
To take the hand of another — the world’s refreshed
When you gloat about that, an aura like a mantle
Upon your shoulders that you can’t mess up
However hard you unwittingly try

Now it’s warm — you roll over in bed
Now the sheet is like the open sky
Your eye a window full of snow

Diving birds, exuberant and understated

Diving birds, exuberant and understated
In dark distance on the churning sea
Violate the soul
And make pact with meaning
To set it straight, exercise control —
How a line of words detract from one another
Till you see, finally, that everyone’s your mother
Darling captain of your primitive soul
In which you likewise rock and roll
Like birds upon the aforementioned sea


A graduate of the University of Iowa Writers Workshop, Norman Fischer is a poet and essayist. He has been practicing as a Zen Buddhist priest for thirty five years, and is one of the senior Zen teachers in America. The latest of his more than twenty-five poetry and prose titles are Experience: Thinking, Writing, Language and Religion (prose, Poetics Series, University of Alabama Press), Conflict (poetry, Chax Press), The Strugglers (poetry, Singing Horse Press), and Magnolias All At Once (poetry, Singing Horse). In 2000 he retired as co-abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center, one of the largest Buddhist organizations in the West, and founded The Everyday Zen Foundation (, an international network of Buddhist groups and social projects.His latest Buddhist title is Training in Compassion (Shambhala). Norman Fischer lives on a cliff near Muir Beach California with his wife Kathie, also a Zen priest. Their two sons live in Brooklyn.

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