Alan: With the Sochi Olympics underway this week, it’s time to remember the Nagano Winter Olympics of 1998, in which the Zen poet Ryokan, who transcends time and space, played a crucial if unacknowledged part.
The good people of Nagano
have raised the gates.
To rhythmic chants, a thousand villagers
rope skyward eight two-ton pillars,
hewings of the local forest.
Through these paired uprights, from the four directions,
Sumo wrestlers, men-mountains, five-hundred-pounders,
process at a stately waddle, bare
but for loincloths, massive bodies
symbols of cleanliness and strength.
Banish all demons! Purify the earth!
Grand Champion Akebono
in the middle of the bullseyed drum,
raises his leg, thick as a treetrunk, then
thumps it down, thunderous, to a massed shout!
But what is this?
An uneasy murmur in the crowd. A strange
disturbance of atmosphere, faltering of ritual
in the face of so much hoopla, so many contrary nations.
A milling about of officials.
A making of smalltalk by sportscasters.
A beaming worldwide of perplexity, dead air.
Ryokan is helped from his seat.
Frail now, at two hundred forty years,
he makes his way, supported by each arm, to the center of the ring,
stands, a tiny robed figure, unmoving –
all grows silent, the wrestlers
pensive on their vast haunches – the minutes flow on –
at last, he lifts his stick
one inch, three, six,
taps it down soundlessly – nods.
The demons are gone. It is done.
Let the games begin!
Nancy: The house has never seen paint. The truck sagging into the mud may never run again. But the geraniums are bright, and there are morning glories on a post by the door.
We ask green things to stand for us
Those plants, lined up along the sill,
defy the snow,
and steal the meager winter light,
And gardens live in tins
to bloom against unpainted walls,
to shut out heat,
to fight defeat.
And will they stand for us when we are gone –
a flower in the woods,
a shadow on the wall –