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My friend the ox


Andre Sollier - Taming the Ox

Taming The Ox
After a sumi-e painting by Andre Sollier
Great ox, your shoulders, rump, are dark
inked and centre stage. But your horns, clear
pointed, are mere memories of anger's mark,
and your hooves, that to sweet grasses veer,
tear and trample, are now soft brushed,
ephemeral. You no longer snort
and stamp, your eye looks shy and hushed.
You represent emotion, thought,
the ever moving magic of the mind.
But steady self no longer in your thrall,
unleashed, you follow her home and find
your ease. This small watching one all
you ever needed in the end.
May I, also, learn to be this friend.
The Ten Ox Herding pictures were first drawn by the Chinese Chán (Zen) master Kuòan Shiyuan in the 12th century, and represent a Zen Buddhist interpretation of the ten stages experienced on the Zen spiritual path. Taming The Ox is the fifth picture in the series.

The Ride 
I sit seisa¹ in sesshin².
My black cushion with its shifting bones
bucks and plods through slow swamps
sucked by mind mud.
We press on
into scrubby days, grapple
with angry protruding branches,
climb out of dry holes of despair,
caught in thought so dense
the sky is hidden.
I stop to massage my cushion’s bones.
We ride again, smoother now,
over the high steppes,
on and on.
Then one night
we fly
into the air
to a starry sky
millions of years
in the forming
but given
to this present
I am in.
¹Seisa is a kneeling position for meditators where weight is supported by a cushion or wooden stool.
²Sesshin is a Zen retreat.

Nola Firth

Dr Nola Firth is an Honorary Fellow at The University of Melbourne whose first poetry chapbook, Even if the Sun, was published in 2013 by The Melbourne Poets Union. She is currently working on a biography of the Rev Dr Barry Marshall.

Topic tags: Nola Firth, modern Australian poetry, sumi-e, Andre Sollier, Zen buddhism, Kuòān Shīyuǎn, ox herding



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Existing comments

What beautiful words.......
The tears welled and my heart swelled.........
I shall go this Thursday
and sit

Philip Thomas | 04 November 2014  

Yes, we're in! Sitting, we do not forget. Thanks, Nola

meg_irwin | 06 November 2014  

Exquisite !!

Tessa | 07 November 2014  

The Rider reminds me of the journey of the people in Doris Lessing's Making of the Representative for Planet 8 - do you know it? they just continue and continue and continue, past even the point of death (if it is death), they still continue, into another plane

christina | 21 November 2014  

If Taming the Ox is part of the meditation journey, then presumably that means it is yourself you are a friend to? This one makes me teary but i don't know why.

christina | 21 November 2014  

Thank you everyone for your lovely feedback. I am very happy that the poems spoke like that to each of you. Christina, I don't remember that particular Doris Lessing book, although i loved her work, but i am glad that is the feeling the poem evokes for you - it is about touching eternity somehow. The friendship in the ox poem is between the restless heart/mind and the deeper self. There are 10 pictures in the original series, each one a different stage and moving further down the path.

Nola Firth

Name | 23 November 2014  

My mind stilled in so few words; at the outset the drawing providing a reference point, like a goal post for an enquiring mind, the shining soul of the poet unmasked.

alan Roberts | 25 November 2014  

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