Spider Field


[Image: Indra's Net, black and white photograph by Ian Boyden. My thanks to Michael Simms, editor of Vox Populi, who first published this poem on November 11, 2017.]

Spider Field

for the Dalai Lama on his 82nd birthday

1. First leg

I awoke to an island held by cloud

a meadow held by mist that had returned

to admire something it had never forgotten

pillowing in the wild roses

weaving its fingers above the mirroring pond

rolling its body over the amaranth and bird’s foot clover

Something called to me then

I waded into the shoulder-high grass

that it might hold me within its body

I wanted to be touched by this mind of light

and water everything holding

everything else in silver light

even my own breath rolling away

even as the silver cloud waited at the edge of my mouth

for me to inhale

I thought of weightlessness the weightless cloud

but then looked at how the cloud-holding grass

around me arched each blade bending

under the weight of just a few drops    

the entire field was like this

each droplet held the light

of the entire weightless world like a lens

And I saw where I was wrong

I saw then the true weight of a cloud

You ask how much the Buddha weighs

Yesterday I would have said

as weightless as a cloud as if

the Buddha were exempt from gravity    No

the Buddha weighs as much as a cloud

as much as a drop of dew

enough to bend a stalk of grass

enough to evaporate an entire lake

Our language doesn’t know how to measure

a body of bodies of infinite incarnation

Our language has never embraced the clouds

it simply gave them to the spiders

2. Second leg

Most people never know the fields

are full of spiders

that every meadow is woven

with invisible webs

You can walk for a whole day and never see one

never know you’ve snapped ten thousand

We are so busy keeping our heads

above the grass we fail to see we are walking

through a magnificent house

But a meadow embraced by mist

outlines every web in silver

each drop of water holding the light

of the entire weightless world like a lens      So I ask

do they spin their webs only to catch insects

No one can hold a cloud and we will never see

a spider spinning silk around a drop of dew

their jeweled house a kaleidoscope

spinning the cloud upside down

the jeweled ground the pure field

would be nothing without spiders

these delicate architects who measure

the distance between blades of grass

with lines made of their own body

and observe it with a stillness

our own language could never measure

The fresh paths of deer are dark through

a cloud-brushed meadow

like a second brushstroke of broken webs

How much does the Buddha weigh

As much as a spider web

as much as a scaffold of silk

as much as a broken strand

as much as a darkened trail

through a transparent realm

3. Third leg

Today is the Dalai Lama’s 82nd birthday

I think of Tsering Woeser as she walked

through the desolate halls of Yabzhi Taktser

his family home in Lhasa a home fallen to ruin

a home he hasn’t returned to for fifty-eight years

A world of dust

She said the only trace of life therein

was a dead spider suspended in a web

it had woven with the silk of its own body

as if protecting the ruins as if the past itself

were a kind of ruin      It’s true

even with its broken threads

the web is an expression of the dharma

the wheel of becoming an unbroken transmission

stretching beyond memory

A child once became angry with me

when I asked him if he ever dreamed of dreaming

Such a thing would be impossible he said it makes

no sense to dream once is enough

even then I usually don’t remember

How would you describe your dreams I asked

Like a spider web

Ocean of Wisdom

A cloud drifts through the broken windows

of your ancient house and fills the web with dew

each drop of water holding the light

of the entire weightless world like a lens

In each droplet the Potala is suspended upside down

the Jokhang suspended upside down

each droplet the weight of the Buddha

from the broken strands hang the Chokpori

the jeweled ground of the Norbolinka

the Deprung Monastery the spinning wheels

all of them upside down

the Lhasa river flows through the sky which is the ground

a yak-skin boat still waits for you there to bring

you back

caught in a cloud caught

in a spider’s web

And the same cloud drifts through in Dharamsala

It lingers at the edge of the Dalai Lama’s mouth

and waits for him to inhale

4. Fourth leg

Skylab 1973

a few days after the Dalai Lama’s 38th birthday

two orb-weavers were released to build webs

in zero gravity

They started stopped started again stopped

the wheel of becoming becoming but slowly

They were thirsty

The astronauts had not thought to bring a cloud

for the spiders’ thirst

a weightless cloud was too heavy for their mission

the meadows of Skylab were a desert

In zero gravity Skylab became the Sistine Chapel

an astronaut placed a drop of water

on his index finger and extended it to the spider

and the weightless spiders drank

each drop of water holding the light

of the entire weightless world like a lens

the astronauts upside down in each spider’s eight eyes

Which eyes were the eyes of god

If not all of them then none of them

Their blue planet far below or above

for there was neither below nor above

drinking never exempt from gravity

like the Buddha who weighs as much as a cloud

even a forgotten cloud

who weighs as much as an orb-weaver

who weighs as much as thirst

And again they spun their webs

this time of the thinnest thread

and tumbled to earth in a shower of fire

5. Fifth leg

Her fifth leg was missing

but still each night she spun her Self anew

each line break a violence

the blank space a kindness

6. Sixth leg

It is problematic to separate beauty from ecology

Look at the spider’s web this one stretched like a tent

this one like a funnel cloud in the roses

this one like the wheel of the law

The spiders spin these webs of their own body

they reel them in they eat the web and spin them again

The web is not separate from the spider

until we make it so and even then

that separateness is our own undoing

To only look at the web is to commit

to static beauty cold and dead

The web is akin to an eye an ear a nose

it is one of the ways the spider perceives its world

how it measures the distance between roses

how it knows the mind of the weightless cloud

the plump vigor of a fly

Cut off your ear

Cut off your nose

Gouge out your eyes

and leave them in the grass

What would you say about the person

who came to admire them

The fog fills the meadow to measure emptiness again

to admire something it has never forgotten

it fills the webbed bodies of the spiders with light

each drop of water holding the light

of the entire weightless world like a lens

7. Seventh leg

The front legs of the deer

are wet with dew and white with silk

her path through the meadow

a grass-dark line

overwriting the cloud’s song

and on one leg a spider

recovers the strands

of her homeland

but she can only gather so much

She climbs the meadow-brown body

and weaves herself among the velvet antlers

measures the distance between

the spurs of bone

becomes a funnel cloud of silver light

she orbits the meadow like an astronaut

she feasts upon a fly that comes to drink

at the pool of the deer’s eye

tears become flies become spiders

each drop of water holding the light

of the entire weightless world like a lens

The deer scratches its antlers

in the branches

of a wild rose

8. Eighth leg

What self have you spun with these eight legs

The corridors of voice our ancient home

Our language spider webs of black carbon

Our voice of dew

blossoms of gravity

If they have form they are held therein

If they are without form they are also held therein

I cast these threads knowing they will be broken

my body will be broken ten thousand times

yet something whole grows within the ruins

It is July 6th

around the Sera Monastery

the Monastery of Wild Roses

wild roses are in bloom

as if its name had come alive

And among the thorns and flowers

spiders spin their bodies’ measure of distance

the cloud-holding grass arches earthward

with just a few drops on each blade

the entire mountainside is like this

the clouds return to admire

something they have never forgotten

ten thousand poems written between each hermitage

all of them one poem

written as a world to be first broken and

then rewritten in the silver light

Ian Boyden

July 6, 2017

San Juan Island

Constellations of Humanity

Each luminous dot on this map represents one reader of this poem. As the number of readers increases, the stars begin to cluster and form an increasingly detailed constellation. My intent is to show how brightly a poem glows across our world. I welcome your light.

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