Up into the Northern Hills,
up the slender, winding road
to the last bus stop; get out, walk
the narrowing valley to the end,
climb steep stone stairs.
Pause there for a cup of tea.
The kitchen taps have run for decades.
The white-tiled walls are pocked with frost.
Outside, through tall windows,
a stone bank grows green moss and ferns.
Heaped newspapers, old magazines
weigh down the black-tiled kama stove.
Battered stools surround a table
old and worn forty years ago.
Those taps pipe the mountain stream.
Slip your shoes back on,
rattle open the sliding door,
step out, look up:
the ravine all but closes overhead.
Flying squirrels glide at dusk,
tree to tree, across that strip of sky.
Approach the sanmon gate,
silvered by countless rains and suns;
pass between the fierce Niō,
on sculpted guard for centuries.
Enter the sacred mountain realm.
A shallow flight of broad steps
between stream and great bronze bell
leads up to a copper-roofed main hall
sky-lit through encircling leaves.
The hall enshrines Fudo Myōō,
the Unmoving Mantra King.
Picture him on a rock, blue-black,
haloed by flame. His right hand
lifts the sword that cuts attachment.
The noose in his lefts bind demons.
The ritual hearth before his altar
accommodates the holy goma fire.
Yet here his statue remains hidden
behind the altar, locked in a tall chest,
lest iconography seduce the eye
from a more open truth:
Fudo is adamantine peak and crag,
girdled by shifting veils of mist,
by brawling waters.
Slopes rise to pierce curling cloud.
Showers sift down through deep green.
Nearby, from a branch ravine,
a brook shoots, between two huge cedars,
from a jutting channel of squared stone
to pound the spot where, now and then,
a devout pilgrim stands, palms together,
chanting the Heart Sutra.
Around an upright blade there, set in rock,
a black dragon coils: Kurikara,
spirit of mountain waters.
A thousand years ago
a monk saw the Nachi waterfall flow up.
Yes, Kurikara flies.
he shot up through the fall himself,
never to be seen again.
Who is to say those days are gone?
But just now the mind whispers “down.”
Bow to Kurikara,
salute Fudō in the main hall,
follow those steps, that road, downstream,
board the enormous bus
that threads its needle-gullet way—
a safety mirror at every bend—
toward the world below,
playing, to warn up-bound traffic,