Oxherding Pictures

Eunice Flanders

Number 1: Bird Seeking Nest

She, who is no longer living
Under her mother’s wing,
Who is flying in the wooded land,

Between tree limbs,
Through seasons warm, wet,
Cold and dry, dips, dives,
Rises, and rests. She is a bird
Seeking a nest.

Days turn to night, months add
To years. She sees her downy
Wings shine in the sun.

Number 2: Seeing the Sprig

One morning, in a soft breeze,
The bird chirps as it sits on a branch.
Calling out, like her Mother,
She recalls again and again.

Her sharp eye is caught suddenly
By a certain twig, by green–
A glimmer, caused by the light’s angle.

Number 3: First Glimpse

And then the bird dips,
Drawn to leaves on twigs.
She dives down what feels
Like a familiar winged path.

Rising to the blue,
Her keen eyes glimpse some branches
A formation—found.

Her perfect wings gleam.
Reflecting the rising sun.
She knew this was it.

Number 4: Trying Twigs

Now knowing, the bird
Flies down then up,
Gathering tender branches.

But then, wild winds
Rise and blow each bird’s
Twig into a breezy grasp,
Carrying them up around
Then down to the ground.

Number 5: Riding the Wind

The bird realizing wind’s game
Road its winding streams,
And again gathered each tiny twig.

This time, she places each tenderly
On the tree’s protected side
In a niche. Each small branch adds up,
And the bird’s nest grew.

Number 6: New Song

Now nested and comfortable,
The bird sang her special song.
Once again, she called: Her Mother’s
Song. Yet, hers has a new note and color.
The trees and breeze listen,
Felt her notes float.
In, out, around, up and down.
They rose, then, finally fell,
Into a sweet silence of altered air.

Number 7: All Seeing, Seeing All

And the song, having been
Sung, reverberated,
Endlessly in the quiet.
It echoed on and on
In the woods,
In the wind,
And in the bird’s breast.

Strong, the bird stood in its nest,
Its bright knowing gaze
Saw all; and she knew it was good.

Number 8: One Moment

In the next moment,
The pure risen light
Of the sun reflected
In the settling moon.

It blazed bright,
A golden girdle of light,
Reflected its hues:
In each of the bird’s feathers,
In each twig of the nest,
In each branch of the tree,
And, in each air element.

Then, encircling all
Into itself, it exploded,
Became One
Brilliant white spark.

Number 9: Becoming A Bird

The bird’s colors shined so
That like a rainbow
In the sky, each blended
Into the next, so her
Beauty was fully seen.

She sat in her nest
Cleaning her feathers
Like her Mother,
And like her mother’s mother,
And her mother’s mother’s mother.
And all before them.

Her actions like each bird before
Her were meant to be as they were.

Number 10: Wise Flying

And later, when the time came,
The bird spread her wings.
She flew into the air
From her tree and nest.
She dipped between each branch.
And she rose in the soft air
Soaring like the bird she was.

Each poem is based off of one of the 10 Oxherding Pictures which were used to teach preliterate people about Buddha’s life and the practice of Zen Buddhism.
Featured Artwork:
Tenshō Shūbun [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons