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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 7, Number 4, December 2013


Bill Wyatt
Sussex, England

Homeless in the Universe

Carrying this useless baggage
eternity merges in an endless flow
Clouds scatter at their leisure
seagulls call out in earnest
In a dream I return
to the temple where I first
heard wind bells chiming
in the summer breeze


I’m three days into the retreat. Returning from the hall, walking up the stairs, gurgling sound in my throat. I cough up a mouthful of blood! Don’t panic, keep calm. I feel OK & settle down. Same thing happens next morning after meditation.

Blown by karmic winds
here & there—I stand alone
gazing at infinity

One of the monks, concerned, whisks me off to Hexham A&E. Lots of tests, full m.o.t. The doctor & nurses very thorough. Finally an x-ray. In the next cubicle, an old fellow has been brought in from a nearby nursing home. We cannot see each other because of the curtain dividing us. I try chatting to him. Further down the corridor, an old lady is crying out, Help me, help me. I want to help them, but I’m wired up to machines.

Mind a silent flower
something wanting to cry out—
a road beyond the sky

The old lady sails past me on a trolley for an x-ray. She had been found, collapsed, in the High Street. She’s crying & moaning. I feel helpless. The nurses check up on me every half hour or so, blood tests, blood pressure, E.C.G.s etc. After a couple of hours, I hear the doctor discussing my case with the nurses: Looks from the X-ray like he’s got a spot on the upper left lung, looks like cancer.

- After Ikkyu -

In a dream breaking
all the precepts—
I won’t die & I won’t
go away—so don’t ask me—
poetry’s bullshit!

Eventually the doctor turns up. He mentions the spot on my lung & says that I should return home & get it checked. As they didn’t have facilities for doing the scan, he suggested that I contact my own doctor as soon as possible. I recollect a poem written earlier in the year, thinking it would make a fine “death” haiku—

Wandering down the years
arriving at now—sheep bones
bleached by the wind

The monk drives me back to the monastery. We are both starving, no food since breakfast. Everyone else had eaten earlier, so we heat up some left-overs in the micro-wave oven, which goes down a treat. Suddenly it’s time for late afternoon meditation. Never sit on a full stomach! My tummy rumbles, sounding like an earthquake. I apologise to the girl sitting next to me, saying sorry about the noise, it’s not as nice as the birds singing outside. She laughs.

Flying to the edge
of space—swifts sing out
their homecoming song

Trying to part the grass
& see the wind—I stop
& laugh at the passing clouds1

Next day goes OK & I attend the Festival for Achalanatha Bodhisattva. Most of the work periods I spend in the kitchen, preparing vegetables for the monks & lay people. After a talk by one of the monks, I feel that gurgling sensation again.

Coughing up blood
& out of touch with the world
I bow to Buddha

I make the decision to cut short the retreat. The monks agree & I book up a train & return home, not looking forward to the 8 hour journey. But all goes well, with no further incidents. Next day, check out with my local doctor, which is followed up over a period of 3 weeks with visits to Hastings & Brighton hospitals with further x-rays, tests & cat scans.

With nowhere to dwell
all dharmas are created—
growing old & weary
I watch the birdless flight
of departing swifts

After seeing the surgeon at Guy’s Hospital, it’s decided than an operation is needed. I’m admitted & on the next day the op is performed. Out for the count for 4 hours. Waking up to find a chest drain going through the tube, leading into a bottle, stuck in my side. It monitors air leaks & fluid from the lungs. I have to walk around with it. A friend has loaned me a “Walkman”, so I listen to CDs of Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, Charlie Mingus—

Goodbye Pork Pie Hat
on the thoracic ward—the swish
of draining bottles2

After his lung op
the old monk feels like he’s been
kicked by a mule

The pain is intense. During the night I self-administer morphine from a bottle attached to a needle in my arm. It brings relief, but I have barely slept for 3 nights. So I keep hitting the button.

Not getting any wiser
the old monk on a morphine high
chatting to the clouds

At one stage I slip into a series of dreams & drift through alternative universes. A night of déjà vu. The nurse gives me an oxygen nebulizer, as I might have difficulty breathing. The shoes under my bed turn into a dog, the night nurse becomes a black angel, comforting me. Meanwhile, during all this, moans & cries coming from other beds as the pain relief nurses make their rounds.

Listening to Charlie Parker—

Bird looked like Buddha
on his death bed—gazing out
at the setting sun3

After a couple of days, the surgeon visits me & says that after the vats wedge resection op there was no evidence of malignancy on the frozen section & that I was making a good post op recovery. So I can go home in a couple of days’ time.

Moon a distant flame
crossing the sea—don’t blame clouds
for laughing at me

Author’s Notes

1. Trying to part the grass & see the wind—a metaphor for eradicating desires

2. Goodbye Pork Pie Hat—a tune written in tribute by Charlie Mingus just after tenor sax player Lester Young’s death

3. Bird—Charlie Parker’s nickname

First published in Presence 44 (June 2011)



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