Lawrence Barrow is a potter and ordained Zen monk who also writes poems and keeps a blog.  As a WiK member, he has allowed us to reproduce some of his poems from his Hikidashi website.  He has also offered a brand-new poem, called The Zero (in reference to the Japanese fighter plane of WW2).

Lawrence listens to the WiK presentation at the Gael given by Brian Victoria

Lawrence listens to the WiK presentation at the Gael given by Soto priest Brian Victoria

Click to see Lawrence’s pottery website.  At present Lawrence is on retreat at the Zen temple of Bukkoku-ji in Obama, Fukui Prefecture.  To learn about life there, see his blog here.



December morning –
only the sound of rain
on temple tiles
and scarlet maples
swirling in the gutter



as the pale light of dawn
bleeds through the shōji
we eat a thin gruel
of rice with a pickled plum
from black lacquered bowls

the rain beat down
during the night
the moss garden
is nearly covered
with scarlet maples

a cold wind blows
we hear the lonesome cries
of wintering gulls
as a temple bell resounds
and a train rattles by

a monk in an indigo robe
strikes a meditator’s shoulders
with a stick of cherry wood
fiercely repeatedly
until it snaps!



round midnight
we take our zafus
from the meditation hall
and go out onto the verandah
for night sitting

five of us in a line
an immaculately raked
gravel garden
backed by tall cedars

we sit in zazen
and breathe in
and out
the cold
night air

I see the silhouette
of the temple gate
against the starlit sky
the shadow of the eaves
on the white sand

the priest today
talked about non-duality
no separation
but I hear you out there
by the willow weeping



here in the twilight zendo
things are not what they seem
once false move can send you
plummeting through the thin ice

here in this frozen landscape
three monks in rags
feet bound with straw
are crossing over

we must be vigilant at all times
there are fissures that are perilous
I drop a stone into a bottomless well
a ruined house leaks moonlight

all signs read no way out
there are shackles of every form and no form
on the frozen dune
we climb to see no one

I stare at a black tile
and see the ten thousand arms of Kannon
we walk the thin ice
with great trepidation

we are nearly over
to the other shore
when I hear a crack
in the ice

here in this twilight zendo
no sound
no river
no ice


Lawrence writes about the next poem; ‘This is based on my master Tangen Roshi’s experience during the war before he started zen training.’


there were ten Zero planes
on the airstrip at dawn
as the first rays
of an August sun
streaked across the tarmac

we were all young
most of us only nineteen
the back of each pilot’s seat
had been strapped with
one hundred kilos of dynamite

we bade farewell
to our loved ones
to die for our country
it was my last day
to live

one final cup of saké
the taste of it
mingled with tears
I walked towards the ladder
leading to the cockpit

at that moment there was a voice
from the loudspeaker
the voice of the Emperor
announcing Japan’s
unconditional surrender