Tuesday, August 9, 2011

一 Searching for the Ox

The marsh grass sways side to side in the autumn wind
I grasp at the long blades as they brush between my fingers
I'm not sure where the next step will take me
Urged on by a whim and a lost memory

The river winds into the forest, I follow the trail of mist
The mountains, like clouds floating above the horizon
Don't seem any closer, no matter how far I go

10,000 miles I've traveled
Sometimes on moss but mostly jagged stone
My feet are blistered, my muscles ache
My body covered in grime

Left behind are the lullabies of the spring peepers
In this strange land the screech of cicadas pervades these woods.

I didn't intend to be so influenced by the traditional poem, but looking at it, it reminded me so much of my experience from early childhood until now. The strongest image I carry of my home is the river winding around the cow field, the farmhouse and into the woods. As I child, I used to draw picture after picture of mountains I'd never actually seen. In East-Asia, "10,000" is a traditional metaphor for countless but my home is actually 10.900 km from Seoul (I liked the sound of the word 'miles' better). I'd never seen or heard a cicada before coming to Korea, but their presence definitely doesn't go unnoticed!

So what have I found after traveling all this way? When you get far enough away, you're on your way back home...

Really, there's nothing to go off searching for, the ox hasn't ever left my side. But because I made 'here' then 'there' happened and everything got divided in the confusion.
The version of the poem I chose to guide me  I found at Ox Herding, a translation of Kuòān Shīyuǎn from The Oxherder, by Stephanie Wada;

Searching for the Ox

One aimlessly pushes the grasses aside in search.
The rivers are wide, the mountains far away,
And the path become longer.
Exhausted and dispirited.
One hears only the late autumn cicadas
Shrilling in the maple woods.


  1. Hi Joseph,

    I've more or less given up on reading blogs. Only a few remain. Yours, Nat's, Ox Herding, and a couple of others. But, wow, this post shows just what a blog can be at its very best. Stunning.

    Will you complete the entire round of poems (I mean that in the sense of writing and pictures rather than asking about your level of attainment! LOL!) - if so, and if this first is anything to go by, I'd seriously look into getting them properly published.

    Stunning stuff mate. Thank you.

    Marcus _/\_

  2. Wow! That's a great juxtapostion of images! What a great idea.

  3. I keep reading your blog and feel one day I wanna see you!

  4. Wow, this is great, Joseph . . . a wonderful mix of imagery, poetry and narrative that gets to the heart of it. Thank you!

  5. Marcus,
    if you were inside my head you would hear the sound of me fighting off pride! haha

    One thing I don't have to cut off is my gratitude for your encouragement! Thank you!

    The plan is to complete all ten, but I'm a bit intimidated by the last five, since they are a step beyond my experience...
    I'm hoping something will come through, though! We'll see.

  6. You never know, Bangkok is one of my favorite places in the world! ^_^

  7. Thank you!

    If you think they's look good on WUAL, just let me know! ^_^

  8. Thanks, Barry,
    Your seal of approval means a lot! ^_^

    You just might have noticed a few extra hits on your Ox Herding links over the past couple of weeks, they've been a lot of help!

  9. Thanks, Barry,
    Your seal of approval means a lot! ^_^

    You just might have noticed a few extra hits on your Ox Herding links over the past couple of weeks, they’ve been a lot of help!

  10. Great. I'm looking forward to seeing you and reading all this series!