New Writing: 'Retreats' by Rob Yates

The Tung is pleased to continue its relationship with poet Rob Yates by showcasing a new work.



I stepped on a wasp, three times,

I, nominally a free man, not knowing,

with bare feet.

‘Very auspicious’ said my teacher.

Turning muddy stings into bright signs.


Outside my cabin, loosened the porch moss

with a wire brush, let the autumn soak

carry off the algae. The clean revealed

how I had scratched the wood.


I like my cabin, but at night you piss

in the dark and the pine symphony

drops with the sun. I think of unfriendly

dim figures living like the evergreens.

We live on slopes, like these trees,

sheer as ladders.


My other teacher isn’t quite the Buddha.

She’s struggling with something and herself.

Reporting on my practice, I asked her:

‘How are you?’

But it should be the other way around.

Perhaps all things should be another way.


I am nothing like hill fire. It is early winter.

The fields with no sheep, pointless and fenced.


There is no hill fire, but once a cow gave

birth and died in the same half-hour breath.

I watched, then phoned the farmer.


I’m confusing the spring and the winter.


No. Cows should not give birth dead in the cold,

should live to see their babies trying to walk,

not wail on clipped pasture near the pond weeds.

Perhaps some things should be another way.


At breakfast, most stayed nervous and quiet.

I stared into the milk, my teacher laughed,

and then I climbed out most of a valley

and saw something living on the heights, and

grubby rocks.


Another time

Jasmine and I struggled with the Welsh snow.

She slept on the motorway, home, my hand on her hair.

Perhaps some things could be another way.


Am I a dull, utterly caring summit, or a fraud wind?


In June, fog still pressing the upper reaches,

the summer seeming tiresomely late,

buds unloading themselves, impatient and confused

into the stretched out frost, the mountain tracks

mottled with precocious, shivering flowers.


I had tea, down, on the stone steps.

An alcohol counsellor said:

‘If you climb the mud path, past the cabin, the scree

stacks, the ferns coughed up with dew, the loud

pines, the hand-built stupas piling high, past

the empty fields, the no sheep, through the

living to the top, you’ll see

the morning’s white coat sits on everything

and all is blank, except the valley’s spine,

high, the brave birds and the sun.'


But I climbed nothing, conquered none.

Perhaps some things can be another way.

-- -- -- 

Rob Yates is currently based in London following a two year stint abroad in Indonesia and New Zealand. He is working through a third draft of a second novel and has had poetry and fiction appear in Bodega, Agenda, Envoi and other magazines.