Monday, October 04, 2010

Wheatfield Sutra

Prompted by a post at prairiemary's, Indian Summer in Sandburg Country, which includes a Tim Barrus poem, I was thinking about how my own experience of being out alone in nature is much more of a religious experience than I ever got sitting in a church. I've experienced more than one transformative moment outdoors, in nature. Revelations seem to happen to me Out There with greater frequency, although they can happen anywhere, to be sure.

I remember reading in an anthropologist's journal from somewhere in Indian Country, a story about how a missionary couldn't get any traction with the tribe for some time. Finally, he sat down with the elders and asked them why they wouldn't come to church. One old chief looked him in the eye and said, "You keep your god inside a small white box building. Our god is outside, all around us, all the time." It prompts one to wonder, irreverently and perhaps irrelevantly: which is the greater god?

I was prompted, therefore, to go back and look at the poem below, which is from the body of work, or collection of poems, I call the Sutras. I've written before about the origin and purpose of the Sutras, so I won't repeat all that here. Suffice to say, the Sutras are, for me, as much a testament of my experience-based spiritual faith as they are poems. Perhaps less poems than epistles; they're not "fine art" poems, and not intended to be.

"Wheatfield Sutra" was written and revised in 1998, and was based on a purely autobiographical memory. At the time of my life in which this experience happened, I was perhaps 10 or 11 years old. We lived on the very northeast corner at the time of Ann Arbor, MI. My parents had built a house out there on the edge of town, which I loved, because all summer long I could run in the open fields behind our house, or get on my bike and ride for hours up the dirt roads north into the countryside. The church my family belonged to, Trinity Lutheran Church, was on the west side of downtown Ann Arbor, and was a good half hour's drive away, on a Sunday morning. It was a good congregation, with progressive-minded pastors, and not a bad church at all. That's the autobiographical background to this poem, for whatever it's worth. The poem is one among the Sutras that I feel particularly got to the point of it all.

Wheatfield Sutra (Vajrayana)

Driving to church that Sunday morning,
the boy slouched in the rear car seat
behind his parents, beside his sister,

watching the world flash by on the way into town.
Sunlight strobed through wayside trees;
beyond the road’s fenced verge,

endless fields of late summer wheat
bent under the sun: golden tan,
brightening the sky’s cornflower blue to white.

The boy felt trapped in the coffin
of his clothes, his Sunday best:
the jacket too warm, the collar too tight,

the hated necktie choking him: and stared
at the dancing wheat and the sky and the light.
And—it was a revelation, if not a new belief—

the boy thought to himself: “I could praise God
much better from the middle of this wheatfield
than I ever could in church; and more truly.”

That was the moment of becoming:
the instant of opening. The boy threw open
his mind: and the vision has never ended.

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Anonymous Lisa said...

Fantastic poem very articulate, thanks for sharing.

6:23 PM  
Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

Enjoyed this one. Clean and accessible. I like the use of the word 'vision' especially. We tend to distinguish between visions as events and vision as sight, the former being a rare occurrence whereas the latter is simply how we see things like the man whose eyes are open having his eyes opened.

7:18 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...


This one, among other Sutras, took a lot of heat when I first wrote it. The critique group I was involved with at the time was geared towards what I guess we could call "fine art" poetry—not academic poetry, but "poetry as an art form." This took a lot of heat for not being poetic enough.

I'm starting to wonder if those critiques at that time weren't full of shit. They claimed to be bias-free, but I doubt that now.

As for the Sutras, I'm still not sure they're any good AS POEMS, but I'm also sure that focusing on them purely as poems misses the point, because that wasn't the only purpose. It's a dilemma I can't resolve about the Sutras: are they poems, or just poetic ways of stating my beliefs. Probably doesn't matter.

11:42 AM  

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