Wednesday, January 2, 2019

No One's at the Cash Register: Poem in American Journal of Poetry

A 10-part, 
poem of mine,

No One's at the Cash Register

is currently in the new issue 

The poem can be found

It is from a new manuscript
Absence: Presence

The poems in the manuscript
were influenced by
Classical Chinese Poetry
(mostly of the T'ang Period):

Cold Mountain

Tu Fu, Li Po, Wang Wei, Chia Tao, Cold Mountain (Han Shan),
Po Chu-I, Tu Mu, Meng Hao-Jan…

Han Shan (right) and friend Shih-Te
This particular poem was written
in imitation of the poetry of 

Han Shan was a hermit reported to have lived in the mountains near the Kuo-ch'ing Temple in Southeast China. He sometimes worked in the temple kitchen and wrote his poems on rocks, trees and the walls of farmer's homes. Ever irreverent (in the true Ch'an or Zen spirit), he constantly poked fun at institutional spirituality and traditional cultural conventions. He took his poet-name from the place where he lived (Han Shan translates as Cold Mountain).

His poems were eventually collected after his disappearance (he is reportedly to have gone into a cave at Cold Cliff, after being hassled too many times by Temple officials, and pulled it shut behind him, disappearing forever).         

Han Shan's collection is known as The Cold Mountain Poems or Poems from Cold Mountain. There are many translations into English that I like (most notably the famous ones by Gary Snyder - found in his book Riprap & Cold Mountain Poems), but my favorite are the playful, exuberant ones by J.P. Seaton, published by Shambhala Publications. They have a goofy, trickster quality that I love.

Here's one:


People ask about the Cold Mountain way:
plain roads don't get through to Cold Mountain.
Middle of summer, and the ice still hasn't melted.
Sunrise, and the mist would blind a hidden dragon.
So, how could a man like me get here?
My heart is not the same as yours, dear sir
If your heart were like mine,
You'd be here already.


Cold Mountain is a state of mind, or,
more deeply,
a way of being in the world.

For my own poem, I imagined someone like Han Shan
standing at a cash register in a grocery store 
(an alternative food store, probably)
day after day, year after year.

I have a series of poems in the new manuscript that are written
in the persona of "No One."

Someone a bit like Han Shan...

Han Shan and Shih-Te

Here's a Seaton translation 
of another Cold Mountain poem:


If you're looking for a peaceful place,
Cold Mountain's always a refuge.
A little breeze, breath of the shaded pines,
And if you listen close, the music's even better.
Under the pines a graying man,
soft, soothingly, reading aloud from Lao Tzu.


my poem takes place in the service industry,
a world of humiliation and pitiful wages
(40% of workers in the US are in the service industry)

and so my poem begins like this:

No One's at the Cash Register

If you're looking for a
peaceful place, this is not it.
I work this register night
after night. "Clean up on
aisle six." Olive oil and glass
and some blood. Red drops.
Chrysanthemum petals. A
woman holds her finger
in a wad of paper towels.
"Did you find everything okay?"
Words here mean nothing. No
use for words on Cold Mountain.
So, why come down? The moon
asked me to pick up some
bananas for her. And cash. I
needed the cash.


Middle of the summer
and the frozen vegetables
are still frozen; ice cream,
too. Tourists want a cold
drink, someone to humiliate…

You can read the rest at

Other Notable Translations:

Red Pine's Collected Songs of Cold Mountain

and Burton Watson's Cold Mountain