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SHJ Issue 18
Spring 2018

Walking the Eight Verses Trail at the Land of the Medicine Buddha

by David Allen Sullivan


Determined to obtain the greatest good for all sentient beings
I shall hold them dear at all times.

—Geshe Langri Tangpa
Whipping carp gulp air
near this forested pond’s surface,
hoping I’ve dropped crumbs.

I bring attention.
We spend it easily on
those whom we love,

harder to extend
it to those we don’t—can’t—won’t.
Carp still, sink deeper,

only their mouths flex.
I stand and three deer leap off
on spring-loaded legs.

One stays, stares me still
until the others have gone
where I can’t follow.

Deer I can’t picture
lead me here. Knees in crab grass,
heart buoyed by winds,

stunned into hearing
the thousand-tongued choir—
spending everything?


When I’m with others I shall consider myself the lowest of all.
Snails slammed to the end
of the plastic Wiffle bat
my friend swung. He dumped

out the mashed leavings
through the crack in the handle. 
Pile beneath grew high. 

I picked up a twin
and handed it to him. Fresh shell
whose case would be split

in turn—his mother
had approved of the genocide
but hadn’t sanctioned
his exuberance,
the way his face heated up
as he swung home runs. 

Those sickening smacks
still rifle my dreams, turn me
over—a pillow

does nothing to blot
out the sound. Hardest to hear
me cheering him on.


When delusions crop up I shall confront and avert them without delay.
Beneath engraved words
nothing stays hacked back for long.
Thistle seeds form galaxies

of misplaced stars, stuck
to the sturdy stalks that gave
them form. In my hands

downy puffs unspool
on breath, give shape to currents,
catch on ferns, in trees.

They wait for new breath
to send them packing, their bags
lean as memory.


Those who are wicked, violent, who are suffering, I shall hold most dear.
He tore up my arms
with his fingernails after
I’d wrestled away

the shattered light bulb—
glass still embedded in wrists
thin as kindling.

Intent on getting
back to his New York mother—
or out of this life.

How could we tell him
she was dying of AIDS? sent
here “for his own good”—

Bloody crescent moons
where he dug nails in are scars
I try to treasure.


When envy drives lies, abuse, insults, or the like, I accept defeat, grant them victory.
To live up to such
high aspirations...but if
I met Ginty bet

your bottom dollar
I’d ram him into the locker
like he did to me,

then...I know, it’d do
no good. Release his collar,
let him shrug off words

I’d nail into him.
I’m still trapped in that high school
hallway—only one

naked. Cheerleaders
who laughed at my nudity
have all gotten old,

and coach, who allowed
hazing, is no longer alive.
Still, my anger sears.


When a person I help does me grievous wrong they shall become my guru.
I must have been six,
when they had me feed the dog
a biscuit by hand.

He can sense you’re kind,
they said, and I believed them.
Went down on my knees

to receive a lick.
Instead it lunged, bit my lips
clean through, had to be

yanked off. Eleven
stitches. Some are put down
and never know why,

some go on living
and wonder why they’re given
so many chances.


I offer every happiness to my mothers; I shall secretly take upon myself all their harmful actions and their suffering.
Spider on this path
has spun a dome of webbing.
She’s the clapper

riding air currents.
Interlaced weaving’s bell-shaped,
but inside is strung

with more filaments
and crinkled wings of past meals.
It’s frail as Nana’s

hairnet, it bubbles—
changes shape as I move by it.
Only certain light

makes it visible,
others hide it completely.
So mornings, Nana

would pat down stray hairs,
fix the gauzy net with pins
to hold all in place.

She’d catch me spying
in the mirror, chin would rise:
How do you like it?

What could I tell her?
The waddles of her long neck
and veiny temples

were exotic gifts—
seeing her weave her magic
to decorate them

was another gift—
I knew I was privileged
but didn’t know why.

I could only croak:
You’re beautiful, Nana.
Wonder what she caught.


See phenomena as illusory. Be released from attachment’s bondage.
The tattered remnants
of a prayer flag arc over
this animal trail

that must have once been
human-made. Rain-washed cloth worn
until it wears holes

like a beggar’s robes—
so brittle I can’t unwind

pine-pitch-coated strands.
Someone once strung it between
thinner trees than these,

chanting with fingers
that wove the air as they worked.
Above, air puckers 

a dusted web, then
relaxes. Movement stirred it
and made visible

where a spider worked, 
where my feet cough up
another coating,

bringing to light what
keeps going—still there even
after we are gone.


—Third Place Winner ($100 cash prize) of the Steve Kowit Poetry Prize 2017, and first published in the San Diego Poetry Annual 2017-18 (Garden Oak Press, February 2018); appears here with permissions from the publisher and the poet


SHJ Issue 18
Spring 2018

David Allen Sullivan’s

first book of poetry, Strong-Armed Angels, was published in 2008 by Hummingbird Press, and three of its poems were read by Garrison Keillor on The Writer’s Almanac. Sullivan’s second book, Every Seed of the Pomegranate (Tebot Bach, 2012), is a multi-voiced collection of poems about the war in Iraq. Next, he co-translated with Abbas Kadhim the selected poems of Iraqi poet Adnan al-Sayegh, which was published in 2013 as Bombs Have Not Breakfasted Yet. In 2015, Turning Point Press published Sullivan’s fourth book, Black Ice, poems about his father’s dementia and death. His chapbook Take Wing (Casey Shay Press, 2016), about his mother-in-law’s cancer, won the Mary Ballard Poetry Chapbook Prize.

Current projects include a book of poems about his year as a Fulbright lecturer in Xi’an, China, and a long narrative poem about the friendship between a U.S. soldier and an Iraqi interpreter. He’s also creating with his art-historian mother an anthology of poems about the artwork of Bruegel and Bosch, co-translating young Chinese poets with his former graduate students, and co-translating young Iraqi poets with Abbas Kadhim.

Sullivan teaches literature and film at Cabrillo College, where he edits the Porter Gulch Review. He lives in Santa Cruz, California, with his family.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury