Whispers on the Wind – A Reading of Russell C. Leong’s "Dreams and Dust"

Guest post by reader Charles Kress.

Kuan Yin

What of the past that whispers
Such winds blow our words away
Where have they gone
Must we always start anew
Will dead voices never cease

from “Blood Secrets”

Not long ago I wrote the poem “Blood Secrets” based on a dream. In the dream I was in a large room with many statues of saints, angels, goddesses and bodhisattvas. The statues had all crumbled into rubble. I knelt among the pieces and wept.
When I woke up I was much disturbed by the dream. In trying to understand it, I wrote “Blood Secrets”, which incorporated the broken sacred statues. Within my poem I created a dialog between Kuan Yin, the goddess of mercy and compassion, and Maitreya, the Bodhisattva, who has yet to take birth, concerning the state of future spirituality.
In my poem, Maitreya seeks help from Kuan Yin, while they are sitting by a lakeside pavillion. Maitreya asks for help when he takes birth. Kuan Yin replies that the older saints, like the statues in my dream, have gone.

my time on earth is over for now.
The twilight of the gods is real
The wheel has turned.
Another spoke has ascended

But she tells Maitreya that there are still those people in the world who act as her hands and see as her eyes, that they will help him.
Russell C. Leong

In the poem “Dreams and Dust”, published in the current issue of Cha, Russell C. Leong also invokes the goddess Kuan Yin:

Kuan Yin looks over the lake
Where 500 carp rush toward
The older man leaning on the balustrade

This seemingly ordinary scene may also be seen as an invocation of Kuan Yin. Whether as a statue or a living Bodhisattva is left to our mind’s eye to choose. The 500 carp in the lake show us the spirits of water that live within the hungry fish. Water may be seen as the compassion that flows from Kuan Yin.

He picks up the banana peels
Someone else has left on the wet ground
Shreds them and tosses them to the fish
Next to him, a woman does the same

Can you see them? The old man and the younger woman tossing bits of banana peel to the fish. They seem so ordinary and unremarkable, yet by their actions, they feed the multitude of fish. Is this not Kuan Yin’s compassion acting through them?

Each lost in their separate dreams & dust:
The man, too old to become a monk now
The woman, too tied to the world to leave it.

Like each of us, they too are “lost in their separate dreams & dust.” The illusions of this world manifesting in the dust of the earth. And like them, we as well are “too tied to the world to leave it.” Yet we of the world of dreams and dust are the ones that Kuan Yin watches. We are the ones through which she acts.
The poem shows them joined together: “the man, the woman, the fish, the statue.” Each separate, each a part of a larger reality that is:

covered by rain, lustrous as pearls
Which contain the morning light.

Again we see the image of water, illuminated by the light of Kuan Yin’s compassion for all beings, that lives within us all.
In another parallel to my own poem, the statue of Kuan Yin has been destroyed and

Rebuilt after incense and wind
had burnt down the one before

One is tempted to see demons at work in the statues destruction by fire, but on a deeper level we can understand the Buddhist idea of impermanence is at work here as well.
Leong’s poem closes with a contrasting view of a man coming “From the hill above the lake.” He is no annomyous man:

Ven. Dhammadipa makes his way down
The wooden path that encircles the temple’s drum

Named and honored, he walks the Buddhist path. The temple drum implies a powerful voice, a powerful message has he to give us.
Yet he is also separate from us and the world, for he is said to be “Yet alone, yet free.” One wonders though, if he is no longer caught in the “Dreams and Dust” of the world, can we relate to him as a being that we can understand and trust if he is no longer one of us?
Where Russell C. Leong shows us the Buddhist teacher Ven. Dhammadipa alone and free, my poem invokes, the as yet unborn Boddhisattva, Maitreya, and the dark times we live in:

Kuan Yin asked quietly
‘Is there any hope for the future?’
Maitreya smiled sadly
And shook his head slowly,
‘The future, which is my time,
remains a mystery.
But do not forget,
The human realm
Has always been violent
And thus doubly rewarding.’

‘Watch for me in the storms
Watch for me in the earthquakes
Watch for me in the fires
Watch for me in the floods.
When least expected
I will be there
Without fail’

The images in “Dreams and Dust” are so much more earthy than those in my own poem, yet I feel my poem more accurately reflects the dark times that beset our world and speak more directly to our everyday lives.

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