Gathering Clouds


cars accelerate past
our sitting for peace,
a cool breeze brings us
the shadow of pigeons
the smell of hotdogs

end of summer —
the soft tar now hard,
a cigar butt
stands upright
on the sidewalk

under concrete towers
people talk of chest pains
and the approaching war,
tips of the oak leaves
begin to turn yellow

as the car window
his face disappears
in a flash of light



“Iraq Admits
Weapons Inspectors”
so far away and yet
the sunflowers here
are also fading

outside the entrance
to the funeral home
a broken beer bottle,
I think of a dark ship
launched into the darkness

downtown abandoned
the only people
those who wait for buses,
I ask myself
has a bomb fallen somewhere?

in the middle
of nowhere, a forlorn
orphaned garden
dedicated to
ten sister cities



the sunlight
now cold,
red berries
from the dogwood tree

“US Will Not Go to War
with the Iraqi People”
a squirrel holds its chestnut
as if looking into
a crystal ball

outside the grim
apartment building —
a pack of playing cards,
kings and queens
scattered among the bushes

every ladder I see
is either crooked
or broken,
and every person



buying a small, black skull
from the Mexican shop
I glide past
my own dark thoughts
this autumn evening

marigolds growing
in a vacant lot,
and a Dead End sign
with a sticker that says
“It’s Okay”

throughout the day
a foreboding of
unwholesome karma
ripening in this land
of bright opportunity

a fire engine moves slowly
down a green corridor
no heat no rain,
the black skull smiles
in the palm of my hand



the sun beaming down
on satellite dishes,
near the edge of the road
rows of pumpkins
waiting to be carved

“Blast Cripples French Tanker”
the door to the diner
propped open with a cinder block,
people hurry by
dressed in winter clothes

nodding to the same man
I passed yesterday,
so few of us
prowling the streets
of this empty city

Bush talks about not waiting
for a mushroom cloud,
in the window
of the Japanese restaurant
sun-faded displays of sushi



defining the edges
of lawns and sidewalks,
golden locust leaves
by the heavy rain

a fall in pressure
and my head throbs,
a thin concrete line
circling the reservoir
separates water from sky

all of one colour
the light in men’s eyes
am I walking among ghosts?
leaves scuttle aross the road
pigeons peck the dust

through the tavern’s
tinted windows
a white ball
on the pool table
shines like the moon



carrying a book on Grünewald
along the empty streets,
his hummingbird angels
and hybrid demons
give life to my inner world

bombs explode in distant lands,
blackened fire-escapes,
chimneys releasing
white smoke
into a white sky

left at the bus stop,
a small pile
of children’s books
tied together
with black ribbon

inside the Halloween store
severed heads in jars,
outside a chorus
of crows crying, crying
through the skeletal trees



“Republicans Take Senate”
the distorted reflections
of mirrored buildings
for a moment more real
than the buildings themselves

Midtown Bus Terminal:
people drink coffee
and smoke their cigarettes
as if it were
the last day on Earth

these small bushes
with burning
orange leaves,
the wind has yet
to tear them away

Friday evening,
everything speeds up
even the sun
going down

Richard von Sturmer was born on Auckland’s North Shore, in 1957. He is a writer, performer, and film-maker. His written work has appeared in many anthologies and literary journals, including LandfallSportbrief, and the New Zealand Listener. Two collections of his writing have been published: We Xerox Your Zebras (Modern House, 1988) and A Network of Dissolving Threads(Auckland University Press, 1991). In 1992 he left New Zealand to undertake ten years of Zen training at the Rochester Zen Center, a Buddhist Community in upstate New York. Having completed his Zen training, he returned to New Zealand in 2003 and received the brief Writer’s Award for a two-month writer-in-residency on Great Barrier Island. He now lives and works in Auckland, and has completed a third book, Suchness: Zen Poetry and Prose.

Von Sturmer comments: ‘ “Gathering Clouds” is a tanka sequence, tanka being a five-line Japanese verse form now employed in the West. I was drawn to the potential of the tanka sequence, with its sense of movement and film-like qualities, after reading Red Lights, a collection of tanka sequences by Mokichi Saito.

‘The setting for “Gathering Clouds” is Rochester, a city in upstate New York near Lake Ontario. Like many middle-sized American cities, downtown Rochester is desolate and virtually abandoned – a place which white folk in particular avoid, preferring to do their shopping in giant suburban malls.

‘Towards the end of my stay at the Rochester Zen Center, I decided to go for a walk each afternoon, at the end of the workday and before meditation in the evening. It was autumn, the trees were losing their leaves, and the Bush administration was gaining momentum in its push to begin the war against Iraq. I set myself the task of producing at least four verses during each walk, as a way of taking a snapshot of America at that particular place and time.’

Poem source details >



New Zealand Book Council writer file
Auckland Zen Centre
New Zealand Listener