Wayne and Judith Amtzis with Tsoknyi Rinpoche
Wayne and Judith Amtzis with Tsoknyi Rinpoche


I unlock the room

for which there is no key


Behind the sky there is another sky

A figure with a torch

Sure footed sudden in descent

Eyes drawn to it To the oncoming cars

Headstrong lights

The bare bulb's unsteady filament

Outside, rutted streets, ramshackle buildings

Marbles tossed into crevices, cards played and held

The guide's voice, unlike those a tour behind,

distant, clear, unanticipated

We sleep with eyes open

All around us the tall grass weaves its song

I am the lock and key

The world is centered in me


Butterfly wings, the backs of beetles

Random sign's of nature's quest for perfection

The mind leaves no markings

Less we paint or dance. And are seen

What shall be placed at the center?


What gate shall we enter by?


What mantra will bless us?

If we can only say…

"Death to our enemies"

what peace shall we find?

I unlock the room

For which there is no key


We mistake the sculpture

for what is

That spider That bee

That gnarled cactus with thorns

Thus sea-shaped flames

lie on the street,

ignored. Draped with dust

A woman passes

And, at least, touches the stone

But no one…No one

puts his hand into the flames

The world was centered in me

There lies the lock and key


Someone passes

through a field of mustard

Talking to himself

Am I not that man

Whose voice need not be

spoken… Or heard?

Children pass

Laughing/ Singing

With them

the wind's voice

in the trees


I unlock the room

for which there is no key

I am the lock and key

The world is centered in me

I unlock the room

for which there was no key

The world was centered in me

There lies the lock and key

Nepali Artists Mandala Retreat
Dulikhel, Nepal. Dec 92


Questioning my mode of configuring experience even as I gave expression to it in words, my intention in writing in the late 70's and early 80's evolved from lyrical expression to mirroring what I saw. To describe without interfering, without making emotions or language itself determine what was said. I saw myself as an artist moving about the city with his sketch-book and at night making the scenes cohere with a narrative sense. Simple descriptions/ hidden morality tales with a hint of irony--”this is the way East/ this the spirit ascending”. What I discovered was a nobility in circumstances that would undermine it. I took to photographing the same scenes and people I was writing about. A heightened objectivity was what I sought. With the artist's sketchbook I retained simplicity of seeing, with the camera I was besieged by the redundancy of these instants. The narrative line could no longer hold up against the weight of instances. In the early 90's my writing took on a shotgun approach, each poem a contact sheet containing many disparate moments. Circumstance weighed heavy upon me. From the teachings of the Satipatthana Sutra and my nascent experience with meditation I had drawn forth an aesthetic that accounted for experience without interfering with it. “Bare seeing” was what I called it. The camera made me more exacting and as the images piled up less able to put a narrative stamp on what I wrote. A progressive rhetoric was as misleading as ironic distancing. The Buddhism that gave me the aesthetic I chose displayed, despite its emphasis on compassion, no insight into overriding social and political circumstances. I found myself at an impasse and needed a way out.

from Studies in Nepali History and Society: Vol. 6 # 1 June 2001


When first he found his way through the gates,

did Siddhartha see

stone by stone who raised walls high,

drinking in dust, whose hands stained with the reek of it

carted off shit? Not those spoken of,

though they may have been

sick and old. Of woman born and ready

for death. When he first crossed to the other shore,

did he hear thwap of cloth against stone?

Did he notice those bent to thrust

thin shoots into the mud (who will later thrash heads

heavy with weeping to gather the grain)?

Hands not soft, but cracked like our earth

athirst for rain, like a voice void of tenderness

when it must speak. With tenderness,

those who hear and see all, do they hear and see?

The reek of it. The thwap of heads

against stone. Gold cast of light out of reach

whose penance is life 
from Studies in Nepali History and Society: Vol. 6 # 1 June 2001


And so, I swear, by the very doctrine that brought me here in the first place, that one's reason for being-- my reason for being -- is called into question by those who bear the burden of a world they have little part in the enjoyment of, or are summarily excluded from, though bear much in the stone by stone making of.


With a full load of bricks

he circles the Stupa. Not like a kneeling

sliding penitent, victims

still in mind, prayerful hands before him,

but with straddled gait

and inchoate thoughts. To feed a family,

to beat a wife. Dust rises about him

each time his burden eases

" Om Mani Padme Hung” I hear myself say

The buildings he helps raise

sell imported wine, statues to behold,

tins of coffee, ornately carved silver plates

Dharma tourists from NY & Paris

use for rituals of offering. " Om Mani Padme Hung"

A shower of blessings each time his burden eases

From monastery balcony, teacup in hand,

I reconcile his thoughts with my own

"A beaten man" I hear him say, "is he not a man"

Be it confession or complaint

that drives us, complicity or complacence

holds us in place. My hands

are not worn. My head

is not scarred. My back

is not weary. Words ease my way

Or so one imagines

rising free of this world

from Studies in Nepali History and Society: Vol. 6 # 1 June 2001


For Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche

The steps lead up
No one we know has gone beyond
the penultimate step. There,
Rinpoche gazes out over a sea of faces
Many steps down, his voice
reaches towards us. On the first step
no one stays for long. But for those whose feet
swing out over the ledge, who lean back
with satisfaction in having begun to ascend,
the waves roar. Hands jump to pull themselves on
The fall is sudden and swift. One hears,
on the second step where most spend their time,
the winds above, the waves below
Though the earth spins at a fantastic pace,
if one sits long enough, the earth shifts,
the steps flatten, the ladder disappears
Chokyi Nyima's voice echoes
over the steppes, the barren steppes
It whistles like the night-wind
If someone could extract the bones from our body
and notch them a fingers width apart,
we could accompany him
He sits on the penultimate step
Awaits our arrival
How sad he's become
The wind whistling through our bones
The hook that caught our eyes
gleams. With brillow-ed brightness
With dry stained stainless


For Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche

I don't know if it’s
maestro in red leading a chorus
down Shiva Puri path
or a resplendent spider
set on dinner/ I know not if poles & wires
cutting across the mountain
support or set limits on the spider's realm
or if the wind rucktucktucking about me
sings a siren’s song
I know not but see a dharma man
and a dharma spider
knitting time knitting webs
with subtle knots Whether I stand
        in the open or knot
                my knees in a tent
I know not the lines
        where they come from
                Nor where they lead

Like a dog barking "Red robes"
or a witless fly caught in the "spider's realm"
I know not/ I know not

Past fields wet with dew
       down mud lane to potholed street
              porting brass pot and trident
                     a soul-seeking sadhu hastens.
              Past ersatz trees and suns,
       signs of the appropriating
political parties of Nepal ,
       the soul-sickened poet (that I am)
              finds his way to a newsstand.
                     The stand-up cadence of a Bimal Nibha poem
                            stammers past headlines
                     I can barely read.
              Scooping up change
       Sadhu, (who insists
I'm knowing you ,
       Brother ) disappears
              as he beckons I join him.
                     Sitting in Sri Ganesh Sweets
                            he offers a found
              How To Write Loveletters&Poems.
       Scattered on scattered tables
the papers say
       what they always say.
              Soon sipping tea and belching
       Sadhu inquires may I not smoke?
Recommending #33
       as foolproof, he bums a cigarette
              I don't have and again orders tea.
                     Have you a pen I might borrow?
              ( In exchange for his.)
       Notebook opened,
pen out of ink,
       no different than those
              eclipsed within. Indifferent
                     to it all, yet somehow pleased.
              Among soul-sickened
       soul seekers I let
the world pass by
       Pass me by I want to say
              As I pay for the departing
                     sadhu's tea.
              With Sweets




(after the death of Basudev Baba)

He first came upon her
in Calcutta and in Bombay years later
only She could help

if he wanted it bad enough.
With a go-between
down alleys across rail lines

to an underpass
where sat a heap of bones
with fierce unforgiving eyes

absorbed in incessant Kali Ma! Jai Ma!
Kneeling, he begged deliverance
from incessant flight

and claustrophobic dreams.
Years later, breathing through his navel
like a whale adrift on the primal sea,

needing more than mantra
to keep himself afloat
he set off again, from ashram

to cacophonous street.
Stars studded the all night sky,
every gaze was Kali’s,

and he, not a follower,
but an emissary. "You are lost.
No longer lost"

A long haired full-bearded
black-cloaked sadhu
on the stone steps above Pashupati's

burning ghats,
sang out: To find your way
to her
you need only

─ my wife and I ─
offer our unborn daughter
to Kali Ma.

Years later, beaten near to death,
driven from Varanasi, guru no longer,
heroin had become his Kali Ma.

The walls of his dimly lit room
tacked with rice paper, smeared with paint.
Faded purples, painless reds

ran into each other.
English words and Sanskrit letters
competed for the off-center

center of each work.
A suffering man (crouched on the cement
painting 2 or 3 in scattered bursts)

rose to greet me
and seeing I was alone
sank into himself

like a broken ribbed umbrella.
How he died I'm not sure.
Set upon by his devotees

or that pregnant girl's family
Or Kali Ma -with her needles and paste-
took him to her.


For Howard Sachs

In a chasm of stone, what stone
marks Howard's day's dying?

The storm that pursued his fall
struck seeing eyes. Though rescuers

scattered preying birds,
there was no footing

for their outreached hand
They could not land

A battered rucksack,
and a passport scrawled-- I can't walk out of here,

tell us all we need to know
That long last night

lit by the opera of his unlived days
was his alone to bear.  Howard,

“you're too close to the edge.”
Don't worry, I've been there before

HOWARD, “that's a helluva fall!”
Don't worry, I'll bounce back

“Don’t go farther” “Don’t go at all”
“Don't go against the red”

That was something Howard never said
for Alvin Amtzis

With dream-wide eyes
my neighbors sleep. Like fish
behind glass. With sour
breath "Get up,
go on" Mock fins mocked
by uncertain wings.
Stunned by the morning air
they get up and go on
(Trains rattle past
The sun slides across tracks
Peddlers call out)
Steps into step they fall
Those like me  Wanting out
Unwilling to wait
for a rooftop parking lot
littered with glass,
h e s i t a t e. There are rooms
below.  Reasons to enter
Those on the stairs
look and stare. Let them sit
and wait for help to come
Unease dispatches me
to the side door
where the help come
and go Father,
(I fear the Cantor calls)
I haven't spoken to you
in years The ark
lies open. (He sings
the way of mourning)
Father, if only I . . .
(I hear and fear an ill-kept
Kaddish). He sings the way of exaltation


for Marc David Amtzis (1956-2012)

The night before last, The Man-In-Charge told me
to step outside and polish his shoes
It was a clear winter's night, so I didn't mind
Who did I see zooming by on roller skates,
but my kid brother Rollo "Hey Dad! I yelled, "Rollo's back."
Dad threw open the trailer doors
I forgot to mention we were
parked outside Akbar's Planetarium in Delhi.
Sure enough, people on the street
joined in the chase. Spindly legged and barefoot,
they were no match for Rollo
If there's anything that boy can do,
it's skate. Not a runner myself,
and thinking he'd catch up with me
on the road ahead, I drifted back to the trailer
Crouched among the throng milling about,
a mustachioed man inquired whether I
was the owner of the shoes he
so steadfastly guarded.
Palms raised: "Only a few pennies,
no more, master." The coins
I handed over to reclaim Dad's shoes
disappeared into those enormous hands,
and as he rose, into a shirt
that reached to his knees, and then
with a sweeping gesture, he
invited the others into the trailer for tea
What reason was there for hanging round?
I set off in the direction Rollo had taken
with Dad in pursuit. Counted 13 falling stars,
greeted as many strangers on a quest
such as mine. Beneath a thunderous squall
like that of skates on asphalt, I saw over warrens of threadbare roofs,
the sun raise a blazing torch. And Rollo,
younger than me, skating on ahead. Dad at his heels,
barefoot, closing in


(for Arlene Susan Amtzis, 1951-2016)

Near death she steps back
from the day to day, the ever again –
habitual and percussive

each stubborn beat
still bridges the gap. Thoughts flail in sleep
and push death away, death

that withers the breath
till the last frail flame whitens the eyes.
Beneath a blanket of snow,

a grey cloud-domed sky,
warmth still within –silver the triangle rising,
gold, the sun setting,

commingling in the heart,
with breath one last time, for her, here,
then spent. Sun set or moon rise,

this late night mourning,
by whatever account, however it appear,
in that single gone sphere,

that whirlpool comet trailing light,
cessation ceases. Sister, no more, a shipwrecked
body, a sea of stone, no breath left

to thread the way home


Copyright @ 2001, 2004 & 2006 by Wayne Amtzis. All Rights Reserved.