Poems by Richard von Sturmer

Emma Smith, "Untitled (Figure Face)" (2010).
Emma Smith, "Untitled (Figure Face)" (2010).

from Book of Equanimity Verses


Jean Cocteau
suffered from
a mysterious skin disease
while filming
Beauty and the Beast
For several weeks
the loveliest of fairytales
disfigured its creator.


Beside a dirt road
in Cambodia
the water bubbles with
decomposing bodies.
Only the living remain
haunted and restless.
They wait for thunder to roll
over the silent rice fields.


Five coloured balls dance
behind a silk curtain —
treasure for the hungry ghosts.
Look away, look away.
As the rain begins to fall
a black Labrador
is eating crab apples
in a neighbour’s back garden.



You’ve run through
all your transformations
so many times
there’s nothing left to transform.
Just a half-empty
salt shaker
sitting on the table
of a midnight diner.


The adept and the inept —
two tadpoles swimming
in the same pond.
When winter arrives
and ice forms
like white jade
I can’t help but wonder
where the frogs have gone.


Of course you lose your life.
They paint the walls
after your departure,
place ancient artifacts
into cardboard boxes.
Someday, if you do return
it will be a different season
and you’ll enter by a different door.

These six verses are from a hundred-verse sequence inspired by The Book of Equanimity, a Zen Buddhist collection of one hundred koans. Other verses from the sequence can be found here, here, and here.