Trotting slopes of washout gravel and stones on this lane
ascending through dappled birch and pine, ledges
of upper cliffs verdant with ferns
and moss, I scan the crags and drink

oxygen and sun as elixirs, my cells nourished
by joy. My steps without effort. My sweat
pure. My body lean, muscled, responsive
as a Belmont racehorse to my prompting

in surging uphill through the ravine. Early
this morning I read of prostate surgery, how
even if the surgeon’s blade spares
erectile nerves the penis may hang limp

as a sock on a clothesline for years before it regains
some firmness of purpose, and even then will spasm
at sexual climax in what urologists dub a “dry
orgasm,” meaning no ejaculate, ever, no more gushers

of come — cock and balls depleted like a wildcat
oil well gone dry and abandoned in the windswept
desolation of the Texas panhandle. Musing on this
prospect of mutilation I thought too of women

and cancer, how its rampaging mutant
cells scourge women’s bodies with scars
and vacancies, grievous erasures of cervix, ovaries, uterus,
breasts in surgical amputations forfending

physical death by hastening soul death, that
dismal trade-off. Men or women, none
of us spared. Bacchic temples of our flesh ransacked
and desecrated, as if by crazed Visigoths. Yet now, as I trot

upslope on this earthen road that welcomes light
into the gorge, I feel wafted
by euphoria. Life. Life. Life no matter what:
these cliffs, these pines, this blue

butterfly, wings edged with black
sable, pausing to sample the laces of my running shoe.
When I crest the summit I glimpse
standing motionless atop a boulder

a woman in a denim dress, hair of burnished
silver. Her eyes closed. One hand rests
on her heart. The other on her belly. Her stillness
is the stillness that haunts the core of a summer storm.

Her focused silence. And I recognize it.
Ah, I think. She’s healing too.


Steve Kanji Ruhl is a Zen Buddhist teacher and writer living in western Massachusetts. These poems appear in his new book, The Constant Yes of Things: Selected Poems 1973–2018, Off the Common Books. Available at