Last week marked the ten-year anniversary of the tsunami that killed over 19,000 people in northeastern Japan. Stuart Gunter’s poem, The Wind Telephone, engages with one of the more poignant symbols of the disaster in the country: ‘I first heard the story of the wind telephone on This American Life. I could not imagine the terror and resulting pain of that experience, and thought the idea of being able to call the spirits by phone was worth exploring.’
The Wind Telephone
When 19,000 people swept out
to sea, a young man bought
an old phone booth and placed
it in his Japanese garden. How
do we stay connected to
the dead? How do we grieve?
We play piano and pray into
the night. We hear them in
the silence as a tear traces
a cheek and the crickets
and frogs send up their
racket to the moon. We might
say little, or nothing. Farmers
and fishermen calling wives,
mothers, daughters, sons, fathers,
the children and parents, all gone.
The dial tone is silent and the ringing
reaches up to the clouds: Hello, if
you’re out there, please listen to me.
Please, be okay. Please: be okay.
Without all of you, it’s meaningless.
Have a good trip. Good luck.
As if they could hear them
and would be home in time
This poem first appeared in the January 2018 Share This Poem section of Broad Street.
Christian Dillo is the Resident Teacher at the Boulder Zen Center. He started his practice at the San Francisco Zen Center in 1996. For 20 years, he practiced monastically at the Crestone Mountain Zen Center and received dharma transmission in 2013. Since then, he has been Boulder Zen Center’s Guiding Teacher. In 2020, he moved to Boulder, Colorado full-time, where he now lives with his wife and son. Christian Dillo teaches Zen as a craft based on the understanding that, fundamentally, Buddhism is an embodied investigation of human experience with the intention of transforming it in the direction of liberation from suffering, wisdom, and compassion. He is the author of The Path of Aliveness: A Contemporary Zen Approach to Awakening Body and Mind (Shambhala 2022) and is currently developing a series of practice courses on Foundational Zen Teachings to actively support lay practitioners in their daily lives. His ongoing teachings are available on the podcast Zen Mind.