This poem is overflow from the April 3, 2012 Poetry Fishbowl. marina_bonomi, the_vulture, and some other folks got to talking about "Dragon Tiger Wind Cloud." The result is a new series, Kung Fu Robots. I wrote three extra poems for it last night, one of which is "What Is the Sound of One Cricket Chirping?" It was inspired by marina_bonomi and the_vulture</lj>, and it has been sponsored by marina_bonomi. You can also read about koans and lucky crickets.
Speaking of crickets, there's a bit of a translation disconnect here. The original concept in my head was "one cricket chorusing," which is how some languages frame crickets, frogs, and other creatures that tend to make sounds communally. But in English the framing is "cricket(s) chirping," so that "chorusing" would sound awkward. I sacrificed the direct oxymoron for sake of legibility, and added a description of the context instead.
The robot stood patiently
in the courtyard of the little temple,
watching the old master
demonstrate how to sweep.
It was more complicated than it looked.
It must be done in a particular way.
The robot had observed this technique for hours
and was no closer to grasping it
nor why it was necessary to sweep
in such a very particular way.
The old master was a creature devoid of logic.
The robot was not sure what he used instead of it,
but clearly something else altogether.
He asked questions that made no sense,
questions that had no answers.
"What is the sound of one cricket chirping?"
the old master would ask, and of course it was nonsense,
for the song of crickets was always a chorus.
"What is a teacher to say,
if there is no student to hear, no occasion to teach?"
That was no better.
The robot wondered what it was doing in the little temple.
It had traveled at random for some time before arriving,
before the elderly human had steered it inside
and started talking nonsense about brooms and water buckets.
But there was kung fu amidst the nonsense, somewhere,
and so the robot stayed.
Just then the bamboo gate swung open,
and the robot's former commander marched through it.
"There you are!" he exclaimed, heading toward the robot.
"Now I will take you back to the factory for disassembly."
The old master was right in the commander's way,
and the commander tripped over him, arms flailing wildly.
"Ah! How clumsy of me!" the old master exclaimed. "So sorry!"
Then he swept his broom against the commander's ankles
knocking the burly soldier right off his feet.
"Ah! How clumsy of you!" the old master exclaimed.
"Get away from me, you doddering fool,"
the commander snarled.
"Here, let me help you up,"
the old master offered.
He grasped the commander's hand
and hauled the hefty man to his feet --
somehow facing the bamboo gate again.
"You've misplaced your weapon,"
the old master added, flourishing the gun.
The commander reached for it
and the old master leaned casually against the fence.
"Oops! I've dropped it, pardon an elder's stiff fingers,"
he said as the gun landed in the street.
No sooner did the commander reach for it
than the old master swept him over the threshold
and shut the gate firmly behind him.
"Have a nice day!" he shouted at the commander.
The robot was amazed.
The old master had bested the commander
and no one had gotten hurt at all.
Now that was a show of strength,
yes, that was kung fu.
"I am impressed with your skill,"
the robot said to him. "Surely without your aid
someone would have gotten hurt.
I might even have been taken away for disassembly."
"Speaking of away, we should leave through the rear gate,"
the old master said. He handed the robot
the energy cartridge from the commander's gun.
"This should keep you powered up for a while.
I have been wanting to take you on a pilgrimage
to visit the mountain shrines anyhow."
"The timing is auspicious," the robot agreed
as they hastened to make their escape
before the commander could relocate them.
"It is fortunate that you came upon me, young friend."
The old master chuckled then, and continued,
"You are as lucky as a cricket! Perhaps I shall call you that."
So Cricket the robot became.