A MONK IN MEDITATION 鐵笛倒吹 七十語

A man may own
may volumes of great knowledge
and never have time to read.
An illiterate may take such books
and fashion a stool
on which to sit in meditation.

Which of these is truly wise
which the greatest fool.
Wipe your mouth
with this page
at the conclusion
of the meal.


A reflection on Case 75 of the Iron Flute Koans.

THE BLINK

In the elemental scheme of things
we humans are, at best, middling.
We are minute in the scale of the universe,
our time not even a glimmer, and
as we age, time contracts, but only
in the shortening forward direction.
But pity the poor hydrogen-7 isotope
whose life is likely over
in 30 yactoseconds, absorbing
the laughter of helium-5 living
on average, 33 times longer, and both
jealously, if ever so quickly
regarding our seemingly infinite span.
But lest we get complacent, there is
always zirconium-96 for whom
our life is but the blink of an eye,
barely worth noting, a second at most
in a span that could reach
twenty quintillion years, so we
are nothing special, save in our own eyes.

THERE

She walks with a deliberateness
that bespeaks years
of always knowing what the destination is.
Getting to the destination, she knows
is far less important than having one.
On occasion she would arrive
at her destination and would then
have no option but to immediately select
her next destination, for being
on one place too long was, to her,
a form of living death.
Many thought her a wanderer,
and she was fine with that.
She knew the shortest distance
between two points was a straight line
it was also just the most boring,
and for her it was really all about the trip.

WHAT IS IT NOW, PILGRIM?

It is far past time that I
went on a pilgrimage.
I’m not at all sure just what sort
of a pilgrim I’d likely be.
As a now Buddhist child
of the late 60’s, the Plymouth Colony
model clearly isn’t workable.
And in my own late 60’s, now
with a fused spine and creaky
knees and shoulders, foreign travel
looks less and less of an option.
I’ve long since given up acid
and mescaline, and I never got
the hang of astral projection,
so perhaps I need to think smaller
and just wander over to my local
wine shop for a couple of bottles
of a decent Rioja and Galicia
and dreams of the Camino de Santiago.

VLADIMIR

Krevchinsky froze
his ass off on the Siberian plain.
The gray concrete box
was traded for concrete gray skies,
the whistle of the truncheon
gives way to winter’s blasts.
It was in many ways easier
when the beatings came
neatly marking the days
dividing days between pain
and exhaustion, all under
the watchful eye
of the meek incandescent sun
dangling from the ceiling.
In the camp day and night
are reflections of an unseen clock,
seasons slide
from discontent to depression.
The prison of the body is finite
built block on block,
the prison of the soul
is vast, empty, dissipating life.


First appeared in HazMat Review, Vol. 1, No. 2 (1996) and later in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 30, Nos. 1-2 (2006).

WALKING

Today was downright exhausting,
and my hour long walk along the river
left me dripping and drooping.
It wasn’t different than most days,
same time, same place, and
the usual 756 miles, according
to my old friend Orion, who
was watching from his usual perch,
unseen, as he prefers it by day.
When I was done, I started to complain
about how I felt, when Orion interjected,
“Just be thankful you’re not
in Florida today, its hotter by far,
and your usual walk would
have covered a full 930 miles today,
and there you’d have reason
perhaps to complain just a bit.”
Heading home to shower, I
called out to Orion, “You know
you are one heavenly pain in the ass.”
“Yeah,” he replied, “that’s what Artemis said.”

JOSHU’S FOUR GATES 正法眼蔵 四十六

If you ask who I am
I will have you close your eyes
and walk behind you,
or I may step to your left
and take your right hand.
If you are perplexed,
I will ask you, do the four
gates open into the city
or out to the world beyond,
and if I stand still sideways
under a gate
in which direction
am I headed?


A reflection on case 46 of Dogen’s True Dharma Eye (Shobogenzo).