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 VISITOR

Autumn dropped by this morning,
a wholly unwelcome visitor, and
although her visit was short,
it was a foreboding for which we
were not yet ready, not that we ever are.
The gulls along the river
discussed this at length, and even
the two Red Tailed Hawks
high overhead, swooped in agreement.
We simply turned up our collars
and walked a bit faster, knowing
the heat would soon return,
but that the foretaste of winter
would linger on our tongues
far longer than we would desire.

THE FIRST JEW ON MARS

The first Jew on Mars

sifts the red sands through gloved fingers
and kicks the small stone,
glares up at the heavens
the cold sun returning his stare
and waits patiently
for the rain of manna.

looks vacantly across the landscape
and curses under his breath
at the absence of a good
lean pastrami and a half sour,
or even Chinese take out.

pauses to wonder why God
left so much unfinished,
an endless desert to be wandered
for countless lifetimes,
no further tablets forthcoming —
perhaps He was tired, needed rest —
each day is Sabbath.

struggles to remember
the smoke rising from the chimneys,
the souls of a generation
whispering “do not forget us.”

shouts the Shema
to the void, imagining
it is falling on deaf ears.


First appeared in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press, (2008).

DREAMING OF GOLDILOCKS

The universe is more vast
than we could begin to contemplate
forty billion galaxies of
forty billions stars, thrust out
a child, an aged one bent by time
mothers with children in tow,
giants standing above with
names belying their stature.
Sitting here, pen in hand
it is comforting to know
there is another, and another
stretching infinitely, secure
in their uniqueness, in the shadow
of their suns, casting
words into the void.

MA KU CARRYING HIS RING-STAFF

When you sit before the master
he will ask you a question.
Consider your answer carefully
then offer it to the master.
He will simply say, “correct.”
Later, when you sit before the master
he will ask you the same question.
Offer your answer to the master.
He will simply say “incorrect.”
If you ask him how your answer
can be both correct and incorrect,
the master will look through you,
and simply smile and say “Correct”.


A reflection on case 31 of the Blue Cliff Record koans.

ALTERNATE HISTORY

My mother wanted to tell me
of my great-grandmother,
a woman she barely knew,
but who she imagined more fully
that life itself
would ever have allowed.
History, in her hands
was malleable, you could
shape it in ways never happened.
She wanted to tell me
but she knew that
her grandmother wouldn’t approve
of adopting when your womb
was perfectly serviceable,
certainly not for a man
more than a decade older
who could not uphold
his most sacred obligation.
She wanted to tell me,
but I am adopted
and this woman can be
no more than a story
of passing relevance to me.