It is always odd
watching older men gather,
talk about their lives,
about how much they
no longer remember,
of last year, and
a decade ago, about
the infinite details
they can clearly recall about
the time they spent
in the Army, Navy, Air Force,
the smell of Slop-on-a-shingle,
of field stripped butts
in a small container
in their olive drabs,
of the base or post exchange
where you could buy
the mandatory Ray-Ban aviators,
the Sergeant’s grimace,
the body count in the war
they never wanted, only
wanted to end quickly,
how they were once brothers
in arms, now just old men
sharing painful memories.



These few words
gathered neatly on a scrap
of simple paper,
what do you call it?

Answer carefully for you response
may carry the keys
to the doors of Mount Tai-i.
Better still, upend
the water bottle, watch
the ink and water form
a gentle pool into which
no pebble drops.

A reflection on Case 40 of the Mumonkan (The Gateless Gate)




The hardest prison to escape
is the one whose walls are built
by the mind in fear and trepidation.
It is like the open gate you dare
not enter fearing that you are leaving
and will not be allowed to return.
Atop a pole there are
an infinite number of directions
in which you can go and only one
is straight down, but you fear
selecting any, for gravity
is a fear as great as death,
yet you can feel neither.
The prison of the mind
is impregnable, for there
fear and pain live in conflict
and you are a small boat
on an angry sea staring
always at the roiling waves.



The sweep of the second-hand,
the minute hand is constant, each
moment as long as the last, none
longer, none shorter and yet I know
that Einstein was right in noting that
things unpleasant take forever, while
all that is joyful passes quickly
even when the elapsed time is the same.
What Albert didn’t say is that
the unpleasant leads us to look
for the future, keeping us
locked longer in the present moment.
That which is pleasant keeps us present
and the future seems to come
too quickly, the pleasure slipping away.
It is, in the end, merely perception
and I prefer to remain in the present
for it is all that I have, and
all that I choose to make it.


It would help, she said,
if you would stop thinking
of yourself as Sisyphus
and all of life as the rock,
you might actually, one day,
begin to enjoy what you do.

It would help, he said,
if I could be like
a great blue heron,
grow wings and take
to a summer sky leaving
all of this behind me,
going wherever I wish.

Perhaps, she replied, it
is better that you see
yourself as Sisyphus, for
everyone knows that you
have no sense of direction.



If you come before Master Nansen,
will you come holding the posture
of a monk or a lay person,
and when Nansen turns you away,
how will you exit the room?

Nested hands
and gassho hands –
both are so easily manacled –
why leave the room at all?

A reflection on case 44 of the Iron Flute (Tetteki tōsui 鐵笛倒吹)