ALBERT AND I

Time folds in on itself,
the arrow bends, grows recursive
we lapse slowly backward
slipping into a protean state.
Our universe is neatly bisected,
the inner workings laid open
showing craftsmanship
far beyond our meager
comprehension, as we cling
to the surface, fear
sliding deep into its depth,
spiral freely in infinite
progression, slowing, approaching
never reaching the source.
We wash up on a beach, we are pulled
from the earth, and we dangle
from the neck of the sun.

PARSINGS

The old monk sits
cross legged
on a grass mat,
a faint smile
dances across his lips.
He invites me to sit,
our meeting, he says,
is notable.

I sit, legs
folded as best
I can, and
begin to ask
but he silences me,
“First tea.” 
He sets the cups
down on the hardpack
dirt floor, there
is no table.

He asks me
to listen to
the conversation
 of passing birds,
to hear the silence
of the sun.
I ask him
to tell me
how I can find

enlightenment,
but he

is not able.

A DRY GARDEN LAUGHING

In the heart of Nara Park
there is a five story pagoda.
Deer appear, standing sentinel
along the lantern lined walk.
Up the unseen hill
the Temple bell announces
the full arrival of morning
as the Golden Buddha awakens.
Young children can see
all of this through eyes
unlensed, and fetter free.
They watch clouds
release a cascade
of tiny maple leaves
which flow over sitting monks,
a stream washing spring
into the waiting valley.
I sit with my granddaughter
in the center of a dry garden.
The Jizo will watch us.
The three of us throw
leaves into the air
as the wrens echo our laughter
in a five tiered cacophony

BOUNDARY

What is on the other side
of this wall that is just
too tall to peer over?
No one seems to know,
though many have surmised
it is a completely different world
looking little or nothing
like the one we inhabit.
Last week a young man
picked up a ginkgo leaf
and said “ahah, it is Japan
across that wall,” but we
mostly thought he was crazy.
Once, when the world was flat,
people knew if you sailed
too far you would fall off.
But the brave ones then
always wondered what sort
of world existed on the other side,
was it desert or tropical jungle
and when it was night here
was it day there or did the sun
simply sleep for ten hours?
This morning a young man
leaned a tall latter
against the wall and slowly
and carefully slipped over the top.
We shouted after him, asking
what it was like: did rainbows
look the same, was grass green,
but all we heard was his
retreating footfalls, and
his plaintive voice shouting:
“Eve, are you here?
I have the apple.”

 

KNOWING

She wants to know
if I could be an animal
which would I choose.
Part of me wants to answer panther –
sleek, black, catlike eyes
glowing in the night –
but never coyote, crawling out
of the hills in search of rabbits
darting through the sage,
never the trickster.

I am an animal, I remind her,
we all are, just a bit smarter than most.
She laughs and says that
I really wanted to be a god
since I had the image part down.
I say I’d thought of that
but as a human animal
I get two days off a week
and God, according to Genesis
gets only one, and
he probably spends it
watching football in New Orleans.

She says she would rather be
a dragon or a fox, since Shinto gods
have far less work to do
and generally sit around
being simply venerated.
I close my book, listen
to the rain pelting the windows,
watch the bolt
across the face of the clouds
and listen for the peel of thunder –
Thor is not happy again.

 

CHONGDONG MARKET

I

Little old woman
sits cross legged
on a faded cushion.
She nods as we enter
and touch the ancient chest.
She rocks slowly in place,
older than the ancient
stone carving
guarding her doorway.

 

II

In the narrow, dingy hall
giant pots nestle against
stone carvings.
A fat Buddha smiles
at a rice paper covered screen.

 

III

Celandon vase
carefully cast and carved
sits on a small shelf
amid Hyundai head gaskets.

 

IV

“Cast iron tea pot,
very old, very old
top quality, for you
only 350,000 won –
you pay cash
325,000.”

HEAVEN

Joseph said
he once met an angel
on the bullet train
between Osaka and Tokyo.
I asked him if her wings
were feathered, he said
“no, it was her smile”
and it was gossamer.
Joseph said they spoke
only briefly, she through
long black hair, in Japanese,
he in his only language, English.
She was reading Murakami
he Dostoevsky, she
sipped a can of green tea,
he a small bottle of Diet Coke.
I asked if she had
a halo, he said only Mount Fuji
wore a halo that day,
but he knew for certain
she was an angel
or at the least a bodhisattva.