MEMORIAL

This woman approaches
the stone, carefully places
sake and cherry blossoms
and leans a sotoba against it,
before bowing and walking away.
It is what you do for a son,
she says, looking at the bibbed Jizo
hoping she can protect
the child who lies beneath.

That woman approaches
the headstone,
gently places the flowers
and leans a prayer card
against its polished surface,
kneels briefly, looking up
at the statue of the Son
who also died for our sins,
begs him to protect.
the child who lies beneath.

COYOTE SONG

Down at the butt end
of the arroyo is a pond,
an aneurysm in the stream
that runs down from the mountains
for better than a month
each spring.
The twisted, gnarled mesquite
cluster around it,
like children gazing at a corpse
in utter fascination
who dare not approach
lest it become real and touch them.
The three scrawny goats
nibble at the mesquite
and stare at themselves
on the surface, occasionally
dragging their tongues
through the water.
Each night as the sun
is swallowed by the earth,
their songs begin
until the gods arise
from the water
and dance
across the parched ground.

NARA PARK

I

Ducks skitter
across Ara-ike pond
like a perfectly thrown
skipping stone.
Two sit and preen
on large rocks
left as pedestals.
A spider
dragging its prey
along the weathered
wood railing
of the bridge
pauses for a moment
to contemplate ducks,
then moves on
consumed by hunger.

II

Several deer
languish among the
wizened Japanese vendors
at the foot of the gate
to the Five Story Pagoda.
They stare at me
as I pass
and I wonder
if all Nippon
and Gaijin
look the same
to a buck or doe.

WALKING AMONG SAND AND PEBBLES: SHASEKI-SHU

CUP OF TEA             沙石集  一

 When the cup is half full
what more can be added?
In the garden, the moon
can exist in a full cup
or one only half full.

It is the empty cup
that can hold
entire universes,
infinite in capacity.

 

FINDING A DIAMOND                  沙石集  二

 There are endless paths
on which to walk
yet we find one
and remain on it
even when it
becomes rocky  and rutted.

We do not see the road
nor those who cross it
watching only our feet.
It is only when we step
off of the cliff
that our feet are free
to walk other paths,
perhaps in the footsteps
of old Gudo.

 

A DIFFERENT SKY

We lie on a hill
side by side, staring
up at the passing clouds,
discerning shapes, both
of us break into a smile,
each of us sees
a completely different sky.
After some time
I reach out and touch
her hand, our fingers
interlace, or perhaps
it is she who reached
out to me, fingers intertwined.
It doesn’t really matter
for once our hands
are joined we each smile
and stare upward and each
of us sees a different sky.

TOKYO

Walking the grounds
of Senso-ji Temple, I look
among the statues, half
expecting Buddha or
Kannon Bosatsu to appear,
but only a pigeon answers
my expectations.
Lighting a joss bundle
and placing it into the burner
I imagine for a moment
that I am zainichi,
but the giggles of a flock
of uniformed schoolgirls
reminds me cruelly
I am and always will be
no more than gaijin.

SOTO ZEN

The gong reverberates, its depth hangs in the air, fades like a slowly retreating army.

The zafu is at once coarse and caressing, nestling me as I settle down into becoming one with the earth, the zabuton, a fluid translator.  The mokugyo’s rhythm lies deep within my chest. The incense settles on my tongue, an acrid sweetness, and there is absolute silence where my breath is an onrushing freight, passing quickly and departing to clear the way for the next, and the next, until even that fades and there is nothing, and there is everything, and there is me and not me, you and not you, and here is no longer.

The gong reverberates like a single hand clapping.

SEASIDE VILLANELLE

The ocean wind swept through the city
a sudden rain washed sidewalk, shop and street,
carried both dreams and sins back to the sea.

For the young child, time slid by easily,
life a campaign that allowed no retreat.
The ocean wind swept through the city,

rattled church windows, so that all could see
the priest stripped of dogma.  Christ on pierced feet
carried both dreams and sins back to the sea,

cast them to the waves, as if once set free
both dreamer, sinner would avoid hell’s heat.
The ocean wind sweeps through the city,

whispers to the rich man, “what will you be
at the end of this life, when bitter sleep
carries both dreams and sins back to the sea.

When you are buried deeply in the peat
will we see your face in the turf fire’s heat?”
The ocean wind sweeps through the city,
carries both dreams and sins back to the sea.