THEOI HALIOI ARE NOT HAPPY

For reasons no one can explain,
we have always assumed the gods
of the sea have it in for us,
witness shipwrecks and storms,
and the too occasional tsunami.
We assume they are a petulant lot,
given to fits of pique and with
a means of expression of that pique
certainly denied to mere mortals.
It is why, we only set out to sea
with great trepidation, why we
kiss the shore upon our safe return,
as if to express thanks for not
becoming the sea gods’ latest victim.
We will not admit that their anger
may stem from our rejection,
when we elected, eons ago,
to crawl out of the sea and walk away.

TS’UI YEN’S EYEBROWS

The question is a simple one, really,
but not one you were expecting, which
is why you sit and grapple for an answer.
Ask yourself, what if no answer is needed,
what if there is no answer, can you
remain silent, or will you feel somehow
incomplete if you do not respond?
All answers are correct, but beware,
for all answers are incorrect as well.
Now consider the question again, carefully,
what do you respond when you are asked
once again, insistently, “who are you?”
Be very careful, for if you gaze
into a mirror you will see someone else,
and if you say that person is you,
you will most certainly disappear.


A reflection on Case 8 of the Hekiganroku (Blue Cliff Record)

NATURE’S PROPHET

He sits still
demanding your attention.
He stares at you with green eyes
and a defiant look, saying
you are a visitor here,
this is our world
so do not abuse your privilege
of sharing this space with us.
We were here long
before you arrived
and our kind will
be here long after
you depart, although
we do not comprehend
why you always seem
to want to rush
yourself headlong
into extinction.

ASHES TO DUST

The dolphin
is born of the water,
the man
born of the fire
and of the earth.
The dolphin swims
unrestrained,
the man
chooses to live
in the city of Afterlife,
focussed
on impending rebirth.
The dolphin stares up
in wonder
at the amassing clouds,
the man
curses the sky
shielding him
from heaven.
The dolphin
nurses her pup,
the man
suckles
at the fount
of promises.

MOURNING ASCENDANT

When they lowered my grandmother’s casket
into the sodden earth, there wasn’t
a dry eye or shoulder, or leg around.
Sophie would have gotten a good laugh,
her children always too busy for a visit
getting soaked to the skin,
in a cold, windy downpour, all but me,
the one she chose to conduct the service,
the funeral director standing behind me
with the oversize umbrella, ensuring
the words of prayer, of departure,
were dry enough to read, washed
only by my tears, held back, unholdable,
the clunk of the first shovel of dirt
on the simple pine box still echoing today.

KANGNAM STYLE

The kimchi and pickles
are presented in neat
Celadon dishes carefully
arranged on the small table.
The meat sizzles
on the iron dome
resting above the bucket
of orange hot coals
set into the table
littered with half empty
and fully drained bottles
of Hite beer and
thimble glasses of Soju.
The waitress snips the meat
from the ribs
and replenishes the lettuce,
the pickled onion, bean paste,
as our voices slowly rise
above the din
of beer and whiskey
until we drown it
in a bowl of duck noodle soup
and stumble out
onto the streets of Kangnam
for the slow journey
back to the hotel.

REFLECTING ON THE HARBOR

On the anniversary
of the start of a war
one feels almost compelled
to speak to its horrors,
its cause, its effect.
But we live in an age
where wars are plentiful,
when peace is the exception
and war seems to loom
around every corner.
So on this anniversary
I watch the snowy egret
stare into the pond
outside my window,
the great bird calmly
imagining that,
in her world,
all of the people
are merely fish.

CHU TI’S ONE-FINGER CH’AN

When you believe you have
found your teacher,
ask him a question.
If he gives you an answer,
be certain that he
is not your teacher.
But if he holds up
just a single finger,
will you pause
in false anticipation,
or do you gaze at
his raised finger
and carefully consider
the answer.


A reflection on Case 19 of the Hekiganroku (Blue Cliff Record)