GONE

The salmon people
don’t live here anymore
you have moved them
up the river, then inland
so they no longer need to wander.

The salmon
do not swim here anymore
you have dammed the rivers
to draw out their power
and penned the mighty fish
where the river first licks the sea.

The eagle doesn’t
fly here anymore
the great pines
that sat for generations
below his aerie are now
cut into neat supports
on which we hang our walls.

Our children
do not run here anymore
they have moved
to the cities, have gone off
to wars for fighting
is the only job
which they are given.

We have no rivers
we have no salmon
we have no sons, save those
who sleep under neat white stones.
We look for the eagle
a mighty spirit
but he, too, has been claimed
by the others
to decorate their buildings.
We have only our spirit
to guide us and we know
that soon you will claim them too
and leave us as you arrived
to repeat the sad story.

A MISTAKE IN SPEAKING 無門關 三十九

When you speak the words
of the Buddha you are lost.
Light is everywhere in silence
but the tongue must hide
in the dark of the mouth.

Buddha’s words are flowers
unfolding in the dawn
by the side of the still pond,
the eyes hear the song
and respond in silent chorus.


A reflection on case 39 of the Mumonkan (The Gateless Gate)

SATORI

The empty wine bottle
nestling the foot
of the postal box
wants nothing more
that to speak its mind
but it is forsworn
to silence, and stares
into the old Maytag box
tucked in the alley
next to the dumpster.
The bedraggled man
sits against the wall
and debates the meaning
of knowledge with
the Buddha lying
in a fetal ball
on the soggy asphalt.

BUDDHIST ENTOMOLOGY

One of the hardest things
about being a Buddhist
are the insects.
Setting aside their sentiency,
insects are a true test
of our ability to honor
the first of the four vows,
for while moths
can be captured in cupped hands,
the karmic dilemma
of how to deal with a spider
that refuses to crawl
onto the waiting piece of paper
and requires you to sacrifice
one or more of its legs
thus condemning it to a life
of unbalanced webs
leaves you Sekiso’s man
at the top
of the hundred foot pole.

HISTORY

I took yesterday and pressed it between the pages of my unabridged dictionary. The day began at sunrise and ended just before it became a supplicant, though to what, was not at all apparent. Days can be frustrating when they refuse to allow sufficient margins. I always thought Thursday’s among the best behaved, or at least the most compliant but that’s no longer so. The promise they used to hold out is evanescent now. It doesn’t really matter anyway for when I went to get it today to place it in my book of days, of course it was gone. I won’t look for it, yet one day it will, like so many others turn up amid the page barely preceding histrionics.

ISOLATION

She wondered what it would be like
to be an island, set off somewhere
in a vast ocean, tropical preferably
where the only sounds were
the ebb and flow of the waves,
the thunder of the occasional storm
and the whisper of leaves tossed
by the omnipresent sea breezes.
she liked isolation, the silence
of repetitive sounds, free of the shackles
the city imposed on all within.
She imagined she might never tire
of the freedom and island enjoyed,
patiently waiting for the visitor
who might not ever wash up
on her beaches, she indifferent
but willing to accept what the gods
might choose to offer or deny her.

FIFTY-EIGHT MINUTES, MORE OR LESS

In a bit less
than an hour
a new exhibit
will open
empty space will
be occupied
with moving
bodies of artist
and viewer,
universes will form
a thousand children
will be born
an old man in
a distant city
will slip away
a contented look
pressed into
his face
world leaders
will ask why
and have
no answers,
but all of that
is not now,
but in a bit
less than
an hour.

AN AFTERNOON SPENT

We sit around a small table
in the YAK Coffee and Beer
on the edge of Namdaemun
listening to loud pop songs
on tinny speakers.
The Hite Beer bottles sweat
dripping on the Formica table
down our backs
the dankness of the subway
clinging to us, bathed
in the smoke from the couples
hunched over coffee, giggling
conspirators plotting the overthrow
of ancient ideas, of hanboks
hung in closets, rice cookers
and kimchi ever present.
We walk past the pig’s heads
arrayed next to slowly rotting fish
and all manner of peppers
and breath deeply
of the bouquet of Seoul.