A SIMPLE SONG

Much as every person is a Buddha
every guitar can play a simple song.
Some will lay it badly, some will
break a string, some will play
with an unspoken regret, but all
have the capacity, recognized or not,
to create a moment of memory.
On this night there are two,
both skilled, honed of fine wood,
carefully strung, a purity of tone,
and you know neither will
fail to honor the song they play.
But while one shows its mastery,
intricacy of notes dancing
from the soundhole, while the other
sets a gentle rhythm, it is when
the other takes up the song,
that you realize it is playing it
with a depth of soul
that you will not soon forget.

GENSHA’S IRON BOAT 鐵笛倒吹 八十語

Do not suggest
you can only be enlightened
on a cold day in hell
unless you are prepared
to carry the air conditioner
across the River Styx.

Even Cerberus
has Buddha nature
although none
of the heads will say so.


A reflection on Case 85 of the Iron Flute koans. And if you haven’t guessed, Monday for a while, will be reflection on koan’s day.

ASKED AND ANSWERED

This morning I made the mistake
of asking where the coffee beans were.
My spouse didn’t hear me, but Siri
offered her opinion, leaning toward Guatemala.
That didn’t set well with Alexa
who said they were either in the cabinet
over the stove, of in Papua New Guinea,
since she prefers lower acidic coffee.
Probably unsurprising, but Siri did
not take well to being corrected,
and got into it with Alexa, and I
was left trying to interject, being ignored.
I asked the Google Voice Assistant to intercede,
but it only wanted to know which voice
I wanted it to speak with, and
then froze completely awaiting my answer.

ALOFT

She imagined what it must be like to have wings. She always wanted to be unmoored from the ground, to be free of its incessant pull, to look down on it from high above, and not with aid of contraption, just her, arms outstretched. The ground was a prison. She could move about, yes, but never really free, that sixth direction always denied to her. The sea was as close as she could come to true freedom, the sandy bottom dropping away, but the water was an imperfect atmosphere. She finally found the courage and stepped free of the cliff, felt the wind beneath her, the earth below falling away and coming up under her. She flew on until the alarm clock ended her flight.

DIMENSIONS

It is far less a matter of space
for we have that in profusion
if mostly always beyond reach, but
unnecessary anyway given our pervasive
fear of being alone while always trying
to define our particular uniqueness.
The universe has a vastness we
can never hope to grasp and so
we turn inward, where space is constrained,
and we can imagine impenetrable borders
that exist solely within the mind.
But the dimension that gives rise
to fear and loathing is time, for it
despite its vastness, is always finite
and always, in our deluded eyes
shrinking as the universe expands,
and we know there is a point
when time becomes a deathly singularity.

CHECKOUT LINE

Time seems frozen in the checkout line
stuck between the Mars bars
and the tabloids, you wonder
how Liz could survive a total body
liposuction, and further details of how
OJ killed in a moment of lust.
The old woman in front rummages
in her change purse certain she has
the eighty seven cents, the coins
lost in a blue haze reflected off her hair.
Two aisles over the young mother
her jaw clenched in frustration
keeps putting the life savers back
on the shelf as her child, fidgeting
in the cart grabs another roll, until
she shouts and slaps his hand.
His cry draws stares from all and she
stares at the floor as he grabs
a Three Musketeers and Certs.
A man in the express line swears
that the apples were marked 89 cents
and wants to see the manager
who calmly explains that Granny Smiths
are a dollar twenty nine and only small
Macintoshes are on sale this week.
He puts the bag on the scale
and stalks out of the store.
I would shift to the express lane
but I have 16 items and must
continue to wait and wonder
how many incisions it would take
for a full body liposuction.


Previously appeared in Kimera: A Journal of Fine Writing, Vol. 3, No.2, 1998 and in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press, 2008

THE GATHERING

They gather this time every week,
they would feel lost if they did otherwise.
The don’t do it out of any sense of duty
or higher calling, and they expect
nothing in return for having done so.
They aren’t even following directions
or obeying some unwritten rule.
They object to most rules,
demand logic before even pausing
to consider requests for action.
Holidays do throw off their schedule
but they work around them as best they can.
Theirs is a joyous group
and only the swings groan
under their laughter as their feet
reach up to kick the clouds,
before night falls on the playground.

TEXTURAL MIND

Somewhere in here there is
a hidden irony, not irony really,
but a close enough approximation.
We are creatures of softness, we
relish textures that yield to our touch,
would rather be swaddled than armored,
vastly prefer the kitten or puppy
to the armadillo or porcupine.
It’s all about softness really.
And despite this primal desire
for pillows and down filled duvets,
when it comes to measuring value
we’re all about corners and hardness,
about solidifying our financial position.
And while we crave bills and coins,
our ultimate measure of success
are those crystals formed over eons,
made hard by pressure and time,
for those are the jewels of our existence.

ORDINARY MIND IS THE WAY

If you are truly looking for the way
why do you insist on using your eyes.
Any teacher will tell you that your eyes
see nothing, they are only lenses through which
a delusion is created in the mind.
The mind has no eyes, but it is all
that enables you to see anything.
So abandon the eyes that see nothing,
and the mind that only thinks it sees.
Settle on the cushion until you
and the earth and the sky are one,
indistinguishable from each other,
and everything, which is nothing,
will appear before you if only
you refuse to acknowledge it.


A reflection on Case 4 of the Bring Me the Rhinoceros koans.