I speak to my father
every week or so
our conversations are
as long as ever
but we are rapidly becoming
little more than
a skipping record.
He mostly recalls my name
and the various parts
one with the other of us
has had rebuilt
but even that is quickly
slipping into the fog
that is rapidly settling over him
and we both know
of the one part
for which there is
no repair or replacement.
He was quite tall for then, even
tall for now, and that hat must have
added almost a foot, a mortician
likely as not, if not a lawyer.
He wrote eloquently, even if his voice
was not quite of his stature, his words
always had impact, digging in the
gray and blue bled soil of Pennsylvania.
Today would be eleven score
and nineteen and I doubt the forefathers
would recognize the creation or want to.
7800 dead, 27,000 wounded, all watered
the Pennsylvania Farms with tears,
and today the soil has been given over
to stark down signs telling us
what they think we ought to know,
devoid of pain, devoid of impact.
Eleven score and nineteen
and we say to those knocking
at our door, “not now, we’re full,
there is no room at this inn
for the likes of you and yours.”
You want holy teachings
boiled down, synthesized
digestible in bites
so dine on the holes
look at me, at a window
as you do a mirror
a familiar face
the face will depart
yours or his
you will awaken
to endless absence
A reflection on Case 1 of the Blue Cliff Record (Hekiganroku)
A crane stands placidly
staring through the window
as we earnestly attempt
to imitate him, hoping
he will honor the effort
if not the result.
The master is graceful
and we are far less so, and
out of the corner of my eye
I see on the crane what could be
a smile, or as easily derision,
and take comfort in the thought
that the root of the word
is shared with laughter,
and we can accept that
not as a mark of failure but effort.
The crane returns to the pond
the master to his neigong
and we imagine we are
all noble birds awaiting flight.
We are obligated to carry
memories, and as we
get older the burden grows
ever heavier, we bend
under its weight, knowing
we dare not lose even one
for once castoff, the weight
is carried off like the smallest
feather on a storming wind.
Soon enough it is we
who will become the burden
that others must carry
and we hope they will
willingly shoulder the load
lest we become the excised
dust of forgotten stone
grown over with weeds.
He is bent over, walks with a shuffling stumble. He follows the path, inscribing it center or as close to it as he can get. He wants to say hello to those who would acknowledge him. He doesn’t understand why his mouth refuses to smile, refuses to form even the simplest of words. All he sees is her face, he sees it clearly when he walks each morning as they used to, and he will follow it until he sees it again the loamy soil they will share soon enough.
The cannery, long before it was a mall,
sat on the verge of the bay
bellowing steam into the night sky
shrouding the stars in a gauze blanket,
listening to the braying of the harbor seals
pleading for the morning’s dross
to be returned to the bay waters.
The otters lie on their backs peering
over the rocks and the monolith
its lights blazing as the trucks and carts
are laden with neatly stacked boxes,
grasping their stones, crushing
the shells nestled on the bellies.
Outside the fishermen, boats
scrubbed clean, stagger
down the narrow streets, stumbling
from bar to tavern, sleeping fitfully
on benches in the nearby park,
dragging up narrow alleys
to small, fading framed houses
kerosene lamps growing dim,
knowing the sun merely dozes
below the horizon, soon
to edge up and watch the boats
ease back out of the harbor into the sea.
Steinbeck walks slowly, savoring
the smells of morning, tasting
the stale beer of the night before.
First Appeared Online at Beachfire Gathering, 1996.
He hangs on the guest room wall,
simply framed in black, adjoining
his more ornate, Cheshire-
cat smiling sister. He isn’t brooding
really, there is just a certain needful
sadness, as he stares out, imagining
how he pictured things would be,
how they were supposed to be,
realizing here, they never were,
never will be, and although there is
no failure, no blame, he wears it
as his personal armor, still
so easily pierced by dreams.
You begin to believe
that the simpler the name
of the drug, the less
it will cost, it’s a generic thought
and one that rarely applies
but on the drive
to the out-of-network pharmacy
11 PM on a holiday eve
It makes the pain ahead
that much less, if only until
the pharmacy tech hands you
the bag and you see
the any drug that doesn’t
have a fully phrased
two syllable name
will inevitably cost more
than you anticipated
or otherwise be willing
to pay, if only the pain
would diminish without it.
If I come before the teacher
he will give me thirty blows.
If I do not come before the teacher
he will give me thirty blows.
It is the same for everyone,
his arms never grow tired
but if I never see my teacher,
I give him thirty blows
and my arms are suddenly heavy.
A reflection on case 31 of The True Dharma Eye (Shobogenzo)