He will be 90 in a few weeks.
He doesn’t think this is possible.
He says he wasn’t supposed
to live this long.
He asks again how old he is.
You’re still 89, I tell him.
He has a relieved look on his face.
Then he smiles at me, says,
that means you are pretty old yourself.
I begrudgingly agree, though only out of necessity.
Two weeks ago he was certain
he was on the verge of death.
Today he says he is fine, says
he heard someone claim to be dying
but can’t imagine who it was.
Perhaps it was in his dreams, he says.
He goes back to watching television intently.
Tomorrow he won’t recall what he watched,
or perhaps that he watched.
But he knows he will be 90 soon,
or something like it.
When you look in the mirror
do you hope to see yourself,
and who is that face that stares back?
If you turn out the light, are you
still there in the mirror, or has
the illusion of you disappeared?
If you crack the mirror, do you
feel the pain of the scar across your face?
You cannot hope to see yourself, for
you would then cease to be you,
and the mirror would stare and see nothing.
You cannot search for the Buddha
for in looking you make finding impossible.
All this looking and so
very little being, so just be.
A reflection on Case 7 of the Hekiganroku (Blue Cliff Record)
We love the flower, more so
if it adopts the brighter shades
of nature’s palette, and even
tolerate the fern, but only if
it truly honors the greens
it is supposed to bear and unfurl.
We save our spite for the fungus
which reaches up to us
with surprising haste, nothing
this day, fully formed tomorrow
as if to suggest a resurrection
from something dark and dank
hidden below the surface.
Still, we turn our back on it,
wish it gone, find it ugly
and never pause to wonder how it
views us in the early light of morning.
A Phoenix may rise
from the ashes, but you
and I have seen the aftermath
of the flames
and all that rises are
our memories and dreams.
We lack both wings
and a certain amount
of faith, for ashes
are all that is promised
and in the end we
are no more than dust
avoiding the breeze this day
and, we fervently hope
the next, until
all that is left
is the Phoenix.
Baso knows well
only the ox truly
understands the yoke
but if you offer it
the ox will not accept.
Why would you seek
to become the ox?
It would be better
to burn the yoke.
A reflection on Case 33 of The Mumonkan (The Gateless Gate)
Their corpses have been gathering dust
in the closet where I keep them,
in boxes, once neatly labeled, but
the collection has grown so large
I’ve given up any attempt at organization.
I do, periodically, take a glance
into the boxes, take a few out
and carefully consider them, but
heeding the proscription, I always
put them back into their box.
Fortunately these corpses have
no discernible odor, and no one
who hasn’t peered in the closet would
imagine that simple cardboard boxes
would be replete with such corpses.
Still we need the room, so it is time
to be truly rid of all these words,
but sadly though I wanted to ship them
to the person who caused their demise, I learned
William Faulkner left no forwarding address.
In my dreams last night
I thought I came across the Buddha
while off wandering somewhere
I could not recognize.
I thought long and hard
about following Linji’s proscription
and killing the Buddha,
but while lost in contemplation
the Buddha took up his keisaku,
said “if you cannot follow
the simplest of directions,
if you are so lost in thought
you can never attain buddhahood”
and with one significant blow
instantly killed my dream
and allowed me to finally see.