Joshu Sees the Hermits 無門關 十一

Joshu’s single question
asked twice the same

two answers, two
raised fists
each time the same

Joshu responds to each fist
each response different
each the same
a single light

both seen and unseen
both blessed curse
and cursed blessing.


A reflection on Case 11 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate)

APART-IAL EXPLANATION

It is all to often debated
what sets humans apart
the other species, and that
will not be agreed any time soon
(which a cynic would note
is one such thing itself).

Freud would claim it is only
our ego, our sense of self,
which may explain why people
are so capable of being self-
ish, and I suspect he was
certain he was wholly correct
but I would give him only partial credit.

It is far simpler than that: record
your voice, record a Sandhill
crane and play them back
and I assure you that you
will say you sound nothing
like what the recorder heard
while the crane will nervously
look all around for his unseen kin.

MONOCHROME

It is an admittedly odd sign
of my age that I recall clearly
when bathrooms were tiled mostly
in monochrome, black and white,
and it was a mark of quality when
each tile was hexagonal, a hive
of ceramic cells, impenetrable.

Now tiles are square or rectangular,
come in a rainbow of colors, often
intermixed to achieve looks
unimaginable back in my youth,
and walls a painted with any color
you can imagine, not the eighteen shades
of white from which my parents had
the choice for our new house.

But change can be for the better,
and in proof of that you need only
look around and see that bathroom
fixtures are mostly white, occasionally
black, not sickly green or peach,
and, thank the gods, no one has
avocado appliance these days.

ELEGY FOR A POET

(for Allen Ginsburg)
You died quietly in your bed
friends gathered around
the cars and buses of the city
clattering out a Kaddish
to a God you had long ago
dismissed as irrelevant.
We would have expected
your to howl, to decry
the unfairness of it all,
but you merely said
it is time, and slipped away.
Who gave you the right
to depart without leaving us
one last remonstration
against the insanity
that surrounds us, one last
censure of the fools
who we have so blindly chosen
to lead a generation
into a hell of our creation.
You had your peace
but what of us
left behind, what can we
look forward to
in your absence
save the words we know
so well, can recite by heart
that no longer beats
in your breast.


First appeared in Living Poets Vol. 2, No. 1, (U.K) 2001 and reprinted in Legal Studies Forum vol .30, Nos 1-2,  2006

SEPPO’S SANCTITY 鐵笛倒吹 三十七

You claim to seek sanctity –
will you know it
if you find it along the way?

What if it sneaks up on you
when you are lost in reverie,
what if it reaches you
in a strike of the teacher’s stick,
will you jump in fear
and frighten it away,
or sit with it
in endless zazen?


A reflection on case 37 of the Iron Flute Koans

DYING TO MEET YOU

The single greatest problem
In writing about death
Is that everybody does it, dies
Sooner or later, so it’s hardly
All that special unless, like Twain,
it happens more than once.
But perhaps multiple deaths are not
All that uncommon, for Buddhists,
Among whom I count myself
It happens all the time, karma demands it.
And if I had any doubt, Google will confirm it.
I, for instance, died the seasoned lawyer
in Calgary in 2009, the trade I practice for 36 years,
And I ironically died on my birthday
In 2011 in Palm Beach Gardens, though
I’ll be damned if I felt 84 then, and
I kicked bucket in 1754 in Orbach, France
But I’ve never been a real fan of the French
although it is my next best language
And when the wine is good, it’s great.

MOVING PICTURE

Increasingly few can remember
the time when making a home movie
was an event unto itself,
when you didn’t strap the camera
to handlebars, helmet, dashboard or body,
but you hand-carried the damn thing
weighing a pound or two, you stuffed it
with film which you sent off to the lab
to have developed, hoping your story
would appear in the returning envelope.
You threaded the film onto the sprockets,
turned on the motor and lamp
and watched expectantly as images
always a bit under-or over-exposed
moved a bit jokingly across the screen.
There was nothing to upload, you knew
the image would fade over time, unless
the projector grew cranky or jammed
and you watched your memories
quite literally melt on the screen,
and the only numbers that mattered
weren’t megapixels and gigabytes but
millimeters, 8 for most, 16 for the wealthy.