BEARDED

It is growing more common for men
of a certain age, one I have attained,
to grow beards, and that was before
the pandemic made them ubiquitous
among those of the male gender.

I noted this aloud and a young child
smiled at me and said, “of course,
you have to have a beard because
the hair inside your head has to go
somewhere other than your bald head.”

TODAY

Today we want very much to pray
but words fail us yet again, and we doubt
God would hear our entreaty anyway,
since this is a disaster of our own making.

This is the problem of free will, as so many
discovered across Europe during the second
of the wars to end all wars, as did the people
of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well.

If God listened we would hear a reply:
“You made this mess, it is up to you to fix it
so get on with it, but do wait until
the pandemic subsides a bit more if you would.”

PLEASE TO FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS

At least some Chinese manufacturers
have seemingly grown tired of our
endless mockery of their instructions.

No longer do they tell me “please to be
inserting the extended aspect
of part A into part B in the slotted area.”

Now they give me wordless instructions,
a series of pictures with lettered parts
which seems easier until, after

unpacking the many pieces, laying them
out on th workspace I discover
that either I am short one or more screws

or worse still, but more likely, when I begin
I will discover that several of the part
labels are lying in the bottom of the empty box.

BODHIDHARMA’S VAST AND VOID

You want holy teachings
boiled down, synthesized
digestible in bites

so dine on the holes
nothing, emptiness
is sustenance
enough

look at me, at a window
as you do a mirror
no knowing,
a familiar face
but whose

the face will depart
yours or his
you will awaken
to endless absence

learn no
thingness
overflowing void

A reflection on Case 1 of the Hekiganroku (Blue Cliff Record)

TE SHAN CARRYING HIS BUNDLE

Enter the room slowly and look carefully,
since you are here to find something.
There is much within this room, but you
can see nothing save the old man,
sitting calmly, staring at nothing, staring
through you at nothing in particular.
You know he is the teacher, the one
for whom you have been searching,
Still, he ignores you, staring at nothing.
You walk around the room, from end
to end to end to end and he does
not move or speak, and so you leave.

He has given a great lesson, do you
appreciate what he has taught you?
You walk away angrily, say that he
is no teacher at all, that you are no
closer to enlightenment leaving
than when you entered, for you
found nothing but yourself.
As you leave the old man bows
as teachers do to Buddhas.

A reflection on Case 4 of the Hekiganroku {BLue Cliff Record)

WRITERS

I was born the same day, in
a much later year as Thornton Wilder,
a fact that had no impact at all
on my life, since I discovered our
common birthday long after
my life’s path was half tread.

I read him in my youth, and must
admit I can recall nothing of what
I read, which I attribute to all
that I have read since, and not
as any criticism of Wilder’s writing,
for his talent is beyond question.

But what was disconcerting
was to learn that Nick Hornby
was born five years to the day after me
and has penned works that I love
but cannot hope to equal
despite my having lived longer
if not more fully than he has.

THE WAVES

We, so far out at sea,
see only the waves passing,
the rise and fall, the rhythm,
and cannot imagine
it could be otherwise,

You, on the shore
cannot perceive the waves
we do, torn by the reef
that leaves you only
imagining what you think
the waves might be.

We cannot imagine
the silence, the isolation
you must feel in your
waveless world with
only memory of voices
to shape the shards
of sounds you hear.

A PRAYER UNANSWERED

When I was a child, a Rabbi told me
that I did have the ability,
to be used sparingly always,
to petition God for some good.

I filed this away with other stories
from the Torah, pillars of salt,
stone tablets, a flood worse than
the one that filled our basement.

At some point I needed something,
recollections are fortunately vague
now, and petitioned God in the most
humble terms I could imagine.

Nothing, happened, of course,
and when I asked the Rabbi, he said
either you didn’t need it, or perhaps
God was busy meting out justice.

I hope whoever was meted out
justice that day really deserved it,
because all the stories said God’s
justice was the end all of you.

FOUR VOWS

I can’t recall how many times
I’ve recited the four vows, how
I strive to follow the eightfold path,
and yet I do wander off
but never, I would add, intentionally.

Just yesterday after morning sitting
and the Gratitude ceremony,
we gathered on in ourĀ 
ever more important Zoom world
trying to tighten the threads of Sangha.

It was light, joyous, and I
without thought added this:
What is the sound of one hand
clapping? Trump’s inauguration,
to great laughter from all.

I thought about right speech,
about the Four Vows, but took
some solace in that they apply
only to sentient beings, and there
has been no evidence in him.

TODAY’S PRAYER

Today’s prayer
shall be recited in silence,
total, not even the breath
indicating a longing for action.
Nor will it invoke
a holy spirit without us
for it is we who
we must inveigh
to attain the desired
actions for which we seek
holy intervention, casting off
free will, an accrediting
poor decisions, a goat
where we seek escape
and atonement
for the sins of all the others.
Today’s prayer
shall not be recited at all,
but it is this prayer
in which we find absolution.

First appeared in The Poet: Faith, Spring 2021