ONE STEP TOO FAR

“As you get older,” he said,
“the body grows remarkably
adept at telling you when
you have done too much,
or done something you shouldn’t.”

What he didn’t say, the critical
piece of advice I wish I heard,
is that the body only speaks
well after the fact, a lecture
surely, but never a warning.

No one wants to go a step
short, to miss whatever mark
someone randomly established,
but the price of a step too far
is high and often long lasting.

My back sat me down this
morning , and with that smirk
told me the lifting yesterday
could be paid for over a week,
and my arthritic knees nodded.

FROM THERE

The middle, she said, is what
is all important, for everything
extends from that precise point.

It’s something we learned
as children, a lesson sitting
in every good playground.

Buddhists know it certainly,
it is the way we want to find,
the route to peace and compassion.

And let’s face it, when it comes
to everything, we all know
that’s the place you want to be.

TAIGEN FANS HIMSELF 正法眼蔵 三十二

When a leaf leaves the tree
it falls precisely where it should.
When a flower petal is carried
off on a strong wind it
comes to rest in the proper place.
When you smell the sweet aroma
of next summer’s roses
use the nose you had
before your parents were born.

A reflection on case 32 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo (The True Dharma Eye) Koans

A NOVEL IDEA

If I were a character in a novel, say
by Kawabata, that evening we met
twenty years ago, I would have
placed my hand lightly on your shoulder,
and I would have felt a heat,
embers of a passion that would,
in hours, leave me consumed by it.

I was a middle-aged, soon to be
divorced man on his first date
in thirty years, imagine a teenager
knowing what not to do, but with no
idea of what to do save chatter
and periodically gaze at his shoes.

I was, as the evening progressed,
bold enough to take your hand,
and hoped that my fear and anxiety
might be mistaken as romantic,
or bold and daring, anything but
the reality that was consuming me.

We’ve been together twenty years,
and as I read Kawabata again, I
recall those first moments, but
in this revised edition it was
your passion I felt in that first touch,
a flame that consumes me to this day.

NIGHT APPROACHES

The clouds this evening
are the deep gray that so long
to be black, but the retreated
sun just below the horizon
lingers long enough to deny them.

The space, shrinking, between
the clouds, is the gray of promise
that the night will soon deny,
and the birds who take over
the preserve, chant their vespers,
each in his or her own language,
uncommon tongues singing
their hymn punctured, punctuated
by the flapping of wings, as the night
encloses us in a cocoon that will
carry us into the coming morning.

MY PAIN

I want so to say that i feel
your pain, but we’d both
know that was an utter lie.

I can tell you abut my pain,
describe it at great length,
and I will be utterly disappointed
when you admit you can only
imagine it as a reflection
of your own pain, which I
am certain doesn’t begin
to rise to the level of mine,
but that is your failure, and I
will forgive it for I know
that my pain is unique and
beyond even your imagination.

So let us just agree that each
of our pains is beyond
the contemplation of the other,
secure in our own uniqueness.

KENSHO

Tonight, if all goes well, I will be
a monk in a good-sized Buddhist temple.
I am hoping it will be in Nara,
at Todai-ji perhaps, or Asakusa
at Senso-ji, or better still somewhere
in Kyoto, although it might well be
in the Myanmar jungle or somewhere
deep within the Laotian highlands.

One problem with that world is
that I have no control over it, which,
come to think of it, leaves it
like the waking world which
has never hewn to my direction.

I’ve had this desire for weeks
on end, and I suspect tonight
will be no different, and I will spend
eight hours sorting files, writing
cease and desist letters and trying
to convince myself that even that
is a form of mindful meditation
and abiding kensho will arrive
in the next rapid eye movement.

LANGUAGE

The Hawaiian language has 12 letters
which is important to understand
particularly if you consider writing
an apostrophic poem, not to a person
or thing, but to a letter of the alphabet.

It might help to explain why Hawaiian
poets never write about zoology or
the role that zygotes play in life, and
leave zymurgy to the haoles, for
native Hawaiians prefer a linear
life, free of endless zigs and zags

I don’t imagine I will try and learn
Hawaiian any time soon, although
with twelve letters, I’d have an easier
time of it than Russian, say, but nor
will I write an apostrophic poem
to the letter Z although I will open
a bottle of zinfandel to honor it.

ERSE WHILE

Growing up, I never imagined
that I was Lithuanian, I mean I
might have as easily been from Mars.

And it was only in my dreams
that Gaelic was an ancestral tongue,
not one my ancestors spoke,
at least those who hadn’t yet
made the unthinkable move
to Norfolk and the frigid sea.

Now I am all of those, and I know
that blood is a bond that is strong
even if it lies dormant half
a lifetime, for when you find it
it ties you to a world which
you imagined only in your dreams.