JIZO’S NOT KNOWING IS THE MOST INTIMATE

When you come
before your teacher
and he asks you
what is it exactly
that you are looking for,
what is it that you
expect finally to attain,
how will you answer him?
If you say you are seeking
enlightenment, he will laugh
and send you away,
but if you answer
that you do not know,
he will hand you
an empty bowl
and tell you to go fill it.

A reflection on Case 20 of the Book of Equanimity ( 従容錄, Shōyōroku)

WORDS, WORDS, WORDS

They can have sharp edges
that wound on contact, some cuts
so deep they leave lasting scars.

They can get stuck in the throat
until you feel you can no longer
breathe, no longer cry out for help.

They can lie there, an
aggregate always acreting
and yet rejecting any meaning.

Or they can, carefully chosen
present great beauty, offer
hope, promise freedom.

They are the currency of poets
and writers, and they chronicle
our history and our lives.

PFFFT

As I age now I am
aware that the tether
to my earliest memories
has grown thin, stretched
by time until I know it will,
of necessity, soon give way.

And so I spend spare
moments trying to sort
through my life as I recall
it, selecting those moments
that bear the effort of retethering
so that time would be better
served weakening others.

But the hidden beauty,
I know, is that when a memory
is gone, has fallen away, it often
takes its shadow along, so there
is no hint even of its prior existence,
and you don’t mourn what
you never had, even if you did.

SHEEPISH

As a child, when I
had trouble falling asleep
my mother would trot out
the ancient saw and tell me
to just count sheep.

I tried to point out
to her that we lived
in an upscale suburb
and there were no sheep
for miles for me to count.

This hardly deterred her
and she repeated her
directions, in a stronger
tone of voice that she thought
brooked no argument.

I did try counting sheep
but still couldn’t sleep
given my congestion
and sneezing from what
I learned was a wool allergy.

JEALOUSY (AGAIN)

We are jealous of trees,
anchored as we are
to a grasping earth,
able to tear free only
momentarily or with
the help of machines,

for trees can approach
the clouds, swaddle
all manner of birds,
and, we are certain,
know heaven more
intimately than we can.

And trees are jealous
of birds, able to fly
well above their highest
branches, knowing
the true blue of the sky
and the verdant base
from which they took flight.

Just for the fun of it I asked ChatGPT to write a poem on this topic. Here is its effort:

In envy we gaze upon the sky, Watching birds soar with such grace and ease, Their wings taking them to places high, Leaving us on the ground to freeze.

We long to join them in their flight, To feel the wind beneath our wings, To escape the troubles of our plight, And spread our arms to feel the fling.

But alas, we are not meant to fly, Our feet firmly planted on the earth, While birds glide through the clouds on high, Showing us the true meaning of worth.

We may be jealous of their freedom, But let us not forget our own, For we have the ability to dream, And make our own paths to be shown.

So let us not dwell on jealousy, For we too have our own unique gifts, Let us embrace our humanity, And find joy in the life we’re given

MY RABBI (PART 2)

I tell him I am thinking of becoming
a rabbi, someone just like him,
a man who saw so many through
all manner of crises, joyous events.

He sits back in his unsteady chair,
one he refuses to replace, this one
finally broken in, he says with that
gentle smile that melts anger, anxiety.

You would do well at it, I know, he says,
and I will gladly write you a recommendation
but think about this carefully, it is
not the life you might imagine it to be.

But before you decide, he adds,
reaching among a stack of books,
read these, handing me two volumes
that I did not imagine would change my life.

And somewhere, I have my own copies
of Alan Watt’s “Beat Zen, Square Zen and Zen”
and “The Book:On the Taboo Against
Knowing Who You Are?”, and I then knew.

MY RABBI (PART 1)

If you ask why I am a Buddhist
I will tell you there are a myriad
of possible reasons, choose one,
or take this one, it fits nicely.

I am in college, pulling my grades
up to mediocre, thoughts of medicine
gone, law only faint on a distant horizon
a master’s degree away.

I visit my childhood rabbi, a man
who has been my guide through much.
I peer into his office, his door removed,
and he bids me to come in and sit.

I do, slowly, carefully negotiating
around stacks of books piled
on every possible flat surface,
the walls covered in bookcases

straining to hold their loads, I
knowing a too loud sound, a jostle
and the avalanche would be
impossible to stop, disastrous.

MACHISMO

He was fond of saying
that men need to toughen up,
show more fortitude, take
time for serious male bonding.

He would prattle on about
how so many men were
not true men anymore,
warped by modern society.

I tried my best to avoid him,
to quickly end our encounters and
when I could not, for he would
inevitably complain of loneliness.

Still, I would much rather be
in the kitchen, knives in hand
preparing a fine meal beside
the woman I so deeply love.