MA KU CARRYING HIS RING-STAFF

When you sit before the master
he will ask you a question.
Consider your answer carefully
then offer it to the master.
He will simply say, “correct.”
Later, when you sit before the master
he will ask you the same question.
Offer your answer to the master.
He will simply say “incorrect.”
If you ask him how your answer
can be both correct and incorrect,
the master will look through you,
and simply smile and say “Correct”.


A reflection on case 31 of the Blue Cliff Record koans.

SAYING, NO PLEASE

“Every once in a while,” he says
and the screeching in my head
drowns out what follows. I know
what he means of course, that is
the easy part, but the gulf between
meaning and saying is so broad
I can stop and count the traffic
of ideas floating by, each seeking
its own purchase, each finding none.
It could be worse, I know, he
could have said “each and every
once in a while, and he does that
as well, though not in a while,” 
but even the once was enough.
I notice he is gone, and I wonder
how much life flowed by
while I was otherwise engaged.

RHINOCEROS

If I ask you to bring me
an atom of oxygen, where
will you search for it, how
will you isolate it, so that
you have captured
a single atom
that you can bring
in response to my request?
It may take some time
and great effort
to satisfy my desire.
Or you may simply
smile and tell me
to breathe and choose
the atom I wish
from the multitude
you have provided.


A reflection on case 3 of Bring Me the Rhinoceros (koans).

ELEMENTAL, MY DEAR

In the elemental scheme of things
we humans are, at best, middling.
We are minute in the scale of the universe,
our time not even a glimmer, and
as we age, time contracts, but only
in the shortening forward direction.
But pity the poor hydrogen-7 isotope
whose life is likely over
in 30 yactoseconds, absorbing
the laughter of helium-5 living
on average, 33 times longer, and both
jealously, if ever so quickly
regarding our seemingly infinite span.
But lest we get complacent, there is
always zirconium-96 for whom
our life is but the blink of an eye,
barely worth noting, a second at most
in a span that could reach
twenty quintillion years, so we
are nothing special, save in our own eyes.

COSMOLOGY

Our purpose is to understand
and then explain
the order of the Universe:
the logic of the neat array of stars
from our centrally located
observation deck, the galaxies
as so many fractals seeking
to hide their organization.
We have no ability to control
and lack the mechanisms
to make all but the most minute
adjustments and then as if
to energize a stray electron
into a higher energy state.
We would like to foretell
but we have no essential premise
on which to erect our framework
just a cornerstone unwilling
to settle in place or time.
We can only recount
what we have learned
cautious that we miss
only events of lesser importance
even if they are prehistory
long before they occur.
Before the beginning
was the beginning.


Published in the May 2004 issue of Vent