GICHU PREACHES 鐵笛倒吹 語十

If called before the Master
will you walk from east to west
to the Master’s Smile, or 
west to east, to a sudden frown.
Will you approach the Master
bowing with words of gratitude
only to receive a blow of the stick
or seeking instruction in your failure
to an equal blow of the stick.

Ponder this carefully:
what is the answer?
I leave you the stick
to reach a conclusion.

A reflection on Case 50 of the Iron Flute Koans

AT ONE

You need not apologize, for we
do not expect it, and would
not accept it as freely given.

It is not that you have not
done so much it warrants,
for that list is long and replete
with all manner of sins.

It is simply that we are not
in a mood to accept an apology,
denied so long, for hollow words
have no real meaning to us now.

And our mood will not change
until you atone for those sins,
for atonement is more than sorry,
it is the work of undoing

and you have so very much
to undo.

BOKUSHU’S BLOCKHEAD 鐵笛倒吹 語十語

Seeing your teacher on the road
if he says to you
Honorable Sir, what do you do?
You may turn, bow, and act the fool
or pass, eyes averted
without acknowledgement, silent
equally the fool.

Speak in silence,
face, bow without moving
greet him as you do yourself
in the morning mirror
and once past, offer gassho
and the fool is left on the path
dragging your shadow.

A reflection on Case 55 of the Iron Flute Koans

WHY NOT

Today in odd places,
at the most unexpected moments,
a child will smile without reason,
a young girl will laugh,
the young boy will stroke
the neck of a wandering cat,
and in that place
at that moment
there will be a simple peace.
Only the children will notice this,
though it gives lie to those
who deem peace impossible.
A child knows that it is
only preconceptions
and attachments
that blind adults
to the peace that
surrounds them.

HARLAN

You came, Harlan, to Rochester
somewhere in an endless winter,
“Ellison in Tundraland” you said.
We all chuckled approvingly.

You said a short prayer
climbing into the rusting Opel,
sliding on the edge
of oblivion, and
the approaching snowplow.

You stood, hoarse, smelling
of Borkum Riff and English Leather,
a tweed jacket over a polo shirt
and thinning jeans
and told us of the insanity
of television, a medium
pandering to idiots.
We nodded, hoping
you would finish before
the Star Trek rerun.

We sat in Pat and Sandy’s
as you consumed two orders
of fries, and a dwindling
bowl of ketchup. Later
we sat in the Rat, staring
at the empty bottles
of Boone’s Farm until
you took pity and ordered
two pitchers. You were
our patron saint.

Solzynitsyn was exiled
to a cabin in Vermont,
staring as the leaves greened
and fell under winter.
You served your banishment
in the land of lost souls,
miles from any reality.

First published in The South Carolina Review, Vol. 33, No. 1 (2000)

JIZO’S BUDDHISM 鐵笛倒吹 四十八

In setting along the path
do you follow Hofuku
covering your eyes so as
not to see evil, ears so
as not to hear it
and close your mind
to wandering ideas
or is Jizo’s path
yours as well?

With eyes shut tight
the mind will still see,
with ears covered sound
will echo, growing louder
with no hope of escape.
With open eyes
light is reflected, with ears
open fully, sound passes
freely and flitters away
and the empty bowl
is filled with potential.

A reflection on Case 48 of the Iron Flute Koans.

EXTINCTION

My granddaughter is intensely
concerned with the growing loss
of species, and rightly so, and I
share her fears, though I feel
largely powerless to do anything.

She has the faith of youth, a belief
that she and her peers can,
with work, effect a lasting change,
climb up the slippery slope which
we have cast them down, and save
other species from a fate
nature never could have intended.

But she cannot fathom the losses
that I have seen, things I knew
rendered extinct by her generation,
and that of her parents, the cassette
player, the typewriter, carbon paper,
and stationery and a writing desk,
to name only a few, but at least
the haven’t outdated my Blackberry.

DAIJI’S INNER CULTURE 鐵笛倒吹 十語

Eyes can look within
and discover a boundless universe
but the tongue alone
can speak only sounds
that go false
as they dance away unseen.

The silence of zazen
speaks the dharma,
the teisho is offered mutely.

The space between
eye and tongue
is but three inches
or an unbridgeable void.

A reflection on Case 15 of the Iron Flute Koans.

THE BEAST

Anger is an unruly beast,
slinking around out of sight,
bit always present on the periphery.

What is remarkable is that anyone,
anything might become its prey,
and no one will know until the moment.

But, and it is a significant but, when
it is a person who is the target,
the lurking anger can be shunted aside

if you simply stop and consider
that the person who offended, who
you wish ill, could quite easily

fail to wake up tomorrow, meet
a speeding car in an intersection today,
or forget to turn off the gas stove.

MOVING

When we tell friends
and acquaintances that we
are moving up the coast,
they look at us quizzically.

We think they wonder why
we are leaving our friends,
a world we have come to know,
for a place so alien to us.

We tell them that was by far
the hardest part, letting go
of those we treasure, hoping
they will soon come to visit.

They laugh, nod, and say yes,
but what they meant was that
it is so quiet up there, boring,
and at that we nod and smile.