ONE FLAVOR ZEN

How far must you wander
to taste the pure essence,
hear the pure note,
see deeply into beauty,
smell the first flower of spring,
touch another heart.
Will you grow tired
from standing still
in total silence
contemplating this?

A reflection on Case 65 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo Koans (Trud Dharma Eye)

WASHING OUT

I wrote down the biggest
mistakes I made in life
on the backs of newly fallen
maple leaves, and carried them,
a fair number, to the river.

I cast them onto the water,
some quickly swept up,
a few lingering on a fallen
tree partially damming
the flow, waiting for this.

Most disappeared as
the water approached
the falls, cascaded over
on its way to the waiting lake
and then to a place unknown.

This was an act of catharsis,
for the maple, if not for me,
a freedom, not to bear
the burden of impending winter,
frozen still with regrets.

FOUR WETLAND HAIKU

Apple Snail shell
bleached by the sun, empty
happy Snail Kite

Great Egret sitting still
waiting, simply waiting
then flying off

Red-shouldered hawk
staring into the distance
endless patience

Pig frog croaking
but the moon will not answer
we fall asleep

LISA, ONCE

A phone call, a lawyer’s clerk:
Can you tell me about Lisa Landesman?
I pause for that is a name I have
not heard in forty years, save
in a poem I once wrote,
now long forgotten.

She was my sister for two
or three weeks, adopted like I was,
and then Mike, my then father
dropped dead of a massive
heart attack and she was soon gone.

We were Federal adoptions, our
birthplace under Federal law, not
getting its own for two decades,
and her adoption wasn’t final so she
was re-placed and never replaced.

She won’t inherit as I will from
my cousin who died having no
siblings, spouse, children,
nieces or nephews, who left
no will, who left only kind memories.

CASSANDRA IN FLORIDA

She is large, and largely immobile
and occupies the bench by the road
that encircles the property like a noose.

She does this each day, a crust
or more of stale bread tucked away
in a pocket of her always floral

housedress that envelopes her
and the bench she occupies
as a monarch on her throne.

The ibis see her coming and gather
at her feet like acolytes awaiting
words from their sage and goddess.

She doesn’t disappoint them, telling
them a tidbit of the world, more often
who was taken sick overnight, who

died yesterday, always a shock
she says, then whispers conspiratorially,
but actually expected, of course,

for everyone here has numbered days,
and then tells them stories of her life,
real and imagined, the veil between

her truth and her fiction now diaphanous.
They grow impatient, but a good queen
reads her subjects and reaches

into the pocket pulling out the crusty
bread, smiles at her flock, says see, I bring
manna and together we cross the desert.

First Published in Chantarelle’s Notebook, March 2019
https://chantarellesnotebook.com/2019/03/22/

I WAS, BACK THEN

Fifteen years ago, I tell them,
I was invincible, nothing bothered me,
nothing held me back and even
the few surgeries were short
rest stops on a runner’s highway.

I knew it would last forever, I
knew I was kidding myself.

Now, aging, I am held together
by titanium and injections,
trying to fall apart with
as much grace as possible.

My little problems are now
chronic, degenerative
and progressive, yet I live on
for there is no good alternative,
and hope that medicine finds
solutions before my problems
completely overtake me.

WE WANT, AGAIN

We want to cry out,
but we have no words.

We want to scream
but all we give is silence.

We want to curse the invader
but cannot be heard
over the tanks, bombs
and rockets.

We want to mourn
but there are so many
innocents, where
do we begin?

We want to act,
but we are incapable
and can offer
only silent prayer.

NANSEN’S CONTENT AND CONTAINER

Bring me your mind
but leave the body behind,
this is what you must do
to attain enlightenment.
You may sit where you are
in total silence, or
you may come over here
and sit quietly at my feet.
Both paths lead
deeply into the way.

A reflection on Case 64 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo Koans (True Dharma Eye)

OLD HOTEL, NARA

Stepping into the hotel, it was like being dropped into a truly alien world. Nothing shiny, no excess of glass and marble. A simple dark wooden reception desk, a clerk in black with a white vest. A bow upon approaching. Your room is simple, no internet, a single light on a small desk. A tatami mat in the corner. A hard wired phone. And you know, in the distance, the Daibutsu awaits you in the morning. Here there is no CNN International, nothing that isn’t Japanese. Your computer is essentially useless, a fax machine in the office for emergencies. And the nearest business center, sorry closed, is in the city. The Internet is coming soon, they promise . But on your morning run, as you catch your breath on the step outside the Todai-ji Daibutsu-den, a deer comes up to you and licks your face and you know this morning Daibutsu is smiling.

EXTINCT

You want us to believe
you are small, kind creatures
sucking hungrily on the teat
of democracy.

We see you for who
you really are, parasites
who would suck the teat
dry until democracy
withered and died.

Some believe you,
accept you blindly
but what will they do
if you succeed, for like
any invasive species
when the host is gone
there is only mourning.