It is said that you can never go home again
presuming, of course, that you have left at some point.
The fallacy of this statement is apparent,
for there is often nothing preventing your return.
What would make the statement accurate
is that you can never go home again
to exactly the same home you left
for your leaving alters the place and your return
creates only a new status quo, it can’t restore the old one.
It is like this with rivers, the Buddhist knows,
you never step into the same river twice
for each steps has you greeting new water
and even the rock upon which you step
has microscopically eroded.
So feel free to go home again, for there is
much to be gained from returning to a place
that is so familiar, and yet which you have
never before actually visited.
Several things you need to understand. First, and foremost, a waterspout is a term no one around here has used in centuries, unless you mean a tornadic columnar vortex of water, and trust me, we spiders avoid those like the plague. Shocking, I know, but with eight legs we cannot swim. At best some of us can skitter across the surface for a bit. Another thing, while my family, the Arachnidae come in many sizes, and while I am far from the largest, I am also far from the smallest. . So let’s stop with the itsy bitsy, shall we. But most importantly, it wasn’t a damn water spout, it was a water slide, and I went up the stairs and rode the water down. That is what you do on a water slide. And at a water park, no one really cares about the rain, we are all wet already. Though I must admit, riding the slides in the sun is certainly more pleasant.
If you find the answer
and rush to tell your teacher
why are you surprised
when he turns away from you,
saying that is yesterday’s answer.
If you want to impress your teacher
paint the answer
on the surface
of the raging river
or accept scorn
A reflection on case 73 of the Iron Flute Koans
He started digging early in the morning,
and hoped that by lunch, he’d be well
on his way there, though he wasn’t certain
how he’d get up out of the hole
when lunch rolled around, but need
is a good instructor, so he was sure
he could figure it out easily enough.
It was slower going than he imagined,
slower by several magnitudes.
He knew that would play havoc
with his plans, but he was capable
of adjusting to circumstances, that
was one of his strengths, he knew.
When the day receded, he set the shovel
aside and retreated home, knowing that
he wouldn’t complete the task
for at least another week, and the idea
of having real Chinese food in China
would have to wait, since he had
to be in school every day or miss out
on the First Grade perfect attendance award.
It would be an anathema to him
if he were a Pope or held deeply felt
opinions about anything, but he does not.
He denies being vacillating, rather, he says,
he is just open to a multitude of views,
never mind, she replies, that he
can never make any important decision
except by mere chance or luck.
He says he prefers life this way,
for he is disinclined to alienate anyone.
She says his unwillingness to take
and hold a position has alienated her,
and she points out that he has no friends
and few who would call him a true acquaintance.
He debates arguing with her, but he knows
she is possibly right and arguing
would do nothing, and so she walks away
and he can only imagine what might have been.
Consider them very carefully
for you will have only this chance
and you don’t want to add
those which ought not be included
or be forever burdened by those
you overlooked or misassumed
you wanted to retain.
When you are quite certain
you are finished, that your list
is exactly as you wish it,
that all your dislikes and regrets
are properly delineated, then
walk slowly to the river,
pen at the ready, and write them
with a precise hand upon the water.
We set out with bold ambition,
egos saddled and reined
across a landscape left barren
by our leaders who saw
only carefully stacked boards
and beams awaiting the master
carpenter, great floral sprays
dotting the lobbies of glass
and chrome edifices, created
in their own images.
We ride in search of
the promised land, and turn
a deaf ear to the windwalkers,
to the spirits of the children
sitting in the packed dirt streets
their bellies distended, crying
out for food, for justice
as the warlords sit in their cars
surveying the invisible parapets
of their armed fortresses.
We look quickly away
from the chindi of the young men
who rise from the neatly heaped soil
of the common burial mound, who
rise up in neat array and perch
on the edge of the freshly dug pit
waiting for the rat-a-tat rain
of death they know await them
unrepentant, unwilling to curse
Allah, bidding farewell to Tuzla.
We pause to chant the blessing way
but we have forgotten the words,
Arbeit Macht Frei, the gates
reduced to rust, the chimneys
no longer belching the sweet
smell of death into the winter morning.
We ride on oblivious to the faint glow
from the craters we have torn
into the earth, of the clouds
that only vaguely recall
the mushrooms of our progress.
We ride toward the horizon
where the great pillars of gold
and silver rise up, glinting in the sun
that once warmed them before
we cast them out into the desert
of our lust and craving.
We set out with bold ambition
but our horses have grown tired,
our canteens are empty
and the inferno threatens
to consume us.
First Appeared in Alchemy, Issue 2, Fall-Winter 1999.
It is difficult explaining to a child,
even one who has reached the age of 40,
that you once knew all there was to know.
They are certain they know more than you,
and they know all there is to know
so, a fortiori, you could not know
all that there is to know, period.
They will say this with a certain smugness
born, they believe, of the knowledge
that they know quite everything.
But there is still a perverse pleasure
in watching their smugness collapse
like a house of cards in a storm,
when you remind them that there was
so much less to know when you
knew everything, and so it will be
for their children when the reckoning comes.
She is anything but little, huge wouldn’t be a gross overstatement. And I suppose you could call a overstuffed brocade cushion a tuffet if you stumbled here out of the Nineteenth century. And just for the record, she was munching on a well-aged brie and sucking down a Courvoisier-laced Greek yogurt smoothie. Oh, yes, did I mentioned she had been twice married to older men, one dead with two months of the wedding, the other divorced when his heart refused to give out on her schedule. So, Miss Muffet, I don’t think so. I didn’t sit down beside her, she plopped down on the edge of an intricate web I’d been working on for weeks. I barely got out before I was six microns under. So, at best she sat down next to me. And she left once she’d stuffed her face full of cheese, downed her smoothie, and left both her wrapper and cup on the ground for someone else to pick up, she pranced away, never even noticing me. And there, as Paul Harvey used to say, you have the rest of the story.
If you go to a lecture
and listen carefully
will you become wise?
If you go to a hundred lectures
are you a hundred times wiser?
Where did the teacher find wisdom,
did he sit in endless lectures.
Watch him most carefully
is he not wise with sleeping,
and when eating, when he walks
to the lectern and from it?
Watch in silence
and find his wisdom.
A reflection on case 63 of the Iron Flute Koans