ONE STEP TOO FAR

“As you get older,” he said,
“the body grows remarkably
adept at telling you when
you have done too much,
or done something you shouldn’t.”

What he didn’t say, the critical
piece of advice I wish I heard,
is that the body only speaks
well after the fact, a lecture
surely, but never a warning.

No one wants to go a step
short, to miss whatever mark
someone randomly established,
but the price of a step too far
is high and often long lasting.

My back sat me down this
morning , and with that smirk
told me the lifting yesterday
could be paid for over a week,
and my arthritic knees nodded.

TAIGEN FANS HIMSELF 正法眼蔵 三十二

When a leaf leaves the tree
it falls precisely where it should.
When a flower petal is carried
off on a strong wind it
comes to rest in the proper place.
When you smell the sweet aroma
of next summer’s roses
use the nose you had
before your parents were born.

A reflection on case 32 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo (The True Dharma Eye) Koans

AND UNDER THIS ROCK

There is one thing that none
of the books on discovering
who you are when you are
adopted bother to tell you.

If they did, it wouldn’t change
anything, but it is a burden
you assumed you’d easily bear
that grows heavy with time.

What they don’t warn you is
that you will discover yourself,
your heritage that was denied
to you for one engrafted on.

But you will not be prepared
for the hidden tax that is levied
with that knowledge, for your
mourning is too soon doubled.

MY PAIN

I want so to say that i feel
your pain, but we’d both
know that was an utter lie.

I can tell you abut my pain,
describe it at great length,
and I will be utterly disappointed
when you admit you can only
imagine it as a reflection
of your own pain, which I
am certain doesn’t begin
to rise to the level of mine,
but that is your failure, and I
will forgive it for I know
that my pain is unique and
beyond even your imagination.

So let us just agree that each
of our pains is beyond
the contemplation of the other,
secure in our own uniqueness.

RUYGE’S ULTIMATE STAGE 鐵笛倒吹 二十八

If you answer the question
I will ask you another
each more difficult.

If you enter a room
and catalog its contents
there will always be a door
leading to yet another room,
another inventory to be taken
to determine what is there
and what is missing.

It is only when you enter
an empty room,
that you will find all things.

A reflection on Case 28 of the Iron Flute Koans

NIGHTLY PRAYERS

My mother always told me to say
my prayers before bed, which was odd
given that she never prayed, and didn’t
as far as we could tell, believe in a deity.

I knew, as my Rabbi taught, that you do not
seek something for yourself in prayer,
and world peace and harmony did not
seem on the horizon despite my entreaties.

Now I kneel, and face the wall before bed,
and listen to the prayers of the birds
in the wetlands, although it is not clear
if it is a deity or the moon to which they pray.

My mother is long buried now, I will join
her eventually, and there is still no peace
in the world, merely violence and poverty,
but the birds have greater faith than I ever did.

WE WERE SPECIAL

We were a special generation,
that’s what they told us, and although
we had no real idea who they were,
we drank the Kool-Aid and believed them.

We got liberal educations, were
smarter than our parents,
and went off to the wars that they
started for us, did enough drugs
to numb the pain of our existence,
and became first class working drones.

Our children are grown now, and they
have been told that they
are a special generation and although
they were skeptical, we convinced them.

Some got liberal educations, most
couldn’t afford that thought,
so we found wars for them to fight,
and drugs to kill the pain of lives
that were and would be nothing special,

and we wondered what they
would someday tell their children.

THIS YEAR I

It is a day set aside for resolutions
although there is no reason
you cannot make a resolution
any day of your choosing.

Perhaps it is a day for those
resolutions you might not
otherwise make, the bold
or daunting, more likely a day
for the resolutions you know
you will abandon as too hard
or simply utterly impractical.

This year I have resolved not
to engage in the annual ritual,
the annual farce more accurately,
and will achieve a long-held goal
of conceding failure early,
in a new year that will afford
myriad chances to come up short.

And there is a hidden blessing
in my newfound resolve
to swear off resolutions, so
take that old Epimenides.

MAY DAY

We marched for hours, going
nowhere really, but nowhere was
the point of the marching so we
achieved the goal the Air Force set.
We didn’t even think it odd
that they made us shave our heads,
so we’d all look like fools,
there was a war on and we
were in the military, so we
had already proven that point.
We were the smarter ones,
as it turned out, enlistees
who’d spend our time on bases
getting the pilots ready to fly
into the danger we knew
we had so carefully avoided,
and for us the greatest risk
appeared daily in the mess hall.

First published in As You Were, the Military Review, Vol. 13, 2020

EYES HAVE IT

It is the eyes that fall in love,
the heart that follows like
an always faithful shadow,
and the mind and reason that
are bound to darkness and silence.

That is what I learned in my dream
last night, or my recollection of it, for dreams
may fade in the sharp light of morning.

But dreams have a potent magic, a holiness
really, for there I can resurrect the dead
and if the mood is right, bend back
the arrow of time, render it dimensionless,
all the while I remain constant, but certain
with any luck, in someone else’s dream, I
may be a child, a young man, or any
of a thousand other roles I cannot imagine.