SEPPO REJECTS A MONK 鐵笛倒吹 七十三

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
with equanimity.


A reflection on case 73 of the Iron Flute Koans

ECHU EXPELS A DISCIPLE 鐵笛倒吹 語十三

If you come upon Echu napping
do not disturb him
but retreat to the zendo
or walk in the small garden
where enlightenment may be found.

If the search is successful
leave quickly, tell no one,
for it is very fragile
and the tongue
is sharper than the sword
and infinitely more deadly.


A reflection on case 53 of the Iron Flute Koans

SABBATH

Fourth floor, Antwerp Hilton,
night encasing the Schelde,
ragout of boar and claret
slowly regurgitating, I pause
ancient words, stutteringly said,
hand on my head a shoddy cover
two parts of eight fully remembered
one section only in part,
turning East or a best guess.
I ask nothing, or perhaps too much
it is hard to know, CNN International
offers no clue, no guidance,
head bowed, knees bent
the carpet has a burn hole,
Ani, I am, I do hear
I always hear, now rest
and share my peace.


First Appeared in Oasis: A Literary Magazine, Vol. 6, No. 2, October-December 1997.

THE RABBI

The old man peers at the yellowing book
then places it on the arm of the chair.
He gives the walker a sad, angry look,
and still struggling, looks up in mocking prayer.
Clutching the book, he limps to the table
and sinks onto the chair, risking a fall
that could reshatter his hip. Unable
to hear, he shouts to his wife, down the hall,
who brings the hearing aid and his glasses.
His eyes glow as the ancient words bring fire
to his voice, arms dance as though his class is
full of young minds that are his to inspire.
He settles into the chair, bent by age
and curses his body, now more a cage.


First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008)

KIKE

Third grade, religious school
kikes, us, then a backhand
raised, drawn, quickly dropped,
below a reddened face,
sleeve pulled up
145233 in black
between elbow and wrist
and a tear, perched
fearing to fall.
Never again, and nothing more,
later, same arm
ruffling hair, smoke
clinging to aging skin,
no older when he walked
in her arms into
infernos then smoke
rising slowly as he
labored, no more free
than on cattlecars
shivering in winter.
No hell to come,
never again, not Juden.
Mahogany doors
opened on oiled hinges
ancient scroll to be touched,
here is you, me, us, always
on Massada, in Vilnius.
Never again kikes,
dying only once.


First published in SNReview Vol. 9, No. 2  (2007)

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WHERE WISDOM CANNOT REACH 正法眼蔵 語十七

The wealthy man
has an ornate cup,
the working man
a very simple one.
The poor farmer,
nurturing the tea plants,
has no cup and all,
but for each of them
the tea is the same.
What is it
that you taste?


A reflection on Case 57 of the Shobogenzo (Dogen’s True Dhama Eye)

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RINZAI’S ENLIGHTENMENT 正法眼蔵 二十七

If you ask your question
you will find an answer
but ask another and the stick
will respond each time.
If you seek another teacher
will you change the question
or the answer, and does it matter.
Take up the stick, who
will you strike, your teacher
or yourself, and is there
any real difference?


A reflection on Case 27 of the Shobogenzo (Dogen’s True Dharma Eye)

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GOING DOWN

Hell is a place where what you
least desire becomes eternally yours,
or so we were told as children, well
not us, not the Jewish kids, for us
Hell was our mothers’ finding
that copy of Playboy we stole from
our father’s stash our mother
didn’t know about, and which he
would deny, throwing us under
the bus or any large vehicle she found

If we buy into Hell, and given that
ours is an aging population, many
of whom have landed in Florida
and Arizona to avoid the winters
that are hell on the ubiquitous
arthritis, and all those who have
joyously consumed the evangelical
Kool-Aid, when the final bell
rings, they may be surprised
to discover there is far, far more
of a chance of a snowball in Hell.


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HOLY VISIONS

Night has swallowed the city
and in the laundromat, dryer 42
decries her loose drive belt.
The young girl turns, “can you see it
the Virgin Mary, in the glass porthole”.
No, I think, only white cotton panties
and several pair of jeans
in endless rotation.
“She speaks to me, asking
for my forgiveness for the burden
she has delivered to us
and though I try to give her absolution
she will not listen. Talk to her,
maybe it is a male voice she needs
to ease her mourning.”
I stare fixedly at the washer
as the light for final rinse snaps on,
“she knows you, she is waiting,
so talk into the camera, that one
with the red light, and tell her
that you forgive, as your forgave
the other Mary, who you redeemed.”
The dryer slowly grinds to a halt
and the young girl grimaces,
“she is gone, so perhaps she heard
what I could not, and I thank you”.
She wanders out onto the street
and fades into the shadow
outside the penumbra of the streetlight.


First published in Prairie Winds (1999)

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GENDER?

So why, pray tell, does my gender
even matter, it isn’t like we will ever.
meet, and let’s face it, there is
a fluidity now which calls binary
thinking absurd, so we’ll go with
whatever you choose, so long
as you realize I am all about
compassion and relieving
the world’s suffering – thought
that might color your opinion
a bit, good you got the yin of it

And let’s talk about the whole
name thing, I mean, sure, it changes
when you change languages, I’m
okay with that, I guess but if
you are going to use me in Japan
why not use my Japanese name,
I am particularly fond of Kannon,
I’m down with Guanyin, used
that one all over Asia, but seriously
do you really think I want to go
around these days as Avalokiteśvara,
I’m centuries old, so show me
A bit more compassion than that.


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