NO BIALYS TODAY

No one looked up when the Buddha
walked into the deli and took a seat
at the counter, “Pastrami on rye, and
lean, with mustard on the side, and two
slices of full dill and a side of slaw.”

As he sipped the Dr. Brown’s Cream
Soda, the waitress smiled at him,
asked, “Are those robes comfortable,
winter isn’t all that far off, you know.”

Buddha smiled, and with a serene calm
said, “It all depends on what you wear
beneath, I prefer a silk-cotton blend,
but some I know want only organics.”

As he finished, a younger, swarthy
man entered, his robes bleached white
from the sun, his dark hair long,
sandals worn down, and came
over to Buddha, sat down with
a nod to the waitress, and instantly
a corned beef on pumpernickel
appeared, at which point Buddha
muttered “Christ, how do you do that?”

First published in Bengaluru Review: Spring, 2021
https://bengalurureview.com/bengaluru-review-spring-2021

DAITSU CHISHO BUDDHA 無門關 九

Twenty thousand generations
a hundred
hundred lives
the briefest moment
in being, there is
no becoming, no leaving

and nothing is attained
for there is no need
of attainment, Seijo
whispered to
no one.

A reflection on Case 9 of the Mumonkan (The Gateless Gate Koans)

TOKUSAN’S ULTIMATE TEACHING 鐵笛倒吹 七十九

If the student asks the teacher
for greater knowledge
he will be met
with a blow from the stick.
If he asks again
the teacher will respond
I have nothing to give you.

Will you recognize
the greatest gift
when it is offered to you
or will you continue
to pursue its shadow.

A reflection on Case 79 of the Iron Flute koans.

BUDDHA AND HILLEL DINE TOGETHER

The meeting occurred by chance,
two old men sitting in the same park
staring at the same empty chess board
as the waves of the Stygian Sea
lapped against the break wall,
the ferryman now at the helm
of the great cargo ship.
“So,” said Hillel, “you come here often?”
Old, bent Buddha paused
“as far as I know, I have
always been here, or perhaps
I am not here now, never have been.”
“I know the feeling” the ancient Rabbi said
“I’ve been here so long, I too
have begun to doubt my very existence.”
Buddha rubbed his great girth
and smiled placidly as a black bird
alighted on his shoulder.
The Rabbi stroked his beard
the stood on one foot,
only to have two bluejays
land, one on each arm.
“Would you care to join me,”
he asked, “for a meal at Ming’s
or if you prefer, we can do take out
from the Dragon Palace,
whatever suits your mood,
in any event, my treat this time.”
The saffron robed old man
unfolded himself, and erect
and bowing, said
“It would honor me to dine with you
but if you wouldn’t mind
I’d much prefer a bowl
of chicken soup with kreplach
and a pastrami on rye.”

First appeared here April 24, 2016

UMMON’S THREE DAYS 鐵笛倒吹 六十八

What were you doing
three days ago
and what will you do
three days from now.
Are you the same person now
as you were, will be?

While your face in the mirrorKoan
seems much the same
each day you die a bit
each day you are reborn.
A thousand days
a thousand years
a passing moment,
how do they differ?

A reflection on Case 68 of the Iron Flute Koans

HOLY ARMY

1.

A millennium ago
the army of the lord
dressed in mail and rode
proud steeds across
barren lands, swords
flashing in a red roasting sun
washed in the blood
of the infidels.
They stopped for prayer
blessing the bodies
left along the dirt track
left by their hooves,
a common grave
for common faces
differing only in the color
of skin and hair.

2.

In this millennium
the army of the lord
slouches outside the mall
rubbing hands against
the chill, the bell bleating
against the night,
a barren moon reflects
off the red kettle.
As they locked the doors
he pulled the flask
from his hip pocket
and thought of the bodies
passing by, swerving
to avoid him, and the
forty dollars he would get
would warm
his frozen skin.

First Appeared in Lullwater Review, Vol. 9, No. 1, 1998. Reprinted in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 29, No. 1, 2005.

WOODEN PILLOW 鐵笛倒吹 六十

If, sitting at your meal
you hear the song of a bird,
what do you do?
You may tap your chopstick rest,
and perhaps he will answer
and repeat his sweet song.
If you tap a second time
and there is only silence
is the bird rejecting you
or offering his song to another,
flown from your window.

Perhaps you should tap again
and hear the sweeter song
of silence that echoes
over the garden and zendo.
On a distant limb
the small songbird smiles.

A reflection on Case 60 of the Iron Flute Koans.

LIGHTS

For eight days each December
they call out to me as the flame
of the candles flickers out,
“Remember me” they say in unison,
“remember me”, in the voice of the child,
an old woman, in Yiddish,
in Polish, German, Czech, Latt.
I want to remember but I cannot see
a face reduced to ash, blended
into the earth of a farm field outside Treblinka,
the winter wheat remembers.
I want to remember but I cannot stroke
the head of a young man whose bones
mingle with his brother’s, countless others
sharing a mass grave, his skull
and brains painting the trunks
of a nearby stand of trees.
I want to remember but cannot hear
the sweet tenor of the cantor
whose tongue was torn from his mouth
for refusing to speak of the tunnels
beneath his once beloved Warsaw.
I want to remember the lavender scent
of the young woman, fresh from the showers
but there is only the stench
of putrid flesh and Zyklon,
of bodies crammed into the converted boxcar.
I want to remember the taste
of a warm challah on Shabbat eve
that she lovingly shaped
into a braid and pulled from the oven,
but her arms were neatly removed
by the surgeon before she
was cast naked into the Polish winter.
I want to remember them all,
their names in a memorial
but they are only numbers
tattooed onto endless arms.
The candles die and their voices
fall silent for yet another year.

First Appeared in Rattle, Issue 7, Summer 1997. Reprinted in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 29, No. 1, 2005.

KYOSEI’S STICK 鐵笛倒吹 六十四

If Kyosei asks
from where I have come
how will I answer him?
If he asks where
my teacher lives
what will I tell him?

Such a fool I am
to wander from there to here
from here to another place
seeking a path
on which I
am always standing still.
Thirty blows is
the least I deserve.
But Kyosei withdraws
the stick.

A reflection on Case 64 of the Iron Flute Koans