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)

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.

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.

WEATHER KARMA

It never rained
when I visited Senso-ji
and Todai-ji Temples.
I attributed this to good
fortune, the Buddha
clearing the skies
for my visit.
The young monk
said the Buddha
cares nothing
for weather, so
I should thank
the Japan Meteorological
Agency although they
never seem to give
him the weather
he truly wants.

MINDFUL

I saw the sun
rise this morning
over Mt. Hood, the
glow that announced
to the horizon its approach.
There should be
in the life of every man,
every woman, that moment
when seeing dawn
lift, peel back the shroud
from Mt. Hood causes the sudden
intake of just that much extra breath.

Publshed in As Above, So Below, Issue 9, August 2022
https://issuu.com/bethanyrivers77/docs/as_above_so_below_issue_9

AFOOT, A CITY

As you walk the streets
of a city like New York,
you hear a polyglot of languages,
and closing your eyes you
might have no idea where you were.

Listen carefully, eavesdrop
on conversations, imagine the stories
they are telling, the joys
and heartbreak laid bare before you,
half heard, half filled in
to make the story palatable to you.

Life in the city is life in a wholly
parallel universe, one in which
the characters speak only sound bites
and all meaning is transient
in the ear of the beholder.

ON ARRIVING

They arrive after a long flight
from tyranny, from oppression
from the nightmare of endless
fear, from hunger, from faith
denied, from the bottomless
depths of poverty, scarred
memories etched in their souls,
hoping for an ending as much
as wishing for a new beginning.
They have been here, a new
generation, raised on the stories,
versed in the painful history,
still residual anger born
of love for those who fled,
without the pain of experience,
who can forget when it is
others who now wish only
to arrive to the freedom they
have known since childhood

First appeared in Circumference, Issue 5, June 2022
https://poetryatpi.wordpress.com/

CATHARTIDAE

They circle slowly
each in its own tier
of a near cloudless sky,
their wings still
as if frozen, riding
the breeze, dipping
and rising, going nowhere,
needing nowhere,
riding, riding, looking
down at the wetland,
and circling, until
with a shift in the breeze
the vulture vortex
shifts east, and you
watch them shrink,
thankful that they
are simply out
for a flight, and not
finding a meal
in the reeds
and trees
where all
the other
birds live.

SENSO-JI

By hour six, the plane was just a lumbering beast dividing the sky, halfway from God knows where to nowhere special. His body cried for sleep but he knew he had to deny it. That much he had learned from prior trips. For when he landed, made his way painfully slowly into the city, it would be early evening when he arrived at his hotel. He knew he needed to be on the edge of exhaustion. Only that way could he grab a meal from the 7 Eleven down the block, and finally get to sleep, reasonably fresh in the morning. It would be a long day. Each day in Tokyo was a long day of endless meetings and negotiations. It was mind numbing, but he was paid well to suffer it. And he knew that on his last day in the city he would have time to board the subway for Asakusa. There he would wander slowly down the line of stalls, to the great gate of Senso-ji Temple, its giant lantern shedding no light, and peer at the Buddha Hall in the distance. There would be school children in neat uniforms, always hand in hand, and pigeonss, flocking around them and anyone who looked gaijin, easy marks for photos and handouts. And the orange tiger cat would huddle at the base of the nearby Buddha seeking enlightenment. For that hour or so he was in a different world. The giant city melted away. His thoughts grew placid as he placed his incense into to giant earthenware jokoro then washed its smoke over his face and shoulders. He bowed to the young monk carefully writing the prayer sticks. He stood silent at the foot of the Buddha Hall, a conversation no one could hear, one that everyone here was having simultaneously. Time does not yield, and as it ran thin, he headed back to the subway knowing his fortune without purchasing it for 100 yen. A simple fortune really, a return visit on his next trip to Tokyo and maybe a side trip to Kyoto, and as the icing on his taiyaki, a trip to Nara, to again wander the grounds of Todai-ji and commune with the deer at first light, in the shadow of the Daibutsu. On the flight home he thought of the moments in Buddha’s shadow, the resounding of the great bell. He smiled recalling the red bibbed jizo, knowing they gave up Buddhahood to help those like him, still lost on the path. He is saddened knowing he will soon be back in his world, the daily grind, this trip shortened, as all return trips are. And when he lands, goes through Immigration and customs, when they ask if he has anything to declare, he may say “just a moment of kensho.”