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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CALLER

It’s Sunday, so I know, before long
I will have the nagging thought
that I should call my mother.
I’ve had this thought for years,
once acted upon it with regularity,
listened patiently for her weekly
list of things I needed to help her with,
since I never visited to do the work
with her standing over my shoulder.
I stopped the calls four years ago
because the dead make few demands,
and she didn’t bother to answer
except in the darkest hour
of my dreams.

WAITING GAME

He had been there for days
although he’d stopped counting
since it didn’t ultimately matter.
He would leave when
the time was right although
he had no idea how he would know
when that moment arrived.
Some things you do on faith
he assumed, and this
had to be one of those things.
He wasn’t sure why he came
but he knew he had to be there,
And he knew that the cave
provided him shelter and there
was an allegory hiding deeper in.


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PERSONIFICATION

The black cat walked by
the patio again today.
He won’t stop and engage
no matter how hard
I try to talk to him.
Some cats are haughty
and this one
clearly isn’t deaf.
Some say it is feral,
but it’s too well
groomed for that.
More likely it has spent
too much time with people.
The sort of arrogance
it shows has only one
source and, though we
hate to admit it, we
know that source all too well.


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KAFKA

June 13, 1896, Prague
a warm day, old stone schul
you stood before the minyon
wearing the skullcap
repeating ancient words
that lay on paper, rehearsed
sounding false on a tongue
swollen in anxiety.
Your tallit, white
woven with blue threads
hung at your knees
fringe fingered, rolled
and unrolled, twisted
until touched to skin
words inscribed, etched
into collective memory.
Seventeen years later
sitting with Buber
did words come back
and stick on your tongue
and later still
when you studied
under Bentovim, did words
take form, shape, dredging
up a past kept suppressed
walking in desert heat
knowing salvation was
down a hill, entry forbidden.
Lying in your bed
in Hoffman’s Sanitorium,
the trees of Kierling blooming
did you recite Kaddish
as endless night engulfed you.


First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008) and reprinted in Legal Studies Forum Vol. 32, No. 1 (2008)

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SMART ONES

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.


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BY DECREES

As King, newly appointed,
he mulled over what to do
for his first official act.
The predecessor King was known
to be much a recluse, one
who tolerated people as
a necessity of a Kingdom,
and he would say, a good
source of revenue to the King.
That one didn’t last long, never
imagined the people could
rise up and overthrow a monarch.
He would be more benevolent,
but he did need to make
a strong initial statement.
It came to him – and he
issued a decree banning all
mirrors and shiny surfaces
in public, and he knew
it was a good idea when
everyone else grew ever older,
and he, he knew, never aged a day.


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