PLEASE TO FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS

At least some Chinese manufacturers
have seemingly grown tired of our
endless mockery of their instructions.

No longer do they tell me “please to be
inserting the extended aspect
of part A into part B in the slotted area.”

Now they give me wordless instructions,
a series of pictures with lettered parts
which seems easier until, after

unpacking the many pieces, laying them
out on th workspace I discover
that either I am short one or more screws

or worse still, but more likely, when I begin
I will discover that several of the part
labels are lying in the bottom of the empty box.

BODHIDHARMA’S VAST AND VOID

You want holy teachings
boiled down, synthesized
digestible in bites

so dine on the holes
nothing, emptiness
is sustenance
enough

look at me, at a window
as you do a mirror
no knowing,
a familiar face
but whose

the face will depart
yours or his
you will awaken
to endless absence

learn no
thingness
overflowing void

A reflection on Case 1 of the Hekiganroku (Blue Cliff Record)

JUST PERHAPS

You want something. Tell me what it is. Don’t hedge, be open and honest. I may not give it to you. I may not have it to give. I may have it and give it freely. I may have and not want to part with it. I may not have, can get it and give it. Or not. You will not know until you ask for it. I may seek a reason you want it. I may not care. I may seek a reason while not caring. That is my prerogative. I don’t expect you to like that. I may or may not care whether you like it or not. But first you must tell me what it is. I will not guess but I will wait. I am very patient. Or perhaps I am not and you have already missed your opportunity. Life is difficult. You didn’t ask for it to be.

GIMME A HUG

It seems odd, as I am not
a hugger by nature,
I love trees and hug
familially but aside
from family, hugging
just is not something
I ever did.

Now, when hugging
is a potential death
sentence if finished
I see many around me
all at a safe distance
and feel a strong desire
to embrace some,
knowing they would
welcome my arms.

When this is over,
when distance is
something we keep
by choice, and hugging
is no longer risky
I will, I am sure,
be a non-hugger again.

SNAKE, PRAY FOR US

In a time set aside for mourning
we easily remember those, loved
or despised, taken by age, disease,
war or poverty and neglect.

But trapped in our isolation
we should also pause and recall
the snake, condemned for offering
knowledge for which we were ill-equipped.

Let us not forget the ram,
whose only sin was to be
in the wrong place at the wrong time,
traded for Isaac without remorse.

And let us share a moment’s silence
for those left behind as God’s waters rose,
wondering as they drowned, how Noah decided,
God hearing no appeals in His pique.

Who will mourn for us, when we
make our departure, or will we
be like the snake, ram and Noah’s overlooked,
awaiting for eternity a poetic moment.

First appeared in Song Between Our Stars, Issue 1, Spring 2021

https://thesongbetweenourstars.com/v1n1

ON KNOWLEDGE

There are things children know
that parents will never understand.

Odder still, things a person knows
as a child are forgotten in adulthood.

A child measures the success of a day
by the duration of the parent
demanded bath at its end.

A child know that boundaries, especially
those parentally set, are flexible
and you don’t know where
the limit is until you cross it.

Presents are not special, they are
expected periodically, and only
a parent imagines that Santa
would ignore a child no matter
how “bad” the child had been.

But happily, when a parent
crosses the boundary into the land
of grandparenting, somehow
the knowledge of the child
is refound, very often accompanied
by one or more conspiratorial winks.

BUCKET LIST

Crossing the Rubicon,
or any other European River
for that matter.

Skiing the backcountry
or Black Diamond at Taos Mountain
or Aspen or Vail.

Hiking to the basecamp
of Everest, or walking some portion
or all of the Appalachian Trail.

Standing shoulder to shoulder
with hundreds of others
at the jazz festival.

Hugging my sons or
kissing my grandchildren
on their birthdays.

Forgetting all that we have
lost and that we have
so far survived this damned pandemic.

TE SHAN CARRYING HIS BUNDLE

Enter the room slowly and look carefully,
since you are here to find something.
There is much within this room, but you
can see nothing save the old man,
sitting calmly, staring at nothing, staring
through you at nothing in particular.
You know he is the teacher, the one
for whom you have been searching,
Still, he ignores you, staring at nothing.
You walk around the room, from end
to end to end to end and he does
not move or speak, and so you leave.

He has given a great lesson, do you
appreciate what he has taught you?
You walk away angrily, say that he
is no teacher at all, that you are no
closer to enlightenment leaving
than when you entered, for you
found nothing but yourself.
As you leave the old man bows
as teachers do to Buddhas.

A reflection on Case 4 of the Hekiganroku {BLue Cliff Record)

THE CHARM

The first one felt right,
there was nothing deeper considered,
just that feeling that now,
I know, anyone might have provided
but then, it was something
in a world of nothing.

The second, really, was
certainly right, for life this time,
the wisdom of a single failure
enough to ensure success,
and when it came apart
thirty years later, it was
apparent it was never right,
just more than nothing.

This one is right, for it
does not require feeling so,
merely being in her presence,
a completeness I never knew,
which explains why this time
nothing can get in the way
of the ultimate everything.