THE WRITER

Why do I write, you ask.
I’m a writer, so I should have
a good answer, or at least a glib one.

I could say I write for others
but you would ask who
those others are, and smile knowingly
when I have no answer.

I could say I write for myself,
and that would be true enough,
but rather sad and egotistical,
for the thoughts alone should suffice.

I will probably choose
not to answer you, and I will
suffer that sneer you will adopt,
but I am a writer, you know,
so being sneered at
is hardly anything new.

An Invitation for the Patriarch

You may wrap yourself
with all of the sutras,
drink dharma with a straw,
look carefully for teachers.

You will drown in the conditions
your breath swallowed
but unending thoughts.

The answers are always within
teacher is student
student is teacher
this moment
only moment.

A reflection on Case 3 of the Book of Equanimity

NEVER, STILL

I know what you did not tell them,
that much I could learn for myself,
but what did you tell them? I know
you were full figured, I think that
is the acceptable term, once it was
Reubenesque, but someone
must have noticed something.

Maybe those at work, sitting at their
terminals didn’t notice, you came
and went, few friendships perhaps,
but you were close to the family, they
must have suspected, though you
told the agency no one knew,
certainly not your partner in that act.

It won’t change anything, best since
you took the answer to your grave,
the one I visited to greet you
and bid you farewell, the least
a son can do for the mother
he never got the chance to know.

ZENGETSU SNAPS HIS FINGERS 鐵笛倒吹 八十七


When two students meet
along the road, each
acknowledges the other
with the snap of fingers.
When a student walks the Way
to who does he snap his fingers
and who passes with a small bow?

If you happen across a teacher
and ask him the meaning of this
will you bow or snap
and how will you respond
to the silence
that enfolds his answer.

A reflection on Case 87 of the Iron Flute Koans

GENTO’S AXE 鐵笛倒吹 八十二

You sit before him
an axe in his hand.
He asks a question and says
if you answer I will cut off
your right hand,
if you do not respond
I will sever your left.

There is no sound
from the clock in the corner
as you silently grab his axe
and he smiles
in deeply shared knowledge.

A reflection on Case 82 of the Iron Flute 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.

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.

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

HISTORY

It was easier
having no history
of my own, borrowed
histories are easily discarded.

After a while, you
begin to think of the adopted
history as your own,
and no one doubts you.

I have a history now
countries woven into 
my DNA, always present
but never before seen.

It is mine, I passed it
along to my sons, and
although it grows weaker
it is a burden they cannot avoid

and one day, perhaps,
they will stop and consider
from where they came, and not
have to invent the answer.