POLISH

Mother made a point of reminding
me to polish my shoes, she said
untidy shoes are the mark
of a poor man, one to be avoided.

I noticed she never wore shoes
that needed polish, never had wax
and brush in hand, and when her shoes
showed wear they were replaced.

I learned early not to talk back
to her, the penalty too stiff so I
never asked why any reasonable
person would be staring at my shoes.

A PRAYER

Last night, as I sat poised
on the edge of sleep, I asked
God for continued blessings,
for I have been blessed more
than I likely deserve.

I heard Her reply that I
would always have Her love,
on earth and heaven, and I
knew my request, selfish
for certain, had been answered.

But now I wonder if it was
truly She or your voice I heard
in that moment, but I know
which voice would not matter
for you are the blessing I sought.

OF THE CHILD

How many times have we
heard someone intone
the never ending expression:
“in the best interests of the child.”

Never, I imagine, has anyone
asked the child what he or she
thought was in their best interest,
for children, we assume, cannot
know what is in their interest.

A child would gladly tell you
but an adult would often disagree,
anchored to the memory
of their parents always deciding
what was in their best interest
whether or not they agreed,
and assuming that is how
things always ought to be.

A SMALL REQUEST

If those in the camps
knowing their fate,
the inevitability
of their impending death
could call up music,
for orchestras, play
or sing with
their final breaths,

is it too much
their ghosts silently
ask, for you
to pause and
remember us,
and sing
a dirge
for our souls.

Atop the Pole 無門關 四十六

Sitting atop a hundred foot pole
you are convinced there are
only two directions: pole and down.
Old Osho asks, how will you proceed
and you stare back at this lunatic.
How will you proceed, he repeats?

You release the pole
step slowly away, looking
at ten directions before you,
you move your feet, each one
touches the path of each
of the three worlds and Osho
gently touching your elbow
walks a bit by your side.

A reflection on case 46 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate) Koans.

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.

KANNON’S STATUE 鐵笛倒吹 語十八

If you meet the Bodhisattva
you don’t ask someone
to carve the image from your mind.
To the carver, she weighs but an ounce
and can be carried
on his fingertip
but try and lift her
and you will not be able
to move her from her place.

All Buddhas
are one Buddha
but his Buddha
will never be
your Buddha.

A reflection on Case 58 of the Iron Flute Koans.

MY REFLECTIONS

Each morning
I stare into the mirror
and see the same white hair
and wonder who I will be
today and what I was
on all of those other mornings.
I ask the mirror what life
has in store for me this day
but it only smirks, never answers
as if it knows something
I don’t and wouldn’t tell
if I asked.


First Appeared in Short Fuse, Issue 74, December 1998.

SEKITO’S ASK THE PILLAR 正法眼蔵 四十一

If you want an answer
do not ask a question –
your answer cannot be mine
nor can mine be yours.
Instead, ask the stone wall,
it has nothing to say
and in its perfect silence
all questions are asked
and all answers are found.


A reflection on Case 41 of the Shobogenzo, Dogen’s True Dharma Eye