TODAI-JI

The snow capped mountain
stares at the December sky
shredding laughing clouds.
I sit by the fire dreaming
of the slow approach of spring.

There is a moment
when all is only silence
the zendo in stillness.
In that moment I can hear
the entirety of Dharma

The temple bell tolls,
the deer assume their posture,
afternoon zazen,
I walk around Todai-ji
in futile search of Buddha.

READY, FIRE, AIM

He should have known
that the day was doomed
from the moment he woke
to see his alarm clock in pieces
on the floor by his bed, the cat
grinning at him from the place
where the clock had always sat.

Finally arriving at the office,
he was no sooner at his desk
when the fire alarm bell rang.
Within moments of reentering
after the all clear, it rang again,
and his own, very private
Chinese fire drill was under way.

The day calmed until, after lunch,
the Regional Manager arrived,
gathered everyone at the great
round conference table, and
demanded to know who
had made a simple error,
and watched as the inevitable
circular firing squad began.

ABOVE IT ALL

The cat likes nothing better
than to sit atop the kitchen cabinets
within easy reach of the ceiling.

We thought at first it was
a place of safety, less to fear
in a new home, new people.

We know better now, for she
goes to high places, cabinets
bookcases, when the meditation bell rings.,

She’ll climb down after
the ending bell rings, when we
emerge from our home Zendo, look

at us to see how our sitting went,
toss her head to indicate that she
came this close to kensho

or perhaps, she notes quickly
it was merely a brief nap, for we
cats are given to both in equal measure.

HOLY ARMY

1.

A millennium ago
the army of the lord
dressed in mail and rode
proud steeds across
barren lands, swords
flashing in a red roasting sun
washed in the blood
of the infidels.
They stopped for prayer
blessing the bodies
left along the dirt track
left by their hooves,
a common grave
for common faces
differing only in the color
of skin and hair.

2.

In this millennium
the army of the lord
slouches outside the mall
rubbing hands against
the chill, the bell bleating
against the night,
a barren moon reflects
off the red kettle.
As they locked the doors
he pulled the flask
from his hip pocket
and thought of the bodies
passing by, swerving
to avoid him, and the
forty dollars he would get
would warm
his frozen skin.

First Appeared in Lullwater Review, Vol. 9, No. 1, 1998. Reprinted in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 29, No. 1, 2005.

A DEAFENING SILENCE

Sitting in stillness, the silence
is at first shocking, deafening
in a way unimagined but there.

Within the lack of sound lies
a thousand sounds you had
never heard in the din of life.

You hear the young monk at Senso-ji
approach the great bell and pull
back on the log shu-moku, straining.

You hear the laugh of school aged
children hand in hand walking through
the temple grounds as pigeons gather.

You hear the cat, sitting at the foot
of Daibutsudan, staring out
and the deer waiting at the gate.

You hear your breath and that
of a million others as they sit
on their cushions sharing a moment.

MELODY

I sing a shattered song
of someone else’s youth
the melody forgotten
the words faded into odd
syllables heard in my dreams.
The coyote stands at the edge
of a gully staring at me
and wondering why I slip
from the hogan through
the hole punched
in the back wall
slinking away
in the encroaching dark.
The priest, his saffron robes
pulled tight around his legs
in the morning chill,
stares as I run my hands
across the giant brass bell
feeling its resonance.
I hear the dirge
as sleep nips at the edge
of my consciousness
grabbing the frayed
margins of life

Published in These Lines, Fall 2020
https://theselines.org/these-lines-1.1-fall-2020.pdf

3 TANKA

Antphonal songs
Mockingbirds greet the morning
Great Blue Herons stare
imagining their voices
night sweetly welcome the dawn
The great temple bell
awaits the morning, the monk,
its daily purpose
cast deep within the metal
always verging on release

Smoke of incense too
prostrates itself to Buddha
soon a morning breeze
promises enlightenment
or the freedom of the sky