IT IS TIME

It is time they said, but they never said what it was time for, although they seem to know. It wasn’t like he was going anywhere, confined to this chair, a quadriplegic. He was the chair really as he had no way of moving it. He had no way of moving anything except by putting it in his mouth. So why, he wondered, did they tell him it was time. It was gratuitous at best and he had a watch strapped to his chair so he knew what time it was. But time meant nothing to him. When you are a prisoner as he was in his body time was merely your sentence and in his case it was likely life without parole

SENSO-JI

By hour six, the plane was just a lumbering beast dividing the sky, halfway from God knows where to nowhere special. His body cried for sleep but he knew he had to deny it. That much he had learned from prior trips. For when he landed, made his way painfully slowly into the city, it would be early evening when he arrived at his hotel. He knew he needed to be on the edge of exhaustion. Only that way could he grab a meal from the 7 Eleven down the block, and finally get to sleep, reasonably fresh in the morning. It would be a long day. Each day in Tokyo was a long day of endless meetings and negotiations. It was mind numbing, but he was paid well to suffer it. And he knew that on his last day in the city he would have time to board the subway for Asakusa. There he would wander slowly down the line of stalls, to the great gate of Senso-ji Temple, its giant lantern shedding no light, and peer at the Buddha Hall in the distance. There would be school children in neat uniforms, always hand in hand, and pigeonss, flocking around them and anyone who looked gaijin, easy marks for photos and handouts. And the orange tiger cat would huddle at the base of the nearby Buddha seeking enlightenment. For that hour or so he was in a different world. The giant city melted away. His thoughts grew placid as he placed his incense into to giant earthenware jokoro then washed its smoke over his face and shoulders. He bowed to the young monk carefully writing the prayer sticks. He stood silent at the foot of the Buddha Hall, a conversation no one could hear, one that everyone here was having simultaneously. Time does not yield, and as it ran thin, he headed back to the subway knowing his fortune without purchasing it for 100 yen. A simple fortune really, a return visit on his next trip to Tokyo and maybe a side trip to Kyoto, and as the icing on his taiyaki, a trip to Nara, to again wander the grounds of Todai-ji and commune with the deer at first light, in the shadow of the Daibutsu. On the flight home he thought of the moments in Buddha’s shadow, the resounding of the great bell. He smiled recalling the red bibbed jizo, knowing they gave up Buddhahood to help those like him, still lost on the path. He is saddened knowing he will soon be back in his world, the daily grind, this trip shortened, as all return trips are. And when he lands, goes through Immigration and customs, when they ask if he has anything to declare, he may say “just a moment of kensho.”

INJECTION SEAT

Another day, another needle,
it is the cost of growing older,
I suppose, and does beat
the alternatives, but still,
I am growing tired of feeling
like an underappreciated pin cushion.

And please, it is not necessary
for you to smile while pushing
the needle into whatever
body part wins the prize
as that day’s recipient, leave
me to decide whether to smile.

And I’m not a child, so feel
free to dispense with the
“this is for your own good,”
if I didn’t know that do you
think I’d be sitting in this chair
having the imagined conversation?

NEEDLE

She tells me I should rest,
that I need convalescent time,
but I want to tell her, “why,
it isn’t like they stuck a needle
in my eye, so why rest?” but
it actually is just that, but the rest
of my body is none the worse
for the wear on my face,
and it hurts less when I
am doing something other
than thinking about it.

The eye will feel better
in a day or two, they say, and
I have great faith in them,
why else would I let them
stick a needle into my eye,
and anyway, I have a spare
and that is the one that still
works like new, well, almost new
normal wear and tear excepted.

ONE STEP TOO FAR

“As you get older,” he said,
“the body grows remarkably
adept at telling you when
you have done too much,
or done something you shouldn’t.”

What he didn’t say, the critical
piece of advice I wish I heard,
is that the body only speaks
well after the fact, a lecture
surely, but never a warning.

No one wants to go a step
short, to miss whatever mark
someone randomly established,
but the price of a step too far
is high and often long lasting.

My back sat me down this
morning , and with that smirk
told me the lifting yesterday
could be paid for over a week,
and my arthritic knees nodded.

ON THIS NIGHT

On this night
he walks silently
into her dream uninvited,
but she is used
to the incursions.
On other nights it
is she who sidles
up to him in the depths
of dreaming, each
slipping away
ahead of dawn.
On rare nights each
enters the dreams
of the other, paths
crossing at
the synaptic border.
On those nights
she looks for him,
he for her, each
grows fearful
the he or she
will be trapped,
alone, when dawn
arrives and the body
gently wakes, she
or he wandering lost
in a familiar
alien reality.

First published in The DIllydoun Review, Issue 1, December 2020 (Current Online Issue – the dillydoun review)

ON ARRIVAL

This morning arrived
with a painful slowness, the sloth
of irregular dreams refusing to concede
to the light struggling to creep around
the blinds that hide the oversize windows.

It had been that sort of night,
sleep arriving and departing with
a frustrating lack of constancy, my body
uncertain of its proper placement ,
the mattress offering no easy solutions.

Conceding the failure of the night
to provide shelter to an overactive mind,
I roll to my side, note the response
of sinew and muscles forced
into unaccustomed forms, and reach

out an arm which snakes across
your waist, as I press in more tightly,
squeezing out the last vestiges
of remorse, and I pull you close as you
reach back and stroke my thigh,

and we give ourselves over to a new day.

UNANSWERED

As strange as it seems, I can
spend hours in a used bookstore
lost in the marginalia, and textbooks,

particularly those in psych and sociology
are generally the most fertile,
for those students, though they would

never admit it, pursued those fields
hoping to find answers to their own
problems without having to ask.

Yesterday’s visit was particularly fertile,
but it was a college introductory text
in biology that grabbed and held me.

In the margin of a short chapter mentioning
thoracic anatomy was a question
for which I have no possible answer:

Does the diseased heart in the metal
operating room basin curse the body
on the gurney who was supposed

to join it in the ground, and what of the
donor who goes back to the soil
heartless and utterly and eternally alone?

SWAN DIVE

Its plump, dusty-white feathered body
sits atop the pond like an inverted
iceberg, as the lindens fringing the field
shed their seeds onto the hardened soil.
The swan lumbers across the surface
with no particular urgency or direction
slowed by the entropy of a late August afternoon,
the laughed shouts of children
plunging headlong to dinner,
diverted to bathrooms
for the cursory sprinkling
of unholy water,
the beast drags its haunches
upward
straining against the gravity
of too many
moments pecking the grains
cast at it by the children.
Its head breaks the surface of the pond
and inches downward in through the green
glaze until snatching its target
at the end of the allotted moment,
like the child’s toy with its colored fluid,
it swings back up on its axis,
and inches away, its dive complete.

The young boy climbs gingerly aboard
the rusty metal seat, a lattice of
peeling enamels, telling the years
as rings of trees, and drops the bar
across his lap, a wave to cousins
denying the tingle in his bowels
as the wheel begins its rhythmic
interrupted rotation, and the sky
summer gray, approaches.
The wheel turns slowly,
the cacophony of little girls
rings false against the fading note
of a carousel.
He rocks gently, mindful not to lean
into the baleful eye of the operator,
and glances down counting those
awaiting their moments until
he hears the grating of metal
and he slides to the side,
as his cage
begins to dangle, the bar greased
by the sweated palms of a rider,
and then the shriek of agony
torn loose from somewhere beneath
his riveted eyes
fixed on the asphalt
rushing to break him.
He lifts his arms out
vainly searching
for the genetic memory of flight.
He strikes with the sound of the plastic
barrel striking a pier, his dive complete.

First Appeared in Twilight Ending, May 1999.

ISAN’S SUMMONS 鐵笛倒吹 三十一

When the master
calls for a novice
do you answer?
When the inkin
bell is struck
do you begin
or end zazen?
As you follow your breath
when do you leave
your body, and who
returns when you next inhale?

Search instead
for an answer
that has no question.
Who is the novice now?

A reflection on case 31 of the Iron Flute Koans