JOSHU SEES THROUGH THE OLD WOMAN

When, on the path,
you com across a problem
you cannot solve
you may turn
to your teacher
and ask for
the solution.

Do not expect
an answer
for your teacher
has none, but
if you listen carefully
to his silent breath
in and out,
he will lead you
to the answer.

A reflection on Casew 10 of the Book of Equanimity (SHôYôROKU 従容錄)

TOO SOON

The leaves will soon begin
their descent from the small tree,
already brown, their beauty
departing before they do so.

They are bilobular, an odd word,
but one that belongs in a poem,
even this one it seems, and it is
their shape that you first notice.

The tree will all to soon be naked,
branches sticking into the air
as if searching for a breath
that refuses to arrive.

But we know that soon after
the small buds will open
and orchid-like flowers will appear
to our all too temporary joy.

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.

WHAT IF THEY

Today they gave a party. Today, so far, no one came. Today, so far and until some come, we will breath easier. Tomorrow they may give another party. We hope that no one comes. The same for Tuesday and Wednesday, although that was supposed to be our party, but we can no longer come, because they may come and we cannot be at any party they are attending. Maybe they won’t come either, and there will be no party at all.

TODAY’S PRAYER

Today’s prayer
shall be recited in silence,
total, not even the breath
indicating a longing for action.
Nor will it invoke
a holy spirit without us
for it is we who
we must inveigh
to attain the desired
actions for which we seek
holy intervention, casting off
free will, an accrediting
poor decisions, a goat
where we seek escape
and atonement
for the sins of all the others.
Today’s prayer
shall not be recited at all,
but it is this prayer
in which we find absolution.

First appeared in The Poet: Faith, Spring 2021

BENEATH THE WAVES

She says she has always wanted
to swim like a dolphin, and she laughs
when others tell her that she can,
in the Florida Keys and in Hawaii.

She tells them that anyone, at least
anyone with money can swim
with the dolphins, but she wants
to swim like a dolphin as well.

She wants to see the sky appear
through the veil of water as she
breaches for a breath, the surface
a boundary easily stretched.

She wants to hear the songs
of whales, the conversations of her
peers, and the deep silence nature
occasionally affords in the world aquatic.

She sits on the shore, the waves
lapping at her feet, the sun
emblazoning the water, sees a fin
appear in the shallows and dreams.

HOME, NIGHT

Living in a bamboo grove, she said,
is very much like living in an old house.

Look up at noon, into the canopy
and imagine you see rays of light
piercing the ill-thatched roof.

Listen to the growling winds of autumn
and hear the ghosts of the old house
making their way up creaking stairs.

And when you truly find the silence
imagine the Buddha sitting nearby
the morning breeze his breath
slowly drawing you into the day.

SEIJO’S SOUL 無門關 三十語

Open your mouth
and let your soul flee
on the dance of your departing breath.

Inhale slowly, let
a different soul
find purchase in your lungs.

Both souls are your soul,
neither soul is yours,
but is it the moon
or an obscuring cloud?

A reflection on case 35 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate Koans)

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