In a different world,
I would write you stories, poems,
that would bring a tear to your eye,
that would make you laugh even when
your mood would deny joy,
that would bring freedom to some
and loosen the shackles on many,
that would reflect peace,
that would lighten your burden,
that would heal, if only small wounds,
that would recall a better world
and enable its rebirth.
In a different world
I would write you stories,
but we live in this world
and these are the words I have.
On this one a taste
on this one clumps,
here a variegated blanket.
Each tree bears
the burden of winter
in its own way.
He says, in a quiet aside he hopes
no one will overhear, that he
has grown tired of being an angel.
And not for the reason we might think,
he adds with a wry smile.
The work is not all that difficult,
in fact there seems to be less of it
week by week, but he has grown patient.
The real problem is sleeping,
there’s too much time for it now,
but have you ever tried sleeping
with a set of wings on your back,
talk about shoulder pain, and don’t
think of rolling over, that
is always a bumpy ride to the floor.
I tried being birdlike, of course,
but even the saints had to laugh
as I kept falling out of the trees.
It would help, she said,
if you would stop thinking
of yourself as Sisyphus
and all of life as the rock.
You might actually, one day,
begin to enjoy what you do.
It would help, he said,
if I could be like
a great blue heron,
grow wings and take
to a summer sky leaving
all of this behind me,
going wherever I wish.
Perhaps, she replied, it
is better that you see
yourself as Sisyphus, for
everyone know that you
have no sense of direction.
It is a burden he does
not want to bear any longer,
one he would shed in a moment,
but there is no place to put it
and you cannot just leave it anywhere.
And so he continues to bear it
dragging it here, carrying it there,
always attached to it, and it to him.
He knows there are others
who bear far heavier burdens,
some with a smile, others begrudgingly.
He would gladly take up
their burdens, if he could only
be relieved of his, but he
cannot find anyone to take his,
and so he smiles and goes on,
for everyone wants something
and he has only nothing to offer
although that is the greatest gift,
for it is the gift of Buddha.
A reflection on Shūmon kattōshū Case 6 – Zhaozhou’s “Drop It”