ENO DOESN’T UNDERSTAND 正法眼蔵 語十九

You ask me
if I understand
the precepts
and follow them.
You frown when
I say I do not.
Remember well
that the young child
has no understanding
of the precepts
and walks easily
along the Way.


A reflection on case 59 of the Shobogenzo Koans (Dogen’s True Dharma Eye)

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.

LIONEL HAMPTON AND THE GOLDEN MEN OF JAZZ

Blue Note, pardon
our construction
black painted
plasterboard
a hanging
air conditioning duct.

Grady Tate
sneering at the skins
growling at a high hat
hands shifting
deftly reaching in
picking a beat
and sliding it
over the crowd.

Jimmy Woode
blind to the lights
slides his fingers
over strings
and talks to the bass
resting on his shoulder.
It sings back
begging , pleading
demanding as his head
sways with an inner vision.

Junior Mance
sways slowly fingers
tentative on ivory plates
crawling through the alley
scurrying for cover
and strutting down Broadway
ablaze in neon
dancing through Harlem
and sliding into the East River.

Pete Candoli
white against the night
smiles as his horn
cries out, a siren
piercing the dark
reaching up grabbing
your throat, throttling
then caressing your face
until you fall
into your seat, spent.

Harry “Sweets” Edison
wrinkled jowls suck in
the city, smooth ebony balloon
shouting from balconies
to revelers below
and mourning a love,
crying in the streets
dashing out of a basement
flat, a child crying
mother screaming in birth
a young man
groaning in orgasm.

Benny Golson
hair tied back
swaying, runs up the stairs
pauses, and leaps out
into the air
and flies off
laughing at the city
huddled below
its collar turned
against the wind
off the river.

Frank Foster
sits on the stool
and strokes
his sax, coaxing it
peering out around
a corner, slipping inside
then running down the street
dancing between taxis,
then striding down
Bourbon Street
the pall bearers
strutting behind.

Al Grey, stands
arm waving, a manic
conductor, it whispers
beckoning, then hums
droning, then slowly
it moves the fan
giving a glimpse
dragging the boa
drawing all eyes
as she passes into the wings
sticking her head out
smiling at the cheers.

Hampton leans
on the vibraphone
seeking balance,
and old man bent
from age, lost amid children.
Mallets slowly rise and fall
gaining speed
rushing out
glissando of sound
his hands flashing
the crowd rises
and there comes
silence.

First Appeared in Pointed Circle, Issue 15, 1999.

FORWARD

As a child I was quite fond
of staring into the future
for hours on end, when
my parents told me
to get my head out of books
and go outside to play.

I never could see much
in my staring, thought
I was probably myopic
but my parents said I
couldn’t need glasses, they
cost far too much
for someone my age.

I realize now, now that
that future is mostly
my past, that I wouldn’t
have understood anything
I might have seen, had
I ever seen anything at all.

RETIRED

God sits at his easel, brush in hand
and thinks about the butterfly
alighting on the oak.
This man would rather paint
the nightmare of hell, but
he has been cast out and
his memory has grown dim.
He remembers being a small child
amused by the worm peering
from soil in a fresh rain and how
when he split it, both halves
would slither away
in opposite directions.
Now he rocks in the chair
and watches night fall
and shatter on the winter ground.

First Appeared in Medicinal Purposes: A Literary Review, Vol. 1, No. 6,
Spring 1997.

EMERGENT

When I least expect it, one
may unfurl wings and lift
into a clouded sky searching
for the hidden sun, or

it may wander off, a child
momentarily free of parents
off to discover the real world, or

it may retreat back into
the pen, unwilling to be seen,
objecting to its misuse, or

it may sit in front of the TV
and watch soap operas
and game shows, not caring
what is on the screen, just
escaping from the damned page, or

it may sit still, be tucked away
and hope one day to be accepted
for all the world to see.

A PERFECT STILLNESS

You lie there, perfectly still,
the morning breeze slides away
leaving the sun to stare down,
and the birds fall into silence. 

I gently touch the stone, feel
your cheek beneath my finger,
see your face, the college yearbook
photo all that I have of you. 

I speak silently to you, telling
of my sixty-seven years, of your
grandsons and great grandchildren
and I sense your smile, and a tear. 

Your parents are here, your
grandparents, sisters, brothers
and cousins, and I know give
you three generations more. 

It is time for me to go, but these
moments are the most I have
of you, and as I place my small stone
atop yours, I now have a mother.

First Published in Culture & Identity, Vol. 2, The Poet (2022)

UNGAN’s NOT ANY SINGLE WORD

The youngest child,
her mind uncluttered,
can answer any question
unburdened by words,
her answers rebound
across the universe.
If you stop struggling
to hear her, let
the silence surround
you both, you cannot
escape the answers

A reflection on case 84 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo Koans (True Dharma Eye)

LUNAR LUNCH

Even as a child I was
reasonably certain that
the moon wasn’t made
of green cheese as some
of my friends said, because
even if it was cheese, I
was sure it would be either
Roquefort or Gorgonzola.

No one had been
to the moon back then,
nothing had marred its surface,
so we took the scientists
on faith that it was
something other than cheese.

Now looking back we
must consider our naivete,
for it was scientists
in the employ of companies
who assured us that
tobacco might actually be
good for us, although we
never saw them smoking
come to think of it now.

JOSHU’S CYPRUS TREE

A young child
does not ask for meaning,
all things are
as they are
until they are not.
The foolishness of age
causes men to stare
in search of meaning
they will never find.
It is the blind man
who will find the diamond.

A reflection on case 119 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo (True Dharma Eye) Koans