BASHO DOES NOT TEACH 鐵笛倒吹 八十

There is a woman
who asks no questions,
who fears neither birth nor death.
What can you teach her?
The wise man offers no lesson
but observes closely
and gains great wisdom.

What can you teach
one who already knows.
What can you learn
with a fully open mind.
In a clockless world
there is no time.


A reflection on case 80 of the Iron Flute Koans

VLADIMIR

Krevchinsky froze
his ass off on the Siberian plain.
The gray concrete box
was traded for concrete gray skies,
the whistle of the truncheon
gives way to winter’s blasts.
It was in many ways easier
when the beatings came
neatly marking the days
dividing days between pain
and exhaustion, all under
the watchful eye
of the meek incandescent sun
dangling from the ceiling.
In the camp day and night
are reflections of an unseen clock,
seasons slide
from discontent to depression.
The prison of the body is finite
built block on block,
the prison of the soul
is vast, empty, dissipating life.


First appeared in HazMat Review, Vol. 1, No. 2 (1996) and later in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 30, Nos. 1-2 (2006).

CLOCKING

I never expected this, he said. It came from out of nowhere. None of us predicted it. It’s a sort of thing that happens elsewhere, but not here, at least that was our assumption. We certainly never wanted it to come to this. But come it did, and so we accepted it. We learned to like the placidity of its face. We were lost for a while but our lives returned to their normal pace, the rhythms of the day overwhelmed us, and our lives went on. We never bothered to fashion a new year. We were satisfied with perfection twice each day.

TOCK

He notes with alacrity
that modern man has stripped
all logic from time, rendering it
an arbitrary temporal system
based on mechanics, and even that
is quadrennially imperfect.
Once it was seasons, which came
and went in orderly fashion,
but heating was never a science then.
Later it was the moon
a reusable calendar and what
was an odd month here or there
if the crops were in the ground.
Now it is sweeping hands
that carry off the dust
which is all that remains
of our once logic.

FLYING TIME

She said, “the saddest
thing of all is time.
We spend so much of it
trying to insure we know
exactly what time it is,
that it gets away from us
and is gone long before
we get around to using it.”
He said, “but it’s important
to know what time it is,
in case something happens,
for how else can we tell others
what happened and when?”
She laughed, “then
exactly what time is it now,”
and as he looked closely
at his watch, she disappeared.

TIME OUT

She is fond of saying
that time is on our side
although we both know
that time does not take sides,
is incapable of action,
is passive in passage.
It is something of which
we may never have enough
but we are certain
no one has more than we
in this moment. She
cannot imagine running out
of time, I know that
I will, but won’t know
when it finally happens.