FORGOTTEN SOULS

From the heart of the inferno
Dante and Lucifer grow bored
waiting, waiting for the ferry
while Charon stops for lunch
yet again at a Greek diner
in the heart of Hell’s Kitchen.
They take up a game of catch
tossing Molotov cocktails,
raining fire onto the brimstone,
setting the Styx ablaze.
Each knows this is not necessary,
for necessity is a creature
of heaven and there is no room
for the extraneous here
in the realm of forgotten souls.
We watch from deep within
a nightmare of our darkest
memories, certain that heaven
must await us, or purgatory
if that is how our fate
is to finally be written.
The angels dance on the ceiling
waiting for the precise moment
to break Morpheus’ grasp
and drag us back to our reality,
to continue our dance
between heaven and hell.

First published in Fresh Words Magazine, Vol. 2, No. 3, June 2022
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1G9eVgBt1ZS1syN9RruNQLzt7-JVq04sY/view

BASO’S WHITE AND BLACK

I know you have
a single question for which
an answer will enlighten you.
Neither Baso, Chizo nor Kai
are here so you are asking me.

The answer is simple:
cover your ears tightly
and listen while I speak
with closed mouth,
watch my feet dance
in joy as they do not move.
If the answer is not apparent,
ask Chizo, Baso and Kai
to speak from beyond the grave.

A reflection on case 6 of the Book of Equanimity Koans

ALIVE IN THE NIGHT

I walked the city
in the heart of the night,
street lights casting the shadows
of ghosts of those long gone
to bed, unknowing
that the city has been
given over to ravening winds
that find no shelter.

I step into an alcove
and the fading light
of the flickering bulb overhead
urges me to move on
lest she bury me
in the darkness of her grave.

By day, this will all
be gone into hiding,
finding shelter we cannot see
and we forget that
when night again returns
the ghosts will dance
wildly in these streets.

Tozan’s Sixty Blows 無門關 十語

When you arrive
only questions, each
a finely honed blade.

Will you parry and dance
avoiding the wounding tip
and perhaps taste the sword

or risk all and counter-
thrust, attack from
ten directions
and willingly receive
sixty blows from the stick
standing in one place.

A reflection on Case 15 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate) Koans

CONVERSATION

Arising into night
the departing sun
tangoes away with its cloud,
memories soon forgotten.
Other dancers take the stage,
now a romance, now
a war dance, feathers raised
in prayer to unseen gods.
Night will soon bring
its curtain across this stage,
the avian cast’s final bows taken
the theatre will darken, awaiting
another performance,
a new script tomorrow,
but for this solitary moment
of frozen grace, it is we
who write the conversation,
our lines sung by actors who
know only nature’s
unrelenting song.

TOSU’S HARMONIZING TEN BODIES 正法眼蔵 三十語

Standing in the ordinary
stare out across
the great gulf searching
for that which is sacred.
It seems to dance
just beyond the edge of vision.
Close your eyes and lift
your right foot,
place it down.
How does it feel
to stand amid
all that is sacred.

A reflection on Case 39 of the Shobogenzo (Dogen’s True Dharma Eye)

WINTER

As I stare out the window and watch
the snow slowly build on the limbs
of the now barren crab apple, painting
it with a whiteness that bears heavily,
giving the smaller branches a better
view of the ground in which their
fruit of the summer lies buried.

I am forced to wonder if the tree
continues to watch me, if its vision
is clouded by the snowy blanket
in which it wraps itself this day,
and if it does, what must it think
of someone so sedentary when it,
bearing its winter burden can still
dance gently in the morning wind.

STARING

He liked nothing better
then to sit outside
his small cottage
and stare into the pond
once the blaze on the water
set by the sun was consumed
as fire must always be by water.
As night deepened, he stared
into the sky, seeing the moon
slowly rise, chasing along
the sun’s now deserted path.
He knew the myriad of stars
shared his interest, staring
but he abandoned the sky
as the sun had yet again,
and watched as the voracious pond
slowly consumed the ever
fewer stars, and saw the pond’s
moon take up its liquid
dance to the tune of the night breeze

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)

WINTER MEMORY

As I stare out the window and watch
the snow slowly build on the limbs
of the now barren sugar maple, painting
it with a whiteness that bears heavily
giving the smaller branches a better
view of the ground in which their
fruit of the summer lies buried.

I am forced to wonder if the maple
continues to watch me, if its vision
is clouded by the snowy blanket
in which it wraps itself this day,
and if it does, what must it think
of someone so sedentary when it,
bearing its winter burden can still
dance gently in the morning wind.