MANDATORY, FOR NOW

They were not optional in our family,
once a week, half an hour, that and
at least 20 minutes daily, the youngest
got the choice of times.

He quit after a year, his sister
was three years in and went on another
and I was eight years staring
at the 88 keys, so many of which
would never get used, useless
as were the pedals I couldn’t reach
at first and rarely needed later.

It was upright, as I was supposed
to be, but only was in sight
of my teacher, and I thought
Bill Evans had it right, leaning
over the keys insuring that they
wouldn’t make an escape.

I stopped when my parents realized
how much they had spent
on what they would never enjoy
and I would as soon forget.

IMAGINING

I never imagined any of this,

couldn’t have you correctly note,

but I imagined many things

that did not, could not exist,

that after all is one purpose

of dreams and nightmares.

I did imagine writing, words

shaped to fit odd places, never

round pegs or square holes,

but fluid, shifting shapes

like lava seeking escape

from the earth, a lamp.

I never imagined any of you,

couldn’t have, save the one

or two who were there

and you could not have

changed that much, as I

haven’t. It is unimaginable.

BLACK HOLE

The universe is populated
by an as yet unknown
number of black holes,
points of hyper-
density whose gravity
is so great that
anything getting
too close can
never escape,
or so we were
originally told.

Hawking suggested
there is hope
for escape, some
energy close
to the event
horizon may
radiate back
into the universe.

In the black
hole that was
my family,
I, luckily, proved
to be that
escaping energy.

YUN MAN’S EVERY DAY IS A GOOD DAY

Pause and consider why so many questions
require you, you feel, to consult your watch,
to call up a calendar, to appoint time.
Time has no appointments, time is not
an arrow, though we strive always to aim it,
to send it flying in our desired direction.
Time is a point in space, surrounded by
all ten directions, going toward none of them.
Ask why this moment is not enough, why you need
the next though it does not exist.
What are you trying to escape by searching
for tomorrow, lingering in yesterday?
Yesterday no longer exists, so why
do you assume tomorrow does, and what
of this moment, which exists only now,
and what of the red leaf sitting
in mid-air awaiting your awed attention?

A reflection on Case 6 of the Hekiganroku (Blue Cliff Record)

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

JIZO’S BUDDHISM 鐵笛倒吹 四十八

In setting along the path
do you follow Hofuku
covering your eyes so as
not to see evil, ears so
as not to hear it
and close your mind
to wandering ideas
or is Jizo’s path
yours as well?

With eyes shut tight
the mind will still see,
with ears covered sound
will echo, growing louder
with no hope of escape.
With open eyes
light is reflected, with ears
open fully, sound passes
freely and flitters away
and the empty bowl
is filled with potential.

A reflection on Case 48 of the Iron Flute Koans.

ROCK AND HARD PLACE

The hardest age by far
is the one where you are stuck
in the middle, children below,
parents above, and utterly no
hope of escape from the vise.
Things your mother could do effortlessly
now seem impossible for her, and those
things now need doing immediately.
Your children, ever wise at creating
novel approaches to anything they want
in life regardless of your opinion,
suddenly cannot perform the simple tasks
they once could, more so if the task
takes them away from whatever
is their pleasure of the moment.
It is this middle period where
you cease to live, at least
to live fully, taken with tasks
above and below, and only
in the rare spare moment
can you contemplate the tasks
you will no longer be able to do
as soon as your children cease
to be a burden and can be one

BALANCE

It is a precarious balance, really,
more and exercise in tottering and hearing
than in standing still.
Some prefer stasis, others,
I included, find it leads inevitably
to a loss of energy, to an entropy
from which it is difficult to escape.
I don’t walk along the edge
of the precipice, but I do peer over
amazed at what lies below
that I hope to never see up close.
Is a precarious balance,
but one that can be maintained
if you just close your eyes
and sense what actually lies
around and beneath you.

SOUTH OR SO IT SEEMS

It was tacky then, it’s epitome
and six decades and unknown views later
it hasn’t changed at all.
You don’t expect tackiness
to accrete, yet like a black hole
this is irrefutable evidence it has.
To say it is garish to insult
the term, since it is so much more,
beyond anything the term can describe.
It has grown uglier, something not
thought possible, yet here it is.
You cannot fathom why Mexico,
which truly lies just south of the border,
has not filed a diplomatic protest
over this quintessential insult.
In Jalisco state, you imagine
A thousand Pedro’s would cringe
if they knew what had been wrought
in their name, and the South Carolina
state police, you think, they just up the road
knowing the wiser travelers will step
on the gas in a vain attempt to escape.