THE RITE

It is coming, a little
over a week now and it
will arrive, always too soon,
never ready despite knowing
its precise arrival day and time.

We will be ready, but
only after a scramble, for that
is how it must be, how
it has always been.

And again this year we
will be thankful, as all claim
on this day, but why do so many
forget the giving part of things,
giving to those without,
to those within who lack,
to those who only want
to come within to escape
a without we dare not imagine
for the nightmares and terror
we would suddenly have to feel.

SAY CHEESE

The meeting drags on. Time is frozen. The space between a smile and a grimace is the edge of a fine blade and the width of a canyon. And you maintain the smile hoping it is not seen as the rictus you feel. Politeness requires a smile, your heart requires a fast escape. So you stay and tweak all of the little facial muscles to maintain the semblance of a smile. You don’t watch the clock on the wall, for it is only a source of frustration. When you leave for home, your face feels almost sore around the lips.

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.

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)

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.