You claim to seek sanctity –
will you know it
if you find it along the way?
What if it sneaks up on you
when you are lost in reverie,
what if it reaches you
in a strike of the teacher’s stick,
will you jump in fear
and frighten it away,
or sit with it
in endless zazen?
A reflection on case 37 of the Iron Flute Koans
The hardest prison to escape
is the one whose walls are built
by the mind with fear and trepidation.
It is like the open gate you dare
not enter, fearing that you are leaving
and will not be allowed to return.
Atop a pole there are
an infinite number of directions to go
and only one is straight down,
but you dread selecting any, for gravity
is a fear as great his death
yet you know you can feel neither.
The prison of the mind is impregnable
for there, fear and pain live in concert
and you are a small boat
on an angry sea, staring
always at the roiling waves.
To arise from the earth
is simple, too fall back
the more difficult, for
that is a journey we all
seem to fear, though
with no arising, there
can be no falling back.
When I finally admitted
that I feared dying and
didn’t want to be drafted
to fight in that war
Roshi asked me if I
feared being born.
“Fear,” he said, “takes
up all of your energy
and there is never
time enough for that.”
We have decided to skip the viewing
to say our farewells in thought
without needing to see her face
frozen in the morticians best attempt
at placidity, erasing the anger, the fear,
the frustration, the pain that made
leaving easier for her than remaining.
We will say the prayers, most of them,
she with fervent hope that they are heard,
I as a member of the chorus.
Some will invoke both the father and son
and spirits will be moved,
and I will reflect, will listen politely
and hope the universe is receptive
to one who is now in transit.
There is little you can do about it,
less that you want to do,
although they are not pleased
with your decision.
Remind them that they
are the ones that left the decision
to you, mostly in the hope you
would do what they hoped, taking them
off the hook, but they now realize
they have been hoist
with their own petard
and the walls, gates they wanted
breached still stand
with you on the sideline
watching their farce unfettered.
They will not ask again
and you laugh, for if they did it
you would give it a try
just to see the look on their faces.
Reality is clearly something to be avoided
to be dressed up in tattery, tied in ribbons,
perfumed, yet its fetid stench
is always lurking in the background
waiting to pierce your nostrils
in an incautious moment until you retch
and bring up the bile that marks
the darker moments of your life,
the kind that lingers in the throat
which no chocolate can erase.
Reality is often ugly, so we ignore it
or hide it behind masks, or offer it
willingly to others, a gift in surfeit.
It sneaks up on you, and sets its hook
periodically, and thrash as you will
the barb only tears through new flesh,
setting itself deeper, intractable.
You and I are dying, as I write,
as you read, an ugly thought
particularly lying in bed
staring into darkness,
no motion or sound from your spouse,
mate, paramour, friend, significant other
or teddy bear, where God
is too busy to respond at the moment
and sleep is perched in the bleachers,
held back by the usher for want
of a ticket stub, content to watch
the game from afar.
I cast ink to paper, an offer of reality
as though the divorce from the words will erase
the little pains and anguishes of our
ever distancing marriage, while
holding vainly onto the warm and sweet,
the far side of the Mobius of reality
(the skunk is at once ugly and soft and caring).
We write of pain, of ugliness, of anger
at terrible lengths, or weave tapestries
of words to cover the flawed, stained walls
of our minds, like so many happy endings,
requisite in the script. Basho
knew only too well that truth of beauty
should be captured in few syllables.
First appeared in Chaminade Literary Review Vols. 16-17 (1995)
She imagines life
is much like a cocoon
in which she must remain
or risk instant death.
She does not recall coming here
but know she must have done so
in the not too distant past.
That is the problem with cocoons,
there is no memory prior
to finding yourself within,
but she doesn’t mind
for she has grown accustomed
to this life, likes that shelter
her home affords her.
She is certain she
will emerge some day, when
the time is right,
and she will take flight
leaving this life behind
in the receding darkness.