CHŌSHA’S RETURNING TO MOUNTAINS

When you see a mountain
why must you climb it
with your eyes.
When you hear
a mighty river why
must you ford it
with your ears,
when you feel the earth
why must you touch
it with your feet?
Are you
not the mountain
does the river run
through you, as you
run through it, are
you not the earth?

A reflection on Case 16 of the Shobogenzo (Dogen’s True Dharma Eye) koans.

BALLET OF THE GODS

Once they pierced your heels
to hobble you, bound up
feet and ankles to lash
you to the earth, there weren’t
angels then, no wings, just the pain
of toes crushed inward,
the silent agony of motion,
a cruel joke played by gods
starved for entertainment.
But Terpsichore, hearing
Erato’s song, set them free
brought them to a pointe,
allowed them to take wingless
flight, and toes became a platform
from which their joy rose up
spinning, whirling, slashing
until even the most jaded
of the gods fell silent in awe.

First Published in AGON Journal, Issue 0, 2021

NANSEN CUTS THE CAT 無門關 十四

Thirty blows of the stick
if right, thirty blows
if wrong, or Namsen’s sword
and a severed cat

a half to each
a whole to none

Be thankful you
didn’t argue about a man
for with a shoe
on the head, your feet
may touch the sky.

A reflection on Case 14 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate Koans)

RIVER

I know I should find a river
and just sit on its banks
and stare at the water flowing

I don’t have to step in it once
to know I couldn’t step in twice
if I wanted, so that problem’s solved.

And with dry feet, I can walk
along its banks with a bit more
jaunt in my step, which should

please the river, for I know that
it has long been watching me
as I frequently visit, and I would

like to think we are old friends,
at least that is what the lake
said during my last visit there.

WALKING

He walks slowly, with a stoop, born of time or knowledge of a world that has seeped away. He smiles, but you cannot tell if it is at the worm slowly crossing the sidewalk, or the young woman pulling on the leash of her far too large dog. He could walk this route with his eyes closed, has done so to prove a point, but he knows he might hit someone. That happens when his eyes are open, given his stoop. He has become a student of shoes, and in summer, of feet. He can tell a great deal about a person by her feet. He prefers women’s feet. They care and it shows. He’s amazed how calloused and dirty men’s feet often are, as if washing them was always going to be an afterthought. He knows the day is coming when he will no longer be able to walk. When that day comes, he hopes they will just put him in a pine box and not wrap him in a blanket and wheel him around, swabbing the drool from his chin. He was a baby once, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience that time either.

 

FINALLY FALLING

Outside the snow finally falls
and presses
the last fallen
Maple leaves
into the ground
free, for now
from the rake.

Outside the snow finally falls
and for a few hours
November is redeemed
and my shoes
are suddenly inadequate
even on the half
plowed road.

Outside the snow finally falls
and the full moon
accepts it’s obscurity
while the cat
stares longingly
out the window.

MASTER CRAFTSMAN

He waited patiently in the queue
until, after two and one half hours
he approached the battered metal counter.
The young, bored woman, chewing at her gum
asked the usual question, have you
looked hard for work this last week?
I stood in many lines, for hours on end
in my battered old shoes, that is
more work than you can imagine.
Each night I would soak my feet
for hours in the small sink
hoping the swelling would go down.
Each morning I would find another line
or two, if they moved quickly, but
at the end of each they would ask
the same question, what skills do you have
and I would tell them there are
few better than I at standing in lines,
and they would sheepishly smile
and thank me for my patience
and that is why, again this week,
I ask that you stamp my book
so I can stand in the other line
and wait patiently for my check
which I can take to the small bodega
waiting calmly in line to cash it
to buy what canned goods are on sale.
Then I will take my cans
and carefully line them up
on the kitchen counter, and marvel
at how patiently they stand in the queue.


First published in Pearl, Vol. 31, 2002