NEVER BOATS

“Trains are present,” she said,” and somewhat
the buses, but airplanes are mostly absent.”
I understand what she meant, and didn’t need her
to cover hands over her ears to cement the point.
On a train, most sit back, some with ear buds
but many simply stare out the window at towns
and villages and fields flowing by, willing
to share bits of their lives, real or imagined.
On a train there is only truth, and what is said
is real, if only within the confines of the car.
On a plane the people hide inside headphones,
bend their headrests around their ears, as if to demark
some personal space inside which the person
in the adjacent seat dare not enter, even with words.
“Trains,” she said, “are as much about the journey
as the destination, while planes are an abyss
between the points of departure and arrival, crossed with
the fear you could fall into the pit of another’s life
and never again emerge.” I agree with her
as we pull into a station and she rises to disembark.

VILLAGE

The village of my grandfather
still stands amid the fields

adobe walls stained
by soot from the fireplace

birds nesting in the summer
warmed chimney singing.

The ancient scythe leans
against the wall, its blade

embedded in the crusted soil
as the old tractor idles in the field.

Armies have trod this ground
ignoring the small house

smoke curling from its roof
stew bubbling in the iron pot,

for the city hills away,
its brick walls beckoning

the spoils of war hanging
in its galleries and vaults.

My grandfather lies
in the parched soil

roots of plants wrapped
around his fingers.


First appeared in Alchemy Online Literary Magazine 2000/2 Fall-Winter and later in Legal Studies Forum Vol. 32, No. 1 (2008)

YAKUSAN’S LAKE 鐵笛倒吹 八十八

When you travel from home
and are asked if the lake
on the shore of which you live
is now full, what
can you say.
Will you speak of the rains
that soaked your fields
and what of the herd
of water buffalo
come to graze
since you have left.

The eye sees only now
the mind sees history
and the wise man
sees nothing.


A reflection on Case 88 of the Iron Flute koans.

JIZO PLANTS THE FIELD

If you truly want to walk
in the footsteps of the Buddha
stand perfectly still and unmoving.
If you truly want to comprehend
the whole of the Dharma
put down all of your books and scrolls,
roll up your sleeves
and plant the barren fields,
clearing away rocks and stones.
If you want to taste enlightenment
dip your hands into
a free running stream
and drink of its waters.
If you feel you must move
along the Way, simply sit
and allow the Way to move beneath you.


A reflection on Case 12 of The Book of Equanimity (SHôYôROKU)

YAKUSAN’S LAKE 鐵笛倒吹 八十八


When you travel from home
and are asked if the lake
on the shore of which you live
is now full, what
can you say.
Will you speak of the rains
that soaked your fields
and what of the herd
of water buffalo
come to graze
since you have left.

The eye sees only now,
the mind struggles
to see history
and the wise man
sees nothing.


A reflection on Case 88 of the Iron Flute (Tetteki Tōsui)