MAL ANNEE

On the anniversary
of the start of a war
one feels almost compelled
to speak to its horrors,
its cause, its effect.
But we live in an age
where wars are plentiful,
when peace is the exception
and war seems to loom
around every corner.
So on this anniversary
I watch the snowy egret
stare into the pond
outside my window,
the great bird calmly
imagining that
in her world
all of the people
are merely fish.

AN AFTERNOON SPENT

We sit around a small table
in the YAK Coffee and Beer
on the edge of Namdaemun
listening to loud pop songs
on tinny speakers.
The Hite Beer bottles sweat
dripping on the Formica table
down our backs
the dankness of the subway
clinging to us, bathed
in the smoke from the couples
hunched over coffee, giggling
conspirators plotting the overthrow
of ancient ideas, of hanboks
hung in closets, rice cookers
and kimchi ever present.
We walk past the pig’s heads
arrayed next to slowly rotting fish
and all manner of peppers
and breath deeply
of the bouquet of Seoul.

SEOUL: A TALE OF TWO CITIES

Namdaeman is a ghetto of shops
and stalls, where men squat
cupping cigarettes and gesture,
their hands grasping stacks of bills,
rocking on their heels until they
leap up to a patron, asking this price
or that, assessing the will
of the buyer by the thickness
of his or her wallet. An old woman
sits on her pack frame, gumming
kimchi from a small metal bowl,
as two wheeled pack mules
sputter and weave by, casting
faint blue clouds. Here, where
the alley narrows so that a bicycle
cannot find passage unless
all standing about inhale, where
trays of flounder and eels lie
amid slowly melting ice,
where pigs heads, boiled, stare
at the sky in fascination,
as their cawls lie in a box below.
Here a man sits and grinds dried peppers,
his neighbor throwing rotting leaves
of lettuce to the ground
and arranging the trays
of fungi and ginseng. Half
of this city walks slowly by, staring
at leather jackets, jeans, sweaters
and brass pots, Celadon and a sea
of shoes crying for their mates
in the frottage of commerce.

On the street of brides,
a wide avenue of transfixed
cars and buses, a cacophony
of horns, school girls stare
into a sea of windows
and imagine themselves
in the gowns of lace and beads,
their faces the porcelain
of the dolls of their childhood,
fearing the rupture of their youth.

REFLECTING ON THE HARBOR

On the anniversary
of the start of a war
one feels almost compelled
to speak to its horrors,
its cause, its effect.
But we live in an age
where wars are plentiful,
when peace is the exception
and war seems to loom
around every corner.
So on this anniversary
I watch the snowy egret
stare into the pond
outside my window,
the great bird calmly
imagining that,
in her world,
all of the people
are merely fish.

DRAGON HOWLING IN A WITHERED TREE 正法眼蔵 二十八

Cut the hook off the line
and throw it into the lake,
dump the bait container
onto the damp soil
along the shore.
Now sit silently
in the oarless boat
in the middle of the lake
and drop your line and wait
for the dragon to bite.
And when it does,
yell at it, hear it howl.
The lake is a withered tree,
the fish a proud dragon.
Who will you be?


Reflecting on Shobogenzo (The True Dharma Eye) case 28

MIDSTREAM

A young man sits
on a large flat rock
jutting out into a river.
He slowly tells the river
the story of his life,
places he has been,
people seen and known.
Each drop of water flowing by
hears a small bit
of his story, none hear
whole thoughts, for perhaps
he has told none.
Some time later I sit
on the flat rock
and stare into the roiling water.
I listen for the river’s story
but each drop of water
tells small bits of its life,
or maybe it is
the lives of others
who stood along its banks
upstream, and let their lives
trickle into its flow.
A fish swims slowly by,
it’s silvered scales
flashing gold
in the late afternoon sun.
It pauses near the rock,
purses its mouth
and swims off downstream.
We both understand
it is only the ocean
that hears us fully.