WOODEN PILLOW 鐵笛倒吹 六十

If, sitting at your meal
you hear the song of a bird,
what do you do?
You may tap your chopstick rest,
and perhaps he will answer
and repeat his sweet song.
If you tap a second time
and there is only silence
is the bird rejecting you
or offering his song to another,
flown from your window.

Perhaps you should tap again
and hear the sweeter song
of silence that echoes
over the garden and zendo.
On a distant limb
the small songbird smiles.

A reflection on Case 60 of the Iron Flute Koans.

ECHU EXPELS A DISCIPLE 鐵笛倒吹 語十三

If you come upon Echu napping
do not disturb him
but retreat to the zendo
or walk in the small garden
where enlightenment may be found.

If the search is successful
leave quickly, tell no one,
for it is very fragile
and the tongue
is sharper than the sword
and infinitely more deadly.


A reflection on case 53 of the Iron Flute Koans

Jack, for Heaven’s Sake

The truly pious
will never get to heaven
for they don’t know how
to sing or dance.
Kerouac roams freely
like a rogue elephant
unable to get a good buzz on
but not for want of trying.
He thought it would be
Edenic, a garden somewhere
between Babylon hanging
and the lobby
of the Royal Hawaiian
but it bears a closer
resemblance to Grant Park
or rural North Dakota
where the Coke machines
along the roadside
are often empty
and you are rarely hit
by golf balls the size
of hailstones.


Recently appeared in Aurora, Down in the Dirt Vol. 167 (2020)

A WINTER MEDITATION

I have given up on winter,
which is to say that I have
fled its iron grip, but
the memories I have
linger painfully in the rods
the surgeon carefully
screwed onto my spine.

It wasn’t the cold, though it
was far from pleasant,
but the snow that demanded
but also defied being shoveled.

I grudgingly face the job,
moving the snow from walk
and driveway to lawn and street,
and on occasion I’d heed
Buddha’s advice and treat
the exercise as a meditation.

But even then I’d recall
the tale of the monk told
to clear the garden of leaves
before a great master’s visit,
who completed the job
and proudly showed the abbot,
who agreed, but said
there was more thing
needed, and dumped all
of the collected leaves
back on the garden, then
said it perfect, and I knew
the wind and weather
would soon play the abbot’s role.

UNSEEN

“There is an art,” the old monk said, his samu-e belted tightly, “to spreading peanut butter. Consider this carefully for it is a matter of gravest importance. Spreading peanut butter requires care just as meditation does. You wouldn’t think so, but try it in your robes and see how unruly your sleeve can be. It is like raking the sand in a dry garden. It seems easy enough to do, but you know how hard it is to ensure that your presence is unseen and unfelt when the job is done.”

STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN

We have mastered the art
of making promises,
we can do so without reflection.
We are not certain why God
seems so reticent to join us,
we were created in His image,
we are constantly told, yet
even when we ask, no promises
seem to be forthcoming from heaven.
Some say God is far too busy
to make even simple promises,
for God would have to deliver on them,
without fail, something we
have never quite managed.
Others say promises were what had us
evicted from the Garden and we
still have not learned our lesson,
or so promise the priests and ministers
who assure us our place in heaven
can always be secured for eternity
by a sufficiently large donation.

AUDIENS CAVE

I just want you to know
that the Old Man set me up,
and I’ll admit that, cagey as I am,
I never saw it coming.

I mean I knew he was capable
of anything, but he always adopted
this holier than thou persona so why
would I imagine He’d do this?

And it wasn’t like He clued
me in on it, how was I to know
that one was somehow different,
and weren’t they the smart ones?

So I take the fall, and you can bet it
will be an eternity of distrust, if not fear
or hatred, and I have to say, the damned
apple wasn’t all that tasty anyway.