He can spend hours on the wooden bench in the small square in the center of the village. There he is but a statue, staring up at the giant clock face that looms over the square from the turret of the Village Hall. He likes to watch the long hand, arrowlike, make its slow, but inevitable movement, circling the blank outward gaze of the numerals. He does not care much for time, has too much of it some say, too little left, he knows. But here, as he stares fixedly, it stops. There is no motion in that instant, there is only the instant of time. It is no longer real, it is a thought lost or forgotten, and there is only the single moment in which he sits on the wooden bench in the center of the village.
Walking through the art gallery,
she frequently pauses to look
at paintings of couples in a bar
or a cafe, engaged in conversation.
I tell her they seem sad, as though
whatever romance they had
has waned, they having grown
apart, this a parting of sorts.
She laughs and says that I mistake
wistfulness for sadness, men
so often do, and adds they are
lovers falling ever deeper in.
She takes my hand gently, with
a look I might have deemed sad,
but knowing better. I realize
that I, too, am continuing my fall.
You sit before him
an axe in his hand.
He asks a question and says
if you answer I will cut off
your right hand,
if you do not respond
I will sever your left.
There is no sound
from the clock in the corner
as you silently grab his axe
and he smiles
in deeply shared knowledge.
A reflection on Case 82 of the Iron Flute Koans
If I were a character in a novel, say
by Kawabata, that evening we met
twenty years ago, I would have
placed my hand lightly on your shoulder,
and I would have felt a heat,
embers of a passion that would,
in hours, leave me consumed by it.
I was a middle-aged, soon to be
divorced man on his first date
in thirty years, imagine a teenager
knowing what not to do, but with no
idea of what to do save chatter
and periodically gaze at his shoes.
I was, as the evening progressed,
bold enough to take your hand,
and hoped that my fear and anxiety
might be mistaken as romantic,
or bold and daring, anything but
the reality that was consuming me.
We’ve been together twenty years,
and as I read Kawabata again, I
recall those first moments, but
in this revised edition it was
your passion I felt in that first touch,
a flame that consumes me to this day.
At the butcher
be careful what you ask
for if it is a better cut
the wise man with the knife
may slice off your hand
and present it to you
wrapped neatly in paper.
But will it be
or your left?
A reflection onCase 21 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo (The True Dharma Eye)
I sat with the ghost again
this morning, the one who inhabits
the body that was once my father.
Ghosts find it difficult to speak
from within living bodies, so mostly
it squeezed my hand and offered
an occasional weak smile or nod,
said I looked good, but ghosts do have
trouble seeing out of human eyes.
He slept quite a bit, curled up
the better to contain himself
against the lights and prodding,
for ghosts want only silence and peace.
One thousand cranes take flight
and there is a sudden silence
as the cat stares up, bidding them farewell.
We barely stop to notice,
despite the rainbow of colors
replacing the clouds, even the sun
seeming to pause in wonder.
Two thousand hands made this
happen, one person, unrelenting,
knowing anything less
would be nothing at all.
Each crane dips its head
in appreciation for its freedom,
no longer trapped
in a two-dimensional prison.