RECITAL

The keys didn’t frighten me. 88 of them, but I’d never use the majority, probably. And the ones I knew were generally well behaved, although they did defy me from time to time, and then said it was my fault, they didn’t respond to wishes, just fingers, And even the audience didn’t bother me, not even those who were still awake.. They were all parents like mine, and I knew no matter how I played the piece, well, badly, brilliantly, or disastrously, the composer would be silent and the audience full of compliments. My fellow pianists wouldn’t even hear it, heard nothing if they hadn’t yet played, kept replaying their piece in their head if they had.

JIZO’S BUDDHISM 鐵笛倒吹 四十八

In setting along the path
do you follow Hofuku
covering your eyes so as
not to see evil, ears so
as not to hear it
and close your mind
to wandering ideas
or is Jizo’s path
yours as well?

With eyes shut tight
the mind will still see,
with ears covered sound
will echo, growing louder
with no hope of escape.
With open eyes
light is reflected, with ears
open fully, sound passes
freely and flitters away
and the empty bowl
is filled with potential.

A reflection on Case 48 of the Iron Flute Koans.

ONE STEP TOO FAR

“As you get older,” he said,
“the body grows remarkably
adept at telling you when
you have done too much,
or done something you shouldn’t.”

What he didn’t say, the critical
piece of advice I wish I heard,
is that the body only speaks
well after the fact, a lecture
surely, but never a warning.

No one wants to go a step
short, to miss whatever mark
someone randomly established,
but the price of a step too far
is high and often long lasting.

My back sat me down this
morning , and with that smirk
told me the lifting yesterday
could be paid for over a week,
and my arthritic knees nodded.

THE QUESTION

If my mother was here
she would ask me what
I have to say for myself.
Just this once, I
would remain silent,
for there is nothing
that needs saying
and she would be certain
that if there were
she should be the one
to say it, but silence
would drive her mad.
So perhaps it is good
that she is not here,
that she did not ask,
though if there is a heaven
and hell, God or the devil
will need to tell her what
they have to say for themselves,
or they will never, ever
hope to hear the end of it.

BLESSING

There is a blessing in silence
that we so often deny ourselves,
unaware that it lies just beyond
the noise of our minds and lives.
We crave it, beg for it, and
hearing the beggar, shun him
for the noise he carries
like the skin he cannot molt.
Beethoven understood silence
in his later years and
filled with a music
none of us will pause to hear.

D’ACCORD

There is a reason for this
as there is is a reason for most things
whether we like it or not, I tell my son.
He gives me that smile that says
“I do not agree at all with that,
but you are my father, and so
I won’t disagree,” but I know
he means this only as
a Japanese hai, yes, I understand,
but I will take it as hai, I agree.
I don’t speak Japanese,
neither does my son, but we
both know that if we
were right now in France
the one thing he wouldn’t
be saying is d’accord, father or no.

MISTAKE IN SPEAKING 無門關 三十九

When you speak the words
of the Buddha you are lost.
Light is everywhere in silence
but the tongue must hide
in the dark of the mouth.

Buddha’s words are flowers
unfolding in the dawn
by the side of the still pond,
the eyes hear the song
and respond in silent chorus.


A reflection on case 39 of the Mumonkan (The Gateless Gate)

UMMON’S FAMILY TRADITION 鐵笛倒吹 七十一

The greatest teacher
is one who offers nothing
and shouts it silently
once the student has departed.

You cannot know
what the blind man sees
for you cannot see
through his eyes
and the deaf woman
may hear a symphony
in a flower.

When asked what is
your practice
do you answer: life?


A reflection on case 71 of the Iron Flute Koans