I am pressed into a seat
that would conform only
to the body of some alien creature,
or so it seems, for hours
into a flight that increasingly
seems eternal, particularly for the baby
two rows back, who, like me
would much rather be anywhere else.
The crew dims the cabin lights
the universal indicator of “Don’t
think of bothering us, we fed you
and will give you a snack in the morning,
only if you behave, so
off to sleep with you all.”
As my back and neck rebel, I
remind myself it could be far worse,
the food poisoned, perhaps, not
merely inedible, for this, despite
appearances, is only the second ring of hell.
Do not suggest
you can only be enlightened
on a cold day in hell
unless you are prepared
to carry the air conditioner
across the River Styx.
has Buddha nature
of the heads will say so.
A reflection on Case 85 of the Iron Flute koans. And if you haven’t guessed, Monday for a while, will be reflection on koan’s day.
Pluto is now undecided
though that does not seem to trouble many.
It was one thing to be a god,
albeit always thought of as lesser,
for that is what happens when
you rule a place no one wants to visit,
like being the greeter at the door
of the largest Wal-Mart in Hell.
It was nice being a planet, even
if no one ever visited, but that
was taken away by those
who now deem themselves gods,
replacing all of his peers
and consigning them to orbit
a star that has no real name.
But now they say, just perhaps,
Pluto is a planet, and that has
given rise to a debate, while
no one asks Pluto’s opinion, and he
just wants to be left alone
in his dark corner of the solar system.
Before you wish for immortality
carefully consider all the consequences.
It’s true you will avoid the fires of hell
and the lawyers and politicians who
make up a surprising portion of the populace,
but you’ll also never pass through the pearly gates,
to languish in the esteemed company
of poets and musicians who will,
at the drop of a request, regale you.
And those wars you so often decried,
you’ll have those of generations without end,
for the one skill mankind has mastered is war.
But worst of all, you must realize
that you will be subjected to an infinite
number of wait staffs gathered around
your table doing off-key but well intended
renditions of Happy Birthday to You
as other diners wish you had never been born.
You must pause
and marvel, if you will,
that only the flute –
from the simple wooden
to the most elegant metal –
when played by skilled hands,
can transport the listener.
Some would say to heaven,
others to hell,
and often at
exactly the same moment.
She said “now what they’ve taken away limbo”
sounding a bit depressed,
“not that you proceed express
to the ferry dock, but
that was a snap, all
you were carefully taught
is suddenly wrong or irrelevant.
“It would be like Isaac,”
I say, “climbing Mount Moriah
with Abraham finding a ram
tethered to a waiting altar.”
My mother wants to know
how I can claim to be once Jewish
as though the moyel
also took my freedom of religion.
“We have no hell” she reminds me
“at least after death.”
I silently respond
and try to tell her that
I still don’t have a hell,
at least not as she conceives it.
“But I read,” she says, “the Tibetan
Book of the Dead, and hell
is very, very real.”
I tell her my Buddhism is Chinese
through a fine Japanese filter
and it is the next life
in which I will pay for this one.
She says “I wouldn’t want
to come back again,” and
on that point we find
the beginnings of common ground.
The name on the door
says Richard Strauss
though the lack of music
emanating from within the room
suggests he may be napping
or off doing something more important
than entertaining those of us
out in the hall of the nursing home.
It’s no surprise, he’d be
in a home now, more odd that
he isn’t long dead, but music
has a life of its own, so too musicians.
Johann Bach and I discussed this
just other night, though he
said he has little use
for so much of today’s music,
“It all went to Hades after Wolfgang,
Ludwig and Johannes, but
what do I know, since I am now
just one more of the ancients.”
Johann added, “I’d like to stay
and talk, but when you
are my age, well, tempus fugit,
and I must, therefore, bid you farewell.”
I slid quickly back into
the fugue state of my dreams.