ISAN’S DO NOT BETRAY OTHERS 正法眼蔵 四十七

If you fall, 20,000 arms
will lift you up,
when you sit
10,000 join the Sangha.
If you walk barefoot
in the snow
I will put socks
on my feet for you.
If you hunger, I
will give you an empty bowl
and this will be
our shared dharma.

A reflection on Case 47 of the Shobogenzo (Dogen’s True Dharma Eye)

THE RIGHT WAY

In a world beset
by poverty and pandemic,
global warming and hunger,
there are a myriad
of questons urgently
requiring answers.

Among them
is not the question
of the proper way
to eat with a fork,
or more precisely
how to hold it
when bringing food
to the mouth
from the plate.

I was taught to hold
it like a pen, but
tilted so I looked
down on the tines
bent in concavity.

But in watching
too many European
films and TV shows,
it seems I should
look down on
the tines’ convexity.

This conundrum
is easily solved
by using only
a spoon.

A LESSON TO TEACH

This is what 
I would tell my sons:
“You came from 
an ancient people,
a heritage of poets
and tailors, or thieves
and blasphemers,
of callous men
and slaughtered children.
I would give you these books,
written by God, some have said,
although I am doubtful
but driven by Erato, without doubt.”

This is what 
I would tell my sons:
“I didn’t go to war —
there were so many options
and I chose one where
my feet would touch
only Texas mud,
where the only bullets
were quickly fired
on the rifle range.
I wasn’t one of the 56,000.
I didn’t come home
in a body bag.
But I do stop at the Wall
each time I visit D.C.
and say farewell
to those who did.”

This is what
I would tell my sons:
“You have never known
the hunger for a scrap of bread
pulled from a dumpster,
you have never
spent a night on a steam grate
hiding under yesterday’s
newspapers from
the rapidly falling snow.
You never stood
nervously at the waiting room
of a dingy clinic
waiting for a young,
uncaring doctor to announce
that antibiotics would likely
clear up the infection
but you should avoid
any form of sex
for a couple of weeks.”

This is what
I would tell my sons:
“You come from 
a heritage of poets.”

First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press 2008

HISTORY

Deep in the valley of memory
on the altar of Ares
we sacrifice them, always young
each generation we are
Abraham unrestrained,
the pardon always moments late.
We are Olmecs, relying not
on the sun’s passage
but on a mainspring tightly wound.
Our gods hunger and must
be sated lest we lose favor
and their image change.

In our boneyard
priests and victims
slowly decompose
fade into earth
washed deep
by tears of Gods
powerless to intervene.

First published in The Peninsula Review, Vol. 5, (1998)

HIGHER ORDER

Among certain species of spider
at the moment of arachnidal orgasm
the female devours her mate
for the protection of the young.

The lion stalks his prey, then leaps
tearing flesh to sate a hunger
born of the endless sun
beating down on the grassy plain.

It is left to man to hunt
for trophy, for proof of dominion
over all else, as promised
by a self-created God.


First published in Albatross, Vol. 13, 2001

AWAKENING

He could not hope to remember
how he got there, he had wandered
in search of nothing in particular,
save dinner as his hunger grew,
but in Shinjuku you needn’t read
Japanese since the menus sat
molded in plastic in the window
of even the smallest restaurants.
He began to look more intently
when he saw the path off the street,
a calico cat beckoning him,
so he entered, knew instantly
he was at a small Buddhist temple,
and bowed to the statue of Kannon
hidden amid the flock of cranes.
He felt the touch of the young monk,
followed him into the small zendo,
sat seiza at the monk’s nodding,
and as evening washed over them both,
time and hunger ceased to matter.
Interminably later, over a cup of tea,
the monk said in broken English, “you
carry me with you to home place,” pointing
to his heart, “and I keep you in Japan,”
repeating the gesture, and as he
regained his bearings, saw
the Metropolitan Center which
was his pole star for the hotel
he walked lightly back, forgetting
he hadn’t eaten since breakfast.