PURPOSES

Life, she said, is all about
finding purpose not things.

It was hard to argue with her,
as she overwhelmed with examples.

Rice filling a small bowl
holds an incense stick up

and catches the ashes
as they fall quietly down..

A cracked plate can sit
under a plant, catching

any overflow from its
careful daily watering.

And old fleece jacket can
be desleeved and become

the cat’s new favorite bed,
moved around for novelty.

He always wondered how
she would repurpose him

when the time came.

SENSO-JI

By hour six, the plane was just a lumbering beast dividing the sky, halfway from God knows where to nowhere special. His body cried for sleep but he knew he had to deny it. That much he had learned from prior trips. For when he landed, made his way painfully slowly into the city, it would be early evening when he arrived at his hotel. He knew he needed to be on the edge of exhaustion. Only that way could he grab a meal from the 7 Eleven down the block, and finally get to sleep, reasonably fresh in the morning. It would be a long day. Each day in Tokyo was a long day of endless meetings and negotiations. It was mind numbing, but he was paid well to suffer it. And he knew that on his last day in the city he would have time to board the subway for Asakusa. There he would wander slowly down the line of stalls, to the great gate of Senso-ji Temple, its giant lantern shedding no light, and peer at the Buddha Hall in the distance. There would be school children in neat uniforms, always hand in hand, and pigeonss, flocking around them and anyone who looked gaijin, easy marks for photos and handouts. And the orange tiger cat would huddle at the base of the nearby Buddha seeking enlightenment. For that hour or so he was in a different world. The giant city melted away. His thoughts grew placid as he placed his incense into to giant earthenware jokoro then washed its smoke over his face and shoulders. He bowed to the young monk carefully writing the prayer sticks. He stood silent at the foot of the Buddha Hall, a conversation no one could hear, one that everyone here was having simultaneously. Time does not yield, and as it ran thin, he headed back to the subway knowing his fortune without purchasing it for 100 yen. A simple fortune really, a return visit on his next trip to Tokyo and maybe a side trip to Kyoto, and as the icing on his taiyaki, a trip to Nara, to again wander the grounds of Todai-ji and commune with the deer at first light, in the shadow of the Daibutsu. On the flight home he thought of the moments in Buddha’s shadow, the resounding of the great bell. He smiled recalling the red bibbed jizo, knowing they gave up Buddhahood to help those like him, still lost on the path. He is saddened knowing he will soon be back in his world, the daily grind, this trip shortened, as all return trips are. And when he lands, goes through Immigration and customs, when they ask if he has anything to declare, he may say “just a moment of kensho.”

3 TANKA

Antphonal songs
Mockingbirds greet the morning
Great Blue Herons stare
imagining their voices
night sweetly welcome the dawn
The great temple bell
awaits the morning, the monk,
its daily purpose
cast deep within the metal
always verging on release

Smoke of incense too
prostrates itself to Buddha
soon a morning breeze
promises enlightenment
or the freedom of the sky

NARA

It was inside Nara
that it finally slipped away.
Its tether had grown
ever weaker, the first slip
was decades before, a book,
brief meetings
an answerless question.
It stretched further
in Tokyo, basin incense
under the watchful
third eye
and hung perilously
by fewer and fewer threads
until, with the monks’
gentle bow, it broke
and I found home.

VAIROCANA (NARA DAIBUTSU)

Daibutsu, you sit placidly
staring down at the throng
that slowly bows before you.
You can small the faint
essence of the joss sticks
wafting from the great cast iron pot
outside the massive doors.
“Do not act as if the world were real”
you whisper, or so it seems
to my chilled ears, “it is
all but an illusion.”
I see a faint smile
cross your lips, then fly off
on the early winter breeze.
“The path is Noble, but it is
no path, turn from it
and you will find it,
but seek it and it will be gone.”
I turn from you and feel
the touch of your hand
between my shoulders.
As I walk through the gate
a deer nuzzles up against my leg
“nothing in this world
can be enjoyed forever”
the deer says, “but would you
have a scrap of cake for me,
a tribute to our enlightened guide?”

MORNING MEDITATION

Settling into perfect
stillness, each of us
in our brown robes
on brown chairs, benches,
cushions, note his entry
is somewhere between
the thundering of a forgotten
storm or the garbage trucks
crawling slowly down the street.
Despite the early morning heat
there is no breeze,
only a large moth
comes through the open windows
and dances around
the rice paper light shades.
The incense hangs
over the burner on the altar
waiting to be carried into the room.
You return to thoughts
of thoughtlessness,
invite ideas to come
and quickly leave.
You grow heavy
sinking into the earth,
your weight suddenly great.
The moth grows bored
and slips out the window.