He sits, suited in black, with 88
keys at his command, and we fall silent.
He opens the lock of joy,
the lock of sadness,
the lock of elation,
the lock of tears,
the lock of laughter,
the lock of darkness,
the lock of light,
the lock of surprise,
the lock of compassion,
the lock of love,
and we peer through each door,
unable to enter fairly
unable to turn away.
As we walk out, we know
we have tasted Buddha’s promised truth
and we go off in search
63,999 remaining Dharma doors.
When I was twelve, I think,
maybe in the last days of eleven,
and in my third year of piano lessons
my teacher, Mrs. Schwarting, she
of no first name, and a steady hand
that could squeeze the muscle
of my shoulder, a taloned metronome,
gave me a small plastic bust
of Beethoven, told me to place it
on the piano, so that he could watch
my daily practice and insure
my eyes were on him, not the keys.
Ludwig is long gone, lost
in one of our moves, one less
gatherer of the dust of other activities.
Now, sitting on the bench,
flexing fingers demanding independence
I realize that his smile was one
of age, thankful for his deafness.
Previously published in Fox Cry Review, Vol. 23, 1997 and in PIF Magazine, Vol. 20, 1999.
There are two keys to it, really
the first, and easier, is to make a well
with your hands, that would need be
not all that deep, just enough
to hold your thoughts as you work.
The second is to add just
the right amount, too little and
it is dry and doesn’t hold
together, too much and it will
refuse to obey your command.
Dust it well, and constantly
as you work, that is
the third key, but we don’t call it
a key, for there should
only be two keys to everything.
And finally, no matter how long
you think it will take, it will
never take that long,
always longer or shorter,
never that long, but
when you are done, you
must savor it while looking
for those thoughts you left
in the now transmuted well
of the making of your hands.
These few words
gathered neatly on a scrap
of simple paper,
what do you call it?
Answer carefully for you response
may carry the keys
to the doors of Mount Tai-i.
Better still, upend
the water bottle, watch
the ink and water form
a gentle pool into which
no pebble drops.
A reflection on Case 40 of the Mumonkan (The Gateless Gate)
Mrs. Schwarting lived in a small cottage.
Mrs. Schwarting taught piano in her living room.
Mrs. Schwarting had no first name, even
checks were to be made payable to “Mrs. Schwarting.”
Mrs. Schwarting grew suddenly old, some said,
to fully fit into her name, no one could
remember her ever being young.
Mrs. Schwarting said I must always find Middle C,
that everything starts there.
Mrs. Schwarting was not pleased when I said
that Middle C was key number 40 on my piano
of the 88 that I carefully counted,
and there was no middle key, only
a gap between E4 and F4.
Mrs. Schwarting looked at me sternly
and ended my lesson early that day.
Mrs. Schwarting was a great teacher.
I think of her each time I sit down
and place the djembe between my knees.