Approach the master
sitting on his seat.
The fool will seek answers
having slept through the lesson
but the wise student will bow
silently and retreat
having learned all there is
and knowing absolutely nothing.
A reflection on Case 44 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo (The True Dharma Mind)
My mother was a firm believer
In lecturing, offering vast bits
of knowledge, culled from here and there.
One of her favorites was Edison’s
1% inspiration, 99% perspiration,
and she leaned toward quantity,
“It’s all about hard work, go
clean your room, clutter
will get you nowhere.”
Sitting here today amid
what I prefer to think of
as eclectically arranged items
of potentially great importance,
I see her picture, before
the chemo took her bottled red hair
looking disapprovingly at me,
saying, “You are killing your genius,
Edison would agree with me.”
I want to say to her, “But I’m with Einstein
and if a cluttered desk is evidence of
a cluttered mind, why was hers always empty.
He watched as the flame
licked at the lip
of the candle, the wax
slowly conceding and falling
in, forming the cradle
on which the flame danced.
He wondered how something
as simple as a wax cylinder
could have an inherent knowledge
of beauty and simplicity
and yet he stared at it
certain the knowledge was there.
He dared not put out the flame
for he could not deprive
the night of this momentary beauty
when it’s love, the moon
had chosen to retreat leaving the stars
to mock their small, immature brother.
I just want you to know
that the Old Man set me up,
and I’ll admit that, cagey as I am,
I never saw it coming.
I mean I knew he was capable
of anything, but he always adopted
this holier than thou persona so why
would I imagine He’d do this?
And it wasn’t like He clued
me in on it, how was I to know
that one was somehow different,
and weren’t they the smart ones?
So I take the fall, and you can bet it
will be an eternity of distrust, if not fear
or hatred, and I have to say, the damned
apple wasn’t all that tasty anyway.
I stare into the mirror
and see the same white hair
and wonder who I will be
today and what I was
on all of those other mornings.
I ask the mirror what life
has in store for me this day
but it only smirks, never answers
as if it knows something
I don’t and wouldn’t tell
if I asked.
First Appeared in Short Fuse, Issue 74, December 1998.
The vines cling to the hillside,
the small buds soon yielding fruit
but now simply soaking up the spring sun.
You dream the grapes are fat,
the deep purple orbs holding in their Syrah,
Grenache, Mourvedre, and you only wish
it would wash down the hillside
and stain the sometime fetid River.
The boats flow up and down river
with a metronomic regularity
The guides March their charges
along cobbled streets hoping some
will retain the great wisdom they impart,
by long, practiced rote, hoping
for the few euros measure of worth.
Along the seawall in the ancient town
the swans stare at the spectacle parade
and offer blessings to the sky God Cygnus
that they are fortunate enough not to be human.
A week ago there was a moment
that perfectly summed up life,
at least as seen by a three-year-old.
Three-year-olds know far more
than they are given credit for knowing,
far more, they are certain,
than their parents, and just enough
to make their grandparents laugh
at the most inopportune moments.
It was lunchtime, always a period
where so very much can go
so very quickly wrong, but all
was peaceful on this day, much laughter
and conversation until the moment
he twisted his mouth, and in a voice
more suited to an arena, announced
“I can’t believe . . .
I have salad . . .
in my mouth!”