MONOLOGUE


I would like nothing more than
to have a long conversation with the birds,
that there is much they could tell me,
much they know that I should understand
but I am the interloper here, and they
have lost trust in my kind.

I watch them closely, trying 
to discern what I can of their thoughts,
but in a flash of wing, they erase
my efforts, their unique version
of giving me the bird, so to speak.

I speak to them, offer apologies,
atone for my presence, for the others
who have taken their space,
and they listen, but in the end,
turn away again, having, they say,
heard this too many times before.

GENTO’S AXE 鐵笛倒吹 八十二

You sit before him
an axe in his hand.
He asks a question and says
if you answer I will cut off
your right hand,
if you do not respond
I will sever your left.

There is no sound
from the clock in the corner
as you silently grab his axe
and he smiles
in deeply shared knowledge.

A reflection on Case 82 of the Iron Flute Koans

SOMETHING NEW

When I was a child, my mother
repeatedly told me that I must
learn something new each day.

I knew better than to point out
that it was absurd to call
for novel behavior by repetition.

So I took the path of least resistance
and each day grabbed a random
volume of the World Book Encyclopedia,

opened to any page and read
the first entry on that page, committing
it, or its salient facts, to memory.

There is so much in life with which
I still struggle, seemingly basic tasks
I never took the time to master,

too busy with my head in books,
but I do know that the acts of Punisa
Racic that June, 1928 day killing two

led King Alexander, six months later,
to ban all political parties, assume power
and rename the country Yugoslavia.

KNOWLEDGE

It is difficult explaining to a child,
even one who has reached the age of 40,
that you once knew all there was to know.
They are certain they know more than you,
and they know all there is to know
so, a fortiori, you could not know
all that there is to know, period.
They will say this with a certain smugness
born, they believe, of the knowledge
that they know quite everything.
But there is still a perverse pleasure
in watching their smugness collapse
like a house of cards in a storm,
when you remind them that there was
so much less to know when you
knew everything, and so it will be
for their children when the reckoning comes.

SEPPO CUTS TREES 鐵笛倒吹 二十三

Will you spend
all of your time
sharpening the blade
or will you use it on the tree
and if you strike the pith
what will you say then?

To speak of the sap
flowing freely from
the wound of the axe
is utter foolishness
it has no taste on the finger
better to feel
the blow of the stick.


A reflection on Case 23 of the Iron Flute Koans

ISAN’S I HAVE EXHAUSTED MYSELF 正法眼蔵 四十四

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 True Dharma Eye Koans

ISAN’S I HAVE EXHAUSTED MYSELF 正法眼蔵 四十四

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)

EDISON, GO TO HELL

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.

FLAME

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.

AUDIENS CAVE

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.