JOSHU INVESTIGATES AN OLD WOMAN 無門關 三十一

In searching for the path
to the holy mountain
you may ask directions
of the old tea lady
sitting still at its base
and she may point

but placing one foot
ahead of the other
stare closely at the tea leaves
for they, too, know the Way.


A reflection on Case 31 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate) Koans

THE DARK TIME

The trees, bearing up strongly
against the still falling snow
remember leaves, though the memory
has run deep into the sap and slowed.

Beneath the frosted bed
the bulbs imagine summer,
try to picture their blooms,
but quickly returned to frozen stasis.

The cat thinks of venturing
into our yard, sinks its paws
into the growing snowbank, decides
the rug by the fireplace is adventure enough.

We turn up our collars, stand
firm against the wind driven snow,
remember summer, and curse the gods
of weather for taking it from us.

A WINTER MEDITATION

I have given up on winter,
which is to say that I have
fled its iron grip, but
the memories I have
linger painfully in the rods
the surgeon carefully
screwed onto my spine.

It wasn’t the cold, though it
was far from pleasant,
but the snow that demanded
but also defied being shoveled.

I grudgingly face the job,
moving the snow from walk
and driveway to lawn and street,
and on occasion I’d heed
Buddha’s advice and treat
the exercise as a meditation.

But even then I’d recall
the tale of the monk told
to clear the garden of leaves
before a great master’s visit,
who completed the job
and proudly showed the abbot,
who agreed, but said
there was more thing
needed, and dumped all
of the collected leaves
back on the garden, then
said it perfect, and I knew
the wind and weather
would soon play the abbot’s role.

LEAVING

The trees seem to know
that we are leaving,
why else would they
shed their leaves
so early, the only tears
they are allowed to cry.
It cannot be a blight,
or so we think it,
just our departure
that has caused
this premature pining
for a winter we all know
will arrive too soon
any arrival being that.
We rake them gently,
lift them into bags
positioned under
their once homes,
waiting for the truck
to move our lives,
anther to take them away.

CULPA

We should stop blaming the snake. First, do we really want to admit the reptile was that much smarter than we were? More importantly, how long could we have survived wearing the leaves, if anything at all, and eating fruits and vegetables? Okay, I grant you that is all I eat, but by choice and after considerable thought. And, by the way, never tell a Jewish male he can’t eat something. We all know full well that even shrimp and pork are kosher in a Chinese restaurant. At least on Friday night.