RAGA BADVA

Look behind the number, past
the curtain that shields
from your eyes its magic – it is
there the singularity of life sheds
its clothes, and what
you grasp so tightly
is no more than the idea
of dawn, the concept of death.
You must dig the grave
to that certain depth so that
should he ever arise, he may
touch his head on the dew-
washed carpet that hides the sky.
Days in a week, denominator
of pi fractioned, I count
the Omer, seven times seven times
until the idea of a rest day
is as odd as the concept of night.
In alignment, numbers claim
kinship, six and six and six
devils stand aside and applaud
as sevens walk from the cliff
still waiting for the Word.
Your trinity is a unity
and infinity is divisible
only  by zero and faith.

PIANO LESSONS

Mrs. Schwarting was my piano teacher. At 12, my parents gave me a choice of lessons: piano or dance.  I had two left feet.  I chose piano.  It did not move. My mother smiled at my choice.  She knew what my decision would be before she asked.  My mother was like that.

 Mrs. Schwarting was my piano teacher.  Each Wednesday at 4 P.M. mother dropped me off in the driveway of the cottage-like house, hidden in the cul-de-sac.   I waited on the ivy covered portico until the prior student left.  I never knocked on Mrs. Schwarting’s door.  No one ever knocked on Mrs. Schwarting’s door. No one ever came in with me.  Piano was something I learned alone.

 Mrs. Schwarting was my piano teacher.  Her hair was the gray of a Buffalo winter, a sky promising snow.  Her hair was the blue of a sky bleached by the August sun.  Her hair, she said, was once blonde, like autumn wheat.  Each Wednesday I took off my coat and hung it on the single hook by the door.  One hook, she said, one student.  One year I played a duet with Larry Feldman.  Each March Wednesday Larry’s coat or mine would lie on the floor.  One hook, one coat.

 Mrs. Schwarting was my piano teacher.  Her first name was Mrs.  That’s what my mother wrote on the check I always put in the little basket on the top of the piano. Once, my mother forgot her checkbook.  She gave me cash.  When I put it in the basket, Mrs. Schwarting clucked her disapproval, “no bills, only checks. Please to vait on porch until your mother arrives.”  The door closed behind me: “no bills, only checks.”

 Mrs. Schwarting was my piano teacher.  She was five foot one.  She would stand behind me, “keep spine straight, zat is how you must play,” her head hovering on my shoulder like a pet bird.  She smelled of lavender, her breath of slivovitz.  She was German.  Her house was German.  Her English was German.  Her piano must have been German.  It loved  Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, tolerated Mozart but despised Satie.  “It is the fingers, she said, the piano cares not.”  The piano cared.

 Mrs. Schwarting was my piano teacher.  Czerny was her mentor, she said.  “You vill play each piece at least fife times each day.  Every day, fife times.  You vill write down each day how many times you play each piece.” Each day I sat at the piano in the living room.  Each day I played each piece five times.  One day I lost count, and played one piece a sixth time.  My fingers felt guilty.  I played it badly.  When the sun was out, the only tempo was presto. I always played fortissimo.  Mother listened.  Mother counted.

Mrs. Schwarting was my piano teacher.  She would hire a hall for a recital each May.  We would sit in “just so order, not to move, not to speak, just to sit. You vill never look to your hands.  Zay are at ze end of your arms, I am certain.  You vill play slowly.  If you play fastly, you vill play again.”  Mrs. Schwarting was German.  Her house was German, her piano was German.  Her fingers which always tapped my shoulder to set the tempo were German.  I told my mother she was a Nazi.  My mother laughed, “she’s just German.”  I thought,  maybe she was Eichmann’s secret lover.  I thought maybe she was Schumann’s love child.  I never liked Schumann.  Schumann was German.

 My sister took lessons from Mrs. Schwarting.  She thought Mrs. Schwarting’s piano was German.  My sister could reach a full octave easily, I had a span of a seventh.  In my last recital I played Für Elise.  I played it badly.

 Mrs. Schwarting was my piano teacher.  In the lobby of the Osaka Hyatt Hotel there is a piano.  At three in the morning, fresh from a trans-Pacific flight, I wander the lobby.  The desk clerk smiles.  I sit at the piano.  My back is straight.  I play the opening ten measures of Für Elise.  I still cannot reach an octave.  I play it badly.

THREE NOTES FROM THE IRON FLUTE

MANJUSHRI ENTERS THE GATE  鐵笛倒吹

 Like Manjushri, stand still

outside the gate

and listen for the call

of Buddha from within.

 

When he calls, answer

but is Buddha inside

and you without?

There is nothing at all

to see, and the gate

has fallen from its hinges

so answer yourself carefully.

 

 

 

OPENING SPEECH OF RAZAN       鐵笛倒吹

 

When you assume Lo-Shan’s seat

think of all the words

you might speak.

Put on your robe and sit

until the hall is full.

 

Open your mouth fully

and speak profoundly

the sole word “farewell.”

Leave yourself in the seat

and retreat to your room

but always with a smile.

 

NANSEN’S STONE BUDDHA         鐵笛倒吹

 

 

Carry a large stone inside

does it lie down

or stand up, and can you

consider carving it into a Buddha

or do not carve it,

if Buddha is inside

will it matter what tools you employ,

have you the strength

to crawl within the stone

and will you stand

or lie down?

 

 

Enso

In the interstitial moment

between birth and death

a universe comes into existence,

something that never before existed

and existed always, new

and well-known, unseen

and visible for eternity.

Measure it well

for it is incapable of measurement,

and ends without warning

and precisely on schedule.

In the momentary breath

that marks the transit,

we proceed nowhere

and cannot return to where we began.