NOM

He is fond of the name Alejandro Carlos
Ernesto Rodrigo Guttierez. The fact is
he loves the name. He knows it has
a certain nobility to it. It embodies and
conveys strength and character. It is a source
of pride and great satisfaction. The name
makes him taller, bolder. There is so much
in a name, that name in particular. “Vinny,”
his mother shouts, “Vincenzo Balducci, come
down here and take the trash out, your
chores come first around here young man.
He is not at all fond of the name Vincenzo.

RAKUSU

The last stitch is sewn,
the loose threads trimmed,
the pincushioned fingers
are swaddled in bandages,
bits of brown thread plucked
from sofa, rug and shirt.
It is done, save for every
other stitch you now
want to pull and resew,
the mocking voice of the needle
convincing you otherwise.
All that is left is the turtle
sewn by another, and the inscription
of a name picked from a short list
that whispered to you
pick me, I’m yours, I’m you.
The robe of liberation is wondrous
but putting aside the pins
and the needle you lovingly
cursed so often is awe-inspiring.

DREAM WALKING

Tonight I will again
walk through my dream
scrapbook re-creating you.
For a bit longer, at least, I
have full creative expression
knowing now that you died
six years ago, never married.
I will search from
the carefully or inadvertently
dropped clue, your obituary,
bits and facts that could
never have come from the
adoption file, beacons
however faint that will
lead me into the harbor
of my true identity.
But for now I can imagine you
sitting in a corner at
the singles dance, looking
as your sisters pleaded
for a nice young man, long
past being fussy.
It didn’t take much
for him to sweep you
away, at least for
that one evening, away
from the teletype keyboard,
away from the cramped apartment.
I do wonder if your brother
finished college, was at
the same one you left
when the war made money tight.
I can fashion all of these things
into an ever shifting mural
of my own life, but soon enough
I will search, and with some luck
will find our shared name.
I may never see your face
save in the mirror or
the eyes of my granddaughter,
but in her smile, in the smile
of your grandson, I know
you better than you
could ever have imagined.

WWJD?

He walks into the room
hoping he won’t be seen
and if seen, won’t be recognized.
Not many know him,
none, he is certain, truly
know him, merely his image
and the idea they have of him.
It has been this way
for centuries, and he can barely
recall the acts done, the words
spoken in his name.
He has been here forever
but they wait, patiently,
expecting a return
he cannot make until
they let go of their dreams
and see the reality of him.

THREE CALLS 鐵笛倒吹 三十九

If your name is called
how do you answer?
If it is called again
and then again, will
your answer always
be exactly the same,
or will you grow angry
and deny even yourself?

Surely your teacher
knows who you are
but knowing yourself,
that is the highest mountain
you will be asked to climb.


A reflection on case 39 of the Iron Flute Koans

JOSHU’S DWELLING 鐵笛倒吹 七十

 

If a poor man offers you
the finest diamond
do you take it, and what
of the gift of a crust of bread
from the wealthy man.
Each gift, in its way,
is worthy of rejection.

Once I grasped at great thoughts –
now I can forget my own name
and wonder whose face it is
that I see in the mirror.


A reflection on Case 70 of The Iron Flute (Tetteki tōsui).