GYOZAN SITS

To a parched man
sitting along the roadside
a picture of the ocean
will provide him nothing
to quench his thirst
and even if he jumps in
the salt will lead
to his imminent death.

But give him
the idea of a pond
fed by a pure stream
and he will be
a content salmon
swimming upstream.


A reflection on Case 86 of the Iron Flute Koans.

MESSAGE RECEIVED

There was nothing he liked more
than wandering along the shore
early in the morning, before the rakes
and people arrived, just to see
what the night had washed in
on the now departed high tide.
There would be shells of course,
but rarely one he didn’t have
already in profusion, and the occasional
jellyfish which he would flag
for the lifeguards to remove later.
He always hoped for a bottle
with a message in it, from some
far off place, or containing a cry
for help, but all he had found
were plastic soda bottles, a few
he was surprised to see, with labels
in Portuguese, from Brazil, he
imagined, until it became clear
from the other trash, that they
were from a ship jettisoning garbage
into the ocean he called mother.

ISLAND

He feels like a rock
cast into a river
partially rising above
the water now forced
to flow around him.
It pulls at him, seems
to say you belong
in the sea, let us
carry you there, but he
can no longer move
and knows he will meet
the ocean in bits pulled off
by the jetsam of other
people’s lives as it flows
past him on this leg
of its endless journey.

SEA-ING

He believes he would like the ocean,
imagines standing on the shore watching
as the waves wash up to his feet,
and as quickly retreat, smoothing the sand.
He has never seen the ocean, only
ponds and on large lake, but he
imagines the ocean is just
a giant lake with bigger waves.
He would like to see the fog
roll in erasing the horizon,
shrouding the seas in a deeper mystery.
He recalls standing in the bar
of the Grand Hyatt in Tokyo
late one night as the fog settled
over the city, and only the lights
of the tallest buildings
seemed afloat on endless sea.

DOGO’S GREATEST DEPTH 鐵笛倒吹 六十六

If you walk into the room
and many are meditating,
how will you know which
is the teacher, which the students?

If one sits on a higher platform
will you assume him teacher
and ask the depth of his Zen?
If he comes down to you
and says he has no depth to offer
do not think him a fool.
When you sit at the bottom
of the ocean and look down
the water beneath you is shallow
but the surface of the sea
cannot be seen.


Reflecting on Case 66 of the Iron Flute (Tetteki Tosui)

KANSAI

I

droplets torn from cloud bed
cling to edges of windows
wanting to grasp,
torn free by wind
they are pulled
clawing backward.

II

over Osaka pillars of light
rise up through holes
in the cloudbank, it is gray
rain puddling on tarmac
built into the bay.

III

container ships draw
fading wake lines
on a blue gray canvass,
a solitary sailboat
stares longingly
at the seawall
as rain dances on deck.

IV

in the next stall
an in-transit army sergeant
vomits repeatedly
then washes his face
and military demeanor.

V

round eyes
half shut
doze in neat rows
of seats
staring at planes
and rain.