UTEKI ASKS BUDDHA 鐵笛倒吹 四十語

While out for a walk
on a sun filled Spring day
if you happen across the Buddha
how will you recognize him?

If you offer gassho
to Buddha surely
it will be returned, but
is it he or merely
your reflection off
the surface of a still pond?
Does this matter to you?

A reflection on case 45 of the Iron Flute Koans

FREEZE FRAME

When you see a photograph of a drop
of water hitting a still pond, you realize
that it is nothing at all like what you see.

The photo freezes time, and that is why
we are so taken, for we want nothing more
than to slow or stop that unerring arrow

for we know all too well where its target
sits and we will never see its point
for the intended point is infinitely far

and we are but a small interstitial step
on its path, and so we want to freeze
the arrow’s flight , to grasp it, to turn

it around if possible, certain we can
wish it, certain that the archer knew
we would, certain in the end we will fail.

SWAN DIVE

Its plump, dusty-white feathered body
sits atop the pond like an inverted
iceberg, as the lindens fringing the field
shed their seeds onto the hardened soil.
The swan lumbers across the surface
with no particular urgency or direction
slowed by the entropy of a late August afternoon,
the laughed shouts of children
plunging headlong to dinner,
diverted to bathrooms
for the cursory sprinkling
of unholy water,
the beast drags its haunches
upward
straining against the gravity
of too many
moments pecking the grains
cast at it by the children.
Its head breaks the surface of the pond
and inches downward in through the green
glaze until snatching its target
at the end of the allotted moment,
like the child’s toy with its colored fluid,
it swings back up on its axis,
and inches away, its dive complete.

The young boy climbs gingerly aboard
the rusty metal seat, a lattice of
peeling enamels, telling the years
as rings of trees, and drops the bar
across his lap, a wave to cousins
denying the tingle in his bowels
as the wheel begins its rhythmic
interrupted rotation, and the sky
summer gray, approaches.
The wheel turns slowly,
the cacophony of little girls
rings false against the fading note
of a carousel.
He rocks gently, mindful not to lean
into the baleful eye of the operator,
and glances down counting those
awaiting their moments until
he hears the grating of metal
and he slides to the side,
as his cage
begins to dangle, the bar greased
by the sweated palms of a rider,
and then the shriek of agony
torn loose from somewhere beneath
his riveted eyes
fixed on the asphalt
rushing to break him.
He lifts his arms out
vainly searching
for the genetic memory of flight.
He strikes with the sound of the plastic
barrel striking a pier, his dive complete.

First Appeared in Twilight Ending, May 1999.

PELICAN

The pelican hasn’t been around
for a couple of days, and we miss
his akimbo dives into the pond,
surfacing and throwing his head back
to show he’s swallowing his catch
even though we suspect some of the time
he caught nothing at all, but knowing
we’re as gullible an audience
as he is likely to find any time soon.
We hope he is off breeding somewhere,
making little pelicans that will
be able to entertain us next fall
when we return, birds of our own sort,
not snowy egrets but snow birds nonetheless.
We don’t want to know any more
about the mating ritual, some
things ought to be private.
We learned that painful a few years
ago, when my brother thought it
was important we see thoroughbreds bred.
We prefer our breedings like
good French films, suggestive
but ultimately leaving it
to our memory, like so much of our youth.

MEDITATION

A wise Buddhist teacher
once told me that anything you do,
if you do it mindfully, can be
a form of meditation, and I have
taken this into my practice,
albeit with mixed success, but that
is one reason they call it practice.

Walking silently, following
your breath in and out, aware
of your feet, the earth, the sky
is definitely meditative.

Chopping onions, carefully drawing
the knife thorough the layers
creating neatly incised bits
is certainly meditative.

Sitting by a pond watching
the sun slowly set it ablaze
as the breeze ruffles the surface
is absolutely meditative.

But folding laundry, no matter
how mindfully I approach the task
always and quickly morphs into
a mindless search for the missing sock.

A MISTAKE IN SPEAKING

When you speak the words
of the Buddha you are lost.
Light is everywhere in silence
but the tongue must hide
in the dark of the mouth.

Buddha’s words are flowers
unfolding in the dawn
by the side of the still pond,
the eyes hear the song
and respond in silent chorus.


A reflection on Case 39 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate Koans)

A MISTAKE IN SPEAKING 無門關 三十九

When you speak the words
of the Buddha you are lost.
Light is everywhere in silence
but the tongue must hide
in the dark of the mouth.

Buddha’s words are flowers
unfolding in the dawn
by the side of the still pond,
the eyes hear the song
and respond in silent chorus.


A reflection on case 39 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate)

STARING

A crane stands placidly
staring through the window
as we earnestly attempt
to imitate him, hoping
he will honor the effort
if not the result.
The master is graceful
and we are far less so, and
out of the corner of my eye
I see on the crane what could be
a smile, or as easily derision,
and take comfort in the thought
that the root of the word
is shared with laughter,
and we can accept that
not as a mark of failure but effort.
The crane returns to the pond
the master to his neigong
and we imagine we are
all noble birds awaiting flight.