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.

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 (The Gateless Gate)

THIN ICE

When we were much younger
we would meet by the edge
of the pond each day
after winter’s first taste
and pry rocks from the bank
with frozen fingers, one the size
of a fist, others even larger.
We would carefully aim
and in a crystal parabola
watch as they hit the frozen
surface, one upon another
in hopes they would not
break through to drown
in a strangled silence.

When the largest stones
we could heave would clatter
across the ice, great uneven
ruts in the covering snow,
we would reach for the shovels
we had sneaked from the garage
and slowly roll the blanket of snow
into a pillow on the banks.
Lacing on our skates, some
a size too large, stuffed with paper
others too small, toes crushed,
we would step gingerly out
like sailors too long ashore
and lean on our hockey sticks
like three-legged stools
tottering across a shined floor.
We would take off a hat
or a glove and mark the corners
of the rink and the edges
of the goal mouth, two sticks wide.
We would take the almost
round wooden disk of
layers of plywood
crudely nailed together
and begin a game
whose periods were marked
by the cry of our mothers.

Today the pond is gone
replaced by homes
and our shouts barely echo
off the brick facades.

MAL ANNEE

On the anniversary
of the start of a war
one feels almost compelled
to speak to its horrors,
its cause, its effect.
But we live in an age
where wars are plentiful,
when peace is the exception
and war seems to loom
around every corner.
So on this anniversary
I watch the snowy egret
stare into the pond
outside my window,
the great bird calmly
imagining that
in her world
all of the people
are merely fish.

DROPPING IN

He drops suddenly
from a branch of a tree
which you don’t see
for all of the others.
He lands a foot from you,
you pause suddenly
and he looks up at you,
trying to determine if you
are friend, foe, or lunch.
He concludes you are
not lunch and scurries off
under a nearby bush
on the edge of the pond
where the rocks will
provide the sun
for an afternoon nap.
You gather your wits
and thoughts, knowing
you will retell this story,
but for him, it is just
another day it the life
of your average iguana.

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 (The Gateless Gate)