GENSHA’S THREE VEHICLES 正法眼蔵 四十語

Describe this moment
without use of word or sound –
see where you are
with eyes pressed tightly closed,
hear a song with utter silence,
taste the pure mountain air
reach out and touch
that which has no shape
or form, no essence
and you sit
in the middle
of reality.

A reflection on case 45 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo Koans (True Dharma Eye)

REAL TIME

Reality is clearly something to be avoided
to be dressed up in tattery, tied in ribbons,
perfumed, yet its fetid stench
is always lurking in the background
waiting to pierce your nostrils
in an incautious moment until you retch
and bring up the bile that marks
the darker moments of your life,
the kind that lingers in the throat
which no chocolate can erase.
Reality is often ugly, so we ignore it
or hide it behind masks, or offer it
willingly to others, a gift in surfeit.
It sneaks up on you, and sets its hook
periodically, and thrashes you at will,
the barb tears through new flesh,
setting itself deeper, intractable.
You and I are dying, as I write,
as you read, an ugly thought
particularly lying in bed
staring into darkness,
no motion or sound from your spouse,
mate, paramour, friend, significant other
or teddy bear, where God
is too busy to respond at the moment
and sleep is perched in the bleachers,
held back by the usher for want
of a ticket stub, content to watch
the game from afar.
I cast ink to paper, an offer of reality
as though the divorce from the words will erase
the little pains and anguishes of our
ever distancing marriage, while
holding vainly onto the warm and sweet,
the far side of the Mobius of reality
(the skunk is at once ugly and soft and caring).
We write of pain, of ugliness, of anger
at terrible lengths, or weave tapestries
of words to cover the flawed, stained walls
of our minds, like so many happy endings,
requisite in the script. Basho
knew only too well that truth of beauty
should be captured in few syllables.

First Appeared in Chaminade Literary Review, Vols. 16-17, Fall 1995.

STAGED

At the moment of your birth
my son, I grew suddenly older,
mortality became a reality
that I could no longer avoid.

You could not imagine this,
and I doubt others could see
but I knew and the infinite
collapsed inside the event horizon.

Your brother came later, but
that death was incremental,
a single cut among thousands,
a step on a path you chose for me.

You have your own children now,
your shochet impatiently
waiting in the shadows, and
they cannot imagine their

roles until the play rolls out
and they are thrust onto the stage
with no possible exits, and an audience
that knows how this play ends.

REALITY, OF A SORT

The single greatest problem
with dreams is that they
are utterly real when you
are dreaming, the absurd
is not only permitted
but expected, and in that
moment it is hardly absurd.

The dead and living come
and go with impunity,
and you welcome them
as real people because
for that period of time
they are as real as you are.

But awakening, you realize
it was all a dream, and
your life is remarkably
absurd, and it all seems
so utterly frustrating
and wholly unreal.

BLESSED

Barchu, for the slugs of the Chinese
knockoff AK47 which tore
through his legs, twisting
to avoid the artery and nerves.

Barchu, for the moon hanging
in the frosted night
seeking shelter in the mist
cutting into me, lashing me
to reality.

Barchu, for their memory
the small circle of candles
that burn eternally
in the rain.

Barchu, for the sleep
that slides over him
and sets him free
if only for an hour.

Barchu, for the evening
and the morning,
another day.

First Published in AGON Journal, Issue 0, 2021

FRIENDS

We will always be friends, we said,
probably half meaning it at the time.
How many times have we said that
or somthing akin to it, knowing
that the promise to call, to stay
in close touch, was at best
half meant and almost certain
not to come to any reality.

I have a catalog of friends, who
I told I would never give up, distance
notwithstanding, we all do, and mine
is replete with both good and bad
intentions, each and every one a failure.

I did not say this to my ex-wife
when we divorced, and I must say
that while I failed at the marriage,
or so she said, I did not ever fail
at not being friends after its end.

I’LL BE SEEING YOU

We live in a zoom world, one we never imagined, and one for which we will never be prepared. But it is our life now, friends and family reduced to pixels, voices disembodied.  They tell us this is the new normal, although what is normal about it is beyond logic and comprehension. We believe deeply that we are interconnected, curse when that connection is dropped by our technology. We cannot survive without our electrons and pixels, for that is where people exist. Every man is an island now, isolation is a perpetual state. And, hey, we should get together soon. I’ll send a meeting number and password.

FIRST KISS

You ask me if I remember
when we first kissed, and then add
and what was it really like for me.

I know the answer you expect,
and I am reluctant to tell you
otherwise, but I have to be honest.

It was moments after I left you
at your door on our first date,
having found my car finally
in the parking garage near
the coffee house downtown.

I had just gotten in the car
to drive to my apartment
in the distant suburbs, and
turning on the ignition, I
kissed you passionately
on the lips, all eyes closed.

And, it was wonderful, though
the kiss we shared in reality
later that month put it to shame.

DEFLATED DREAMS

when did youthful dreams
slip away
erode
get consumed by
parents
teachers
or simply abandoned

reality, yours
theirs a poor substitute
all edges
and points
piercing hope

love once (a) given
rendered faint hope
worse, impossible dream
delusion? you want
to think not
want so much
can’t have
bad for you
we know good
when we give it
none for you

time
past so
grow up