ANCESTORS

He clearly remembers standing on the edge
peering down into the almost bottomless canyon,
listening to the narrow river slide across the rocks
thrown down by its walls over millennia.
He was a visitor here, knew he would stay
only briefly, then leave, his spirit hiding
among the rocks in the nearby mountains,
staring down on the mesa for eternity.
He remembers listening for coyote, begging
the wily one to tell him the tales of its ancestors
with whom he will soon share this canyon.
All he hears is the wail of the jackrabbit,
coyote’s message in a foreign voice,
as night engulfs the mesa and he
stares up at the galaxies and stars
which barely notice the small orb
hanging in the distant sky.

BODHIDHARMA’S VAST EMPTINESS

If you go walking one day
and meet a person you think
may be the Buddha, ask him
what is the heart of all of the sutras.
If he answers you with Dharma
will you be certain this person
is not the Buddha?
If, on the other hand,
he says nothing at all,
and merely holds up a mirror,
will you be certain you
are seeing the Buddha?
Decide before he crosses
the river and is gone from sight.


A reflection on Case 1 of Bring Me the Rhinoceros (Koans)

SLIP SLIDING AWAY

There comes a moment
at which both memory and history
become blurred at the edges,
where the bedrock on which belief
has been so carefully erected
seems more magma, shifting
threatening to bring down the superstructure
of desire and assumption.
It is the fading that is at once
both fear inducing and exhilarating
for faith is tested and will most likely fail
leaving uncertainty in place of illusion.
This is the joy and treat of aging
where your own life has former lives
that you cannot be certain you lived,
which seem familiar enough but
never with the crystalline clarity
you imaged memory must have.
Memory is a Buddhist river
and so much of the fun
is continually getting
your feet wet once again.

ACROSS

Across the river
running limpid as mercury
the sky is gun-metal gray
and many stand
in the windows
of their small apartments
and stare at buildings
sitting like mausolea.
On this side of the river
running limpid as mercury
the sky is gun-metal gray
and many stand
in the windows
of their small apartments
and stare at buildings
sitting like mausolea.
Tomorrow across the river
the sky will be blue
and a cold sun will shine
and the river
will swallow its reflection.
Tomorrow on this side of the river
the sky will be blue
and a cold sun will shine
and the river
will swallow its reflection.

MUSING (4 HAIKU)

Out the plane window
a lake or a sea of clouds
Why does it matter?

 

during an eye blink
the butterfly spreads its wings
galaxies collapse

 

Cats curl in furred sleep
the moon crawls across the sky
a monk awakens

 

leaves cling to the trees
the rivers flow more slowly
the stone is unmoved

RIVERSIDE

The great bronze kings
of the Chosun Dynasty
look down from Mount Namsan
over the city, valleys
of small homes, neatly
tiled roofs over
ramshackle walls,
with small gardens
clustered atop
amid clothes drying racks
and cars careening
along narrow streets.
The old woman
wraps the pink towel
around on her scalp
like some garish bun
and lifts the packages
carefully bound
balanced on her head
and trudges slowly down
the cobbled street
to Namdaemun market.
In It’aewon, the man
bent, creaking, lifts
the handle of the old cart
and begins a slow shuffle
up the alley straining
against time and gravity.
They look down from
the mountain at the
great South Gate
and their hanboks
weigh heavier
with the fall of night
while the Han
flows on uncaring.