He began his trek up the mountain early in the morning to allow time for the ascent and return. He’d planned this carefully, and proceeded slowly so as not to be put off his goal. He smiled as he passed through a low hanging cloud layer, erasing the ground from which he set off on his journey. He plodded on, seeing the summit growing ever, if slowly, closer. He finally reached his goal at the summit, sat and smiled broadly. He had made it. He gazed down, feeling as though he had at last achieved flight. He was one with the sky. A sudden shadow passed over him. He looked up at the eagle circling, mocking him, as if saying this is flight, you poor earthbound creature.
In the early morning, before
I open the blinds, before
the sun approaches rising,
I imagine the chill enveloping
everything outside, October
slipping quickly toward
November, to the possibility
of rolling snake eyes, to snow.
Winter always came that way,
unannounced, and at least
by me, unwelcomed, the
last of the crimson, flame
orange and ochre leaves
dragged to the earth
and buried ignominiously.
But I know when I do
open the blinds, even
while the sun is still in
its celestial witness protection,
I will see the shadow
of the palm trees and know
that here we measure winter
on a wholly different scale.
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.
I want to be your shadow,
and not in your shadow,
but the shadow itself,
so that I might be with you,
often unnoticed, forgotten
but present in the light
of day and night.
It is a closeness
I deeply want, without
intruding, a presence
you have with you always,
for that is what lovers
crave in silence, something more
for which they dare not ask.
We stand around
in the shadow
of the Coliseum
the Roman Forum
in the time
of the emperor.
two or three
of those staring
at the ruins
of our civilization
if we have not
life by then.
It seems less than fair that as a child
I was Jewish to the core, adopted, yes,
but certainly fully Jewish and not merely
by maternal lineage which would suffice.
Christmas was alien to me then, even
when I left Judaism behind, a shadow
that would follow me closely into
my Buddhist practice and life.
But DNA made a liar of so many,
my birth mother, the adoption agency
and my adoptive parents, for I know
my Judaism was only half of me.
So now I can enjoy Christmas
and other holidays, listen anew
to “The Little Drummer Boy”
and relish the irony of my new life.
For I have aged, as has my wife,
and when they sing “Do you hear
what I hear?” she sadly says
“not any longer I don’t” and then,
“Do you see what I see?” and I
must admit I do so only barely
and the doctors assure me that
soon enough I may say no as well.
It is progressing, but that
should not come as a surprise to you,
for they told you it would happen
and you accepted that as a fact.
It is the speed at which it has progressed,
much faster than you imagined,
what was once clear, now vague
ever more amorphous, half already
effectively gone, and the other half?
I imagine what would happen, will
happen when the other begins
the same journey, nothing known
to impede it, and how the four
remaining senses might fill the abyss
that the departure of sight
will leave in its growing shadow.
If the student asks the teacher
for greater knowledge
he will be met
with a blow from the stick.
If he asks again
the teacher will respond
I have nothing to give you.
Will you recognize
the greatest gift
when it is offered to you
or will you continue
to pursue its shadow.
A reflection on Case 79 of the Iron Flute koans.
Seeing your teacher on the road
if he says to you
Honorable Sir, what do you do?
You may turn, bow, and act the fool
or pass, eyes averted
without acknowledgement, silent
equally the fool.
Speak in silence,
face, bow without moving
greet him as you do yourself
in the morning mirror
and once past, offer gassho
and the fool is left on the path
dragging your shadow.
A reflection on Case 55 of the Iron Flute Koans
Death was never something we considered,
until that certain, ill-defined moment when
our immortality suddenly disappeared, and
in its place was a reality to be avoided.
Even once death became a shadow, always
lurking around us, we kept our face
toward the sun, so that death might
not be seen in the bright light of day.
When a sibling dies, it is always before
their time, before we are ready and
the death is anomalous, and one we grieve,
but as a cruel twist of fate not to be repeated.
Later death becomes a companion,
infrequent we hope, but ever present, and
all that is left for us is to consider which
is the less painful, the sudden departure
without warning or farewell, just gone,
or the slow erosion, a death mourned
during its process, a death of a thousand
goodbyes, until the last, and in the end
it becomes a distinction with no difference.
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