LOOKING FOR WORDS

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Perhaps so, but many pictures don’t travel in verbose company, and there are pictures worth far, far less, although some will search until the magic thousand are found. In Japan a story can be told in seventeen syllables, a picture painted with a single brushstroke. In the zendo the whole of dharma can be heard in the silence if you stop and listen.

RINZAI’S BLIND DONKEY

When your teacher
hands you the dharma
what do you find in your hands?

What will you do
with the dharma you are given,
where will you keep it,
or will you give it away
in silence, and in such
giving have it with you
at all times and places.

A reflection on Case 13 of the Book of Equanimity (従容錄, Shōyōroku)

CELESTIAL RHYTHM

It was a certain rhythm that he loved,
one he felt it in total silence, yet it faded
in the presence of sound, a doumbek
of the soul he would describe it.

He remembered how it was before
their one god rendered him and his kind
mere mythological creatures fit only
for poetry and dusty library shelves.

He would have his revenge some day,
would condemn their God to a corner
of the heavens, an eternity to reconsider
the rashness of his narcissism, but

in the meanwhile he would continue
to rest in the heart of this constellation
hoping to go unnoticed, happy just
to listen to the rhythm of the universe.

A WELL REHEARSED SILENCE

Of course there is something I ought
to say, moments like this require it,
it goes without saying, painfully.

I practiced lines for hours, rehearsed
in my dreams for weeks, knew
for years I’d be rendered mute.

My tongue swells, threatening
to escape my mouth or take refuge
deep within my esophagus.

Your silence is only compounding
my anxiety, how can I, a man
of words, be rendered silent

by the thought of speaking to you,
of telling you that I finally now
joyously have what I feared I wouldn’t ever.

A wife and lover deserves
better than this.

SIEGAN’S COST OF RICE

How long have you wandered
always searching for the one
answer, the hidden truth
that, when revealed to you,
will show you enlightenment?

Where have you searched
for this one truth, one
that will collapse the past,
present and future into
a single moment of pure
presence which you can grasp
and carry with you through life?

Stop and ask the infant
strapped to his mother’s chest,
for he has the answer
and his silence will speak
of it if only you will listen.

A reflection on case 5 of the Book of Equanimity Koans

DEEP

Deep beneath the Arctic ice
the whale songs shimmer
in the harsh light
of a frozen sun.
We strive to hear them,
hear nothing, hear only
our thoughts echoing
through cavernous memories.
With thoughts of what was,
what we wish had been,
we are ambient noise
in a universe which
cradles hope, craves silence.
Dolphins dream of days
when the sea was theirs,
lives lived in a slow paradise
a world the land- bound
would never comprehend
even as they laid waste to it.

First published in Zephyr Review, Issue 1, May 2022
https://zephyrreview.com/issues/

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)

The World-Honored One’s Intimate Speech 正法眼蔵 三十四

The wise one delivers
most knowledge
without opening his mouth.
The sagacious student
does not hide the wisdom
he inherits but offers it
in utter silence.
What is it
you wished to say
for I am ready
not to listen.

A reflection on Dogen’s Shobogenzo Koans Case 34 (True Dharma Eye)

ENFORCED SILENCE

The city is a ghost town,
the ghosts peering warily
from windows they now
wish they had taken
the time to have cleaned,
and now there is time
and no one to clean.

They fear the silence,
cannot fathom the smell
of the air, something
faintly like a cool morning
from their suburban childhoods.

They have found pots,
pans cast aside or used
for any purpose other
than cooking, and food
created by their hands,
from mother’s recipes recalled
has now appeared.

They want the noise,
the odors, the cheap
take-out places and fine
restaurants back, their
lives, but pause and are
thankful they are still
here and able to want.

First Published in Adversity, Vol. 1, The Poet, 2021

CHATTER

The cat tells me that
long after we have gone
to bed for the night she
hears the arguments
of the authors of the books
lining our living room shelves.

The poets, she says, quibble
over rhyme and meter, claim
this one is academic, that
one merely skilled in doggerel.

And don’t, she adds, get her
started on the Buddhist
authors, who argue endlessly
over their solution to this
koan or that one, each
certain of his own wisdom.

So do me a favor, the cat
concludes, and mix them up,
for they will quickly drive
each other to utter silence,
as the short story writers
dominate the conversation.