OLD HOTEL, NARA

Stepping into the hotel, it was like being dropped into a truly alien world. Nothing shiny, no excess of glass and marble. A simple dark wooden reception desk, a clerk in black with a white vest. A bow upon approaching. Your room is simple, no internet, a single light on a small desk. A tatami mat in the corner. A hard wired phone. And you know, in the distance, the Daibutsu awaits you in the morning. Here there is no CNN International, nothing that isn’t Japanese. Your computer is essentially useless, a fax machine in the office for emergencies. And the nearest business center, sorry closed, is in the city. The Internet is coming soon, they promise . But on your morning run, as you catch your breath on the step outside the Todai-ji Daibutsu-den, a deer comes up to you and licks your face and you know this morning Daibutsu is smiling.

THE SAINT OF UNCOUNTED NAMES

A desert again,
always a desert
and she the saint
of uncounted names,
her crying eases, no
smile appears for this
Madonna of the coyotes,
her orange-orbed eyes
shuttered against the
slowly retreating sun.
Once her tears watered
the desert sands, mixed
with the blood of a Christ
now long forgotten, trans-
substantiated into a spirit
we formed in our image,
no longer we in his.
The Blessed Mother
watches, holding hope,
holding space, holding
a serenity we cannot
fathom in our search
for divine justification.
She remembers, she mourns,
for what ought to be, and waits
for the windwalkers
to pull the blanket
of stars over her.

First published in Liquid Imagination, Issue 52, October 2022
http://liquidimagination.silverpen.org/

LEILA

At the left click of the mouse
my granddaughter appears
barely a week old
and with a right-click
she is frozen into the hard drive.
I remember sitting outside
the Buddha Hall of Todai-Ji Temple
in the mid-morning August sun the
smiling at a baby waiting in her stroller
for her mother to bow
to the giant golden Buddha.
I recall the soft touch
of the young monk on my shoulder,
his gentle smile, and
in halting English, his saying
“all babies have the face
of the old man Buddha.”
In the photos, the smile
of my son is the smile
on the face of Thay,
the suppressed giggle that always
lies below the surface of
the face of Tenzin Gyatso.
There is much I want to ask her,
my little Leila, there is much
she could offer, but I know
that like all Buddhas
she will respond with a smiling
silence and set me back on my path.

Published in As Above, So Below, Issue 9, August 2022
https://issuu.com/bethanyrivers77/docs/as_above_so_below_issue_9

MIRROR MIRROR

The person I see each morning
looks vaguely familiar, perhaps
someone I once met in passing,
or maybe a distant relative.
But he was so much older
so he was difficult to place.

I do say hello each morning
but get only a nod, a gesture
in response, as if the person
is mute, for he smiles back
so it is not a silence born
of anger or displeasure.

I will of course keep trying
for I know that I will
one day recognize his all
too familiar face, and I
need to act now for he is
aging quickly so my time
is limited, and in any event
the mirror does need cleaning.

SLEEVE

I wear my heart
on my sleeve, he said,
so you know what I’m
feeling at any given moment
and I am an open book
so you can read my thoughts
whenever you wish to do so.

His smile said he was
proud of this state,
and he did say it set
him apart from most people.

She laughed and said
to him, “But you know
by being so transparent
no one needs to spend
any time with you, they
know your story. And, he
added, “If I ever have
a heart attack, they won’t
ruin a good shirt when
they apply the defibrilator.”

FIVE HAIKU

The dawn cedes slowly
to the impinging sunlight
birds greet the new day

The great egret lifts
her wings embracing the cloud
the winter sun smiles

on the barren branch
the red-shouldered hawk awaits
her mate and the sun

sandhill cranes wander
along the shore of the lake
looking for nothing

the moon is a cup
waiting for night to fill it
venus sits empty

JOSHU’S DOG

My teacher once asked me
“what do you have
to say for yourself,” and I
answered “absolutely nothing,”
or did I smile and remain silent?

You assume the teacher would
be upset with the silent student
and in most cases you would
be perfectly correct.

But if this occurred
in a zendo, having nothing
to say is a step toward no-self
and you can be
in that moment,
Joshu’s dog.

A reflection on Case 18 of the Book of Equanimity (従容錄, Shōyōroku)

THE FATES HAVE IT

It was a chance meeting they thought
although the Fates knew otherwise.
Theirs was a subtly planned world,
leave no fingerprints, always have
an alibi, better still never get caught.

It was a short meeting, a brief
conversation and an ill-meant
promise to stay in touch, numbers
exchanged and as soon forgotten.

He never imagined calling,
nor did she, but he did call
and they did meet again,
and the Fates smiled as
the couple celebrated
their golden anniversary,
both still certain it was all
a simple matter of chance.

WORKSHOP

Grace settles into the chair,
less an act of sitting than
of floating down onto the seat.
She has borrowed my grandmother’s
smile, kind, gentle, inviting.
She pulls a book from her bag,
its pages or most of them
dog eared, and I glimpse
some annotations in the margins.
We sit around her like children
awaiting presents on a holiday,
as acolytes seeking knowledge
from a font of poetic and prosaic
wisdom, or so we think.
She reads in a voice that is
at once soft and loud enough
to reach the back of the room,
opening the book to a random
page and diving in, then after
what seems like a minute and
an hour, she stops and asks
for questions. We sit dumbstruck
for a moment then fire at her
like machine gunners on the range.
She answers each, claims she is
a simple grandmother who writes
but we know better, know we
are in the presence of a true master.