FIRST TIME

It looks perfectly normal, the kind
of restaurant you would seek out
on a Friday night in a distant city.
The people look like those you know
or could know, those from home for instance.
She is not remarkable, blonde, older,
a slightly twisted smile, blue eyes,
but on meeting there is a sudden distance
as though this is not a normal world,
certainly not the world where
you first met a cousin, and you have
a nagging feeling, which grows during the meal
that one of you is an alien, an avatar
from some other world, parallel perhaps,
and this reality is anything but, although
the pennette is quite remarkable.
Would you meet your first true relative at age 62
you know that while blood may be thicker than water,
it also congeals just as easily.

APPARITION

In the night
what I am perched
on the edge of sleep
you appear, just
out of the dream shadows,
avoiding the light,
you are featureless.
I call to you and I think
you must be smiling
but your voice is the wind
through the Austrian pines
and the drip from the ever
shrinking icicles
that slowly abandon
the eaves of the house.

MA KU CARRYING HIS RING-STAFF

When you sit before the master
he will ask you a question.
Consider your answer carefully
then offer it to the master.
He will simply say, “correct.”
Later, when you sit before the master
he will ask you the same question.
Offer your answer to the master.
He will simply say “incorrect.”
If you ask him how your answer
can be both correct and incorrect,
the master will look through you,
and simply smile and say “Correct”.


A reflection on case 31 of the Blue Cliff Record koans.

RHINOCEROS

If I ask you to bring me
an atom of oxygen, where
will you search for it, how
will you isolate it, so that
you have captured
a single atom
that you can bring
in response to my request?
It may take some time
and great effort
to satisfy my desire.
Or you may simply
smile and tell me
to breathe and choose
the atom I wish
from the multitude
you have provided.


A reflection on case 3 of Bring Me the Rhinoceros (koans).

MOMENT

Enter slowly, calmly, and we dare say
enter at your own risk for you cannot know
what will happen within, nor can we
although we have been here countless
times before if our memory serves us, which
of course it cannot for it, too, is stuck
in this very moment with no escape.
Do not try and fight it, nor should you
think about understanding it for the effort
is doomed to failure, and escaping that
is one of the reasons you are here,
if you look openly at yourself, painful
thought that is for each of us always.
If you find it, or when, do not try
to hold on to it, for it cannot be held,
merely welcome it in and when
it decides to leave, as it will,
bid it a gentle farewell and smile.

GRANDSON

This Sunday, I know, we will take
another journey through mythology,
today a sail down the Lethe, no doubt,
or perhaps a careful avoidance of the Styx.
He will speak of Thanatos and Mors,
and will tell me not to be sad,
and with his sad smile, I will not be,
and though he is seven, he knows
he has touched me yet again, for that
is his magic, and in those moments he
is Damon to my Pythias, and I will find
that my tears are of joy and memory,
and his smile is the same one my father wore
which is my most abiding memory.

SEPPO’S WOODEN BALL 鐵笛倒吹 八十九

The teacher rolls
a wooden ball
past the students seated
around his feet.
Will you pick it up
and return it to him?

The teacher rolls
a wooden ball
past the students seated
around his feet.
I sit still
and let it pass.

Which of us
deserves the stick,
which a silent smile.
Buddha is killed
by a student
along the road
as both are enlightened.


A reflection on Case 89 of The Iron Flute koans.