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)

EIRE

There are two principal problems
with Ireland, and I found both
to be utterly insurrmountable.

Every town, even Galway City
at any time of day or night
looked like it should be a postcard.

Add to that the horror that in
every pub I visited it was assumed
that if asked I would sing a song

or, realizing I have no singing
voice, I would recite a poem
from William Butler Yeats

which I sadly could not, yet after
the third pint of Guinness
I could, I think, recite my name.

“Geography”

People of the mountain
are quiet, some say taciturn
preferring to listen for the cry
of the eagle, wind whistling
its familiar tune through a pass
snow rent from the face
tearing down in a crystalline cloud.

People of the shore
merge with the song
of the waves, feel its tempo
punctuated by the bark
of the whale, the horn
anchored in the harbor,
the tavern disgorging
its nightly catch into the streets.

People of the city
stare at the bleakness
of the stone monolith
torn from the earth
white tipped peaks barren,
and the endless wash
of the sea, licking
at land and retreating
an ill-trained pup
but mostly at the ground
lest it slide from beneath them.

First publshed in Lighthouse Weekly, January 17, 2022
https://www.lighthouseweekly.com/post/geography-and-santa-cruz-wharf-september

EMPTY SACKS WILL NEVER STAND UPRIGHT

There are nights
when the song
of a single cricket
can pull you away from sleep.
She says that she has heard
that not all Angels have wings
and neither of them
is sure how you would know
if you met a bodhisattva.
He searches the mail
every day, for a letter
from unknown birth parents
but none of the credit cards
he ought to carry
offers to rebate his dreams.
Each night they lie
back pressed to back
and slip into dreams.
She records hers
in the journal she keeps
with the pen, by the bed.
He struggles to recall his
and places what shards he can
in the burlap sack
of his memory.

First Published in Where Beach Meets Ocean, The Block Island Poetry Project, 2013

CONVERSATION

Arising into night
the departing sun
tangoes away with its cloud,
memories soon forgotten.
Other dancers take the stage,
now a romance, now
a war dance, feathers raised
in prayer to unseen gods.
Night will soon bring
its curtain across this stage,
the avian cast’s final bows taken
the theatre will darken, awaiting
another performance,
a new script tomorrow,
but for this solitary moment
of frozen grace, it is we
who write the conversation,
our lines sung by actors who
know only nature’s
unrelenting song.

SOTO

If you are able to speak
maintain silence,
If you can bear the silence,
listen to the song the sea sings.
If you can sing with the sea
count the grains of sand
that wash in on the next wave.
If you lose count, begin again
before the wave recedes.
If the wave recedes before
you finish counting, bid it farewell.
After you bid farewell
return to your cushion
and listen to the silence
which is the body of the dharma.

First Published in The Poet: Faith Vol. 1, Spring 2021
https://www.thepoetmagazine.org/spring-2021—faith

WOODEN PILLOW 鐵笛倒吹 六十

If, sitting at your meal
you hear the song of a bird,
what do you do?
You may tap your chopstick rest,
and perhaps he will answer
and repeat his sweet song.
If you tap a second time
and there is only silence
is the bird rejecting you
or offering his song to another,
flown from your window.

Perhaps you should tap again
and hear the sweeter song
of silence that echoes
over the garden and zendo.
On a distant limb
the small songbird smiles.

A reflection on Case 60 of the Iron Flute Koans.

LESSONS

The most important lessons he taught
were in those moments when he was
absolutely silent, the smile across
his face shouting across the background
din of everyday life, his eyes wide
with a sort of childish awe that I had
long since given up as adolescent.

The child sees everything for the first time
regardless how many times she has
gazed at what we adults are certain
is the same scene, a pure iteration,
hears each call of the cardinal as
a never-before-heard song, not
the now boring chorus of a too long
repeated lyric, its melody now painful.

His lessons too easily slipped away,
as he did a few years later, mourning
a poor substitute for memories that
eased into the damp ground with him,
but the smile of my granddaughter
at seemingly everything and nothing,
her laughter at the squirrel inverted
from the crook arm of the bird feeder
defying the shield below to stop
his constant thefts, the giggles
at the clouds filling the sky with
characters I could not hope to see,
brought him back, and with him
the joys of my childhood long suppressed.

ABIDING

The dawning sun brings forth the birds’
morning chorus, their song glides
through the windows, no words
are needed, their meaning heard
and through it all, morning simply abides.

We are left to shelter within, to gird
ourselves against the unseen tide
that has washed over us undeterred,
rendered all once normal absurd
and through it all, morning simply abides.

We cannot change what has occurred,
our faith has ebbed, been cast aside
in this battle, our lives deferred
yet certain we will get the last word,
and through it all, morning simply abides.

So we turn to you, dream ourselves birds,
with the freedom of flight, to glide
above it all and sing, move forward,
and pray for a blessing to be conferred
and through it all, morning simply abides.

First Published in Dreich, Issue 10, Autumn 2020 (Scotland)