ORATION

Our cat has become a conversationalist. Her vocabulary grows larger each day. She seemingly shares her every thought with us, and admittedly we talk to and through her with some regularity as well. She does grow frustrated when we don’t immediately understand what she is saying, what she wants in a given moment. That is our assigned task, she will tell us. We ask for a cat dictionary and she scoffs. I may speak in cat, she says, but I certainly think in human, so figure it out, I am not that much smarter than you humans.

TE SHAN CARRYING HIS BUNDLE

Enter the room slowly and look carefully,
since you are here to find something.
There is much within this room, but you
can see nothing save the old man,
sitting calmly, staring at nothing, staring
through you at nothing in particular.
You know he is the teacher, the one
for whom you have been searching,
Still, he ignores you, staring at nothing.
You walk around the room, from end
to end to end to end and he does
not move or speak, and so you leave.

He has given a great lesson, do you
appreciate what he has taught you?
You walk away angrily, say that he
is no teacher at all, that you are no
closer to enlightenment leaving
than when you entered, for you
found nothing but yourself.
As you leave the old man bows
as teachers do to Buddhas.

A reflection on Case 4 of the Hekiganroku {BLue Cliff Record)

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

ARGOT

There is a language
spoken within a family
that no one outside speaks.
It may sound familiar
but listen carefully
and learn otherwise.
It is so with my brother
even though there are
thick walls between us
and yet, in a few words
intentions are obvious.
He keeps me far
from a place
I’d just as soon not go
and in her panic
my mother hears only
our words and not
their hidden meaning.
It is when we fall silent
the conversation begins.

DAIJI’S INNER CULTURE 鐵笛倒吹 十語

Eyes can look within
and discover a boundless universe
but the tongue alone
can speak only sounds
that go false
as they dance away unseen.

The silence of zazen
speaks the dharma,
the teisho is offered mutely.

The space between
eye and tongue
is but three inches
or an unbridgeable void.

A reflection on Case 15 of the Iron Flute Koans.

ABIDING NATURE

The abiding Buddha nature
of birds is demonstrated
by their calm ability to carry
on conversations in the presence
of interacting humans, who
are too often deaf to the sounds
in which nature immerses them.

But when we speak to the birds
in a crude facsimile of their
native chirp, caw and trill,
they pause to listen, strain
to understand us, wishing
only to let us know their thoughts,
their love of nature, and just
how shocked and disappointed
they are at our inability
to exercise our stewardship.

ONE STEP TOO FAR

“As you get older,” he said,
“the body grows remarkably
adept at telling you when
you have done too much,
or done something you shouldn’t.”

What he didn’t say, the critical
piece of advice I wish I heard,
is that the body only speaks
well after the fact, a lecture
surely, but never a warning.

No one wants to go a step
short, to miss whatever mark
someone randomly established,
but the price of a step too far
is high and often long lasting.

My back sat me down this
morning , and with that smirk
told me the lifting yesterday
could be paid for over a week,
and my arthritic knees nodded.

SHELVED

They speak of me, never to me,
with terms like breakage, as though
life, mine at least, is a glass bottle
on a shelf with so many others,
and a certain percentage are pre-
assumed to break and be discarded
and no one will bat an eyelash.

To them I am nameless, one of many,
stock in trade, with no provenance,
or at least none they would grant me,
and they question my origins, as though
I may not be worthy enough to even
be considered as future breakage.

I want to remind them that they
invited me here, invited so many others,
that we are here because it was one
place we were going to be allowed,
but they have grown deaf, and blind,
and I must wait until they, too, soon,
are swept from the shelf and
placed in clearance, then discarded.

CALL AGAIN

You called again this morning, and,
as usual, long before I was awake.
You left no message, but you never do,
and I do wish you’d stay in one place

just for a while, it would make finding
you to speak with you much easier.
This morning you were in Azerbaijan,
and last week you called from Belarus.

Later today you called from New York
and this time actually left a message,
but, of course, you left it in Mandarin
despite my repeated requests you not do so.

I’m sure you will call again tomorrow,
or if not, the next day, and I’ll be interested
in knowing where you are, but to save you time,
please rest assured that I will not be able

to help you recover that vast sum of money,
or send you, the cousin I’ve never heard of, the funds
you need to get out of jail or the hospital,
but feel free to call anyway and, do have a nice day

LINGUA

Ever since I was a child
I spoke a language known only
to me. I’ve had great conversations
on all matters and weighty topics.
I don’t speak this language in public,
for people are increasingly scared
of things they assume to be foreign
and truth shown to them is no defense.
That, and I’m certain some
would think me crazy, like the one
man who overheard me and said
as much to his imaginary friend.
And that’s the key difference:
everyone knows imaginary friends
can’t answer you, you’d be nuts
to think otherwise, but to speak
a language known only to yourself
and to speak it fluently, is
a linguistic feat not to be trifled with.