When you are puzzled by
the words of old masters
you may seek answers
from your teachers.
Will this one or that one know?
The answer cannot come
from the tongue of your teacher,
a shelved book cannot speak
words have no magic.
But all is not lost
for the question
always contains its answer
when the searching stops.
A reflection on Case 22 of the Iron Flute Koans
The greatest teacher
is one who offers nothing
and shouts it silently
once the student has departed.
You cannot know
what the blind man sees
for you cannot see
through his eyes
and the deaf woman
may hear a symphony
in a flower.
When asked what is
do you answer: life?
A reflection on case 71 of the Iron Flute Koans
When I was twelve, I think,
maybe in the last days of eleven,
and in my third year of piano lessons
my teacher, Mrs. Schwarting, she
of no first name, and a steady hand
that could squeeze the muscle
of my shoulder, a taloned metronome,
gave me a small plastic bust
of Beethoven, told me to place it
on the piano, so that he could watch
my daily practice and insure
my eyes were on him, not the keys.
Ludwig is long gone, lost
in one of our moves, one less
gatherer of the dust of other activities.
Now, sitting on the bench,
flexing fingers demanding independence
I realize that his smile was one
of age, thankful for his deafness.
Previously published in Fox Cry Review, Vol. 23, 1997 and in PIF Magazine, Vol. 20, 1999.
Stuck in traffic yet again
my mind wanders, unimpinged
by the need to pay careful attention
to the car on front also frozen in place.
I am back in school listening carefully
as the teacher explains the problem:
“You are at point B and I am at point A.
The points are 100 miles apart and we
each leave for the other point
at exactly the same time, 10:00 A.M., you
driving at a constant 40 mile per hour,
I at a constant 30 miles per hour.
At exactly what time will we
be able to wave to one another?”
The car in front begins to move,
ending my revery, so I cannot
tell the teacher that we’ll never
wave to each other because
I am far too young to drive.
Why do you seek old Masters,
they have no special gift.
Your lineage is
the surface of the sea
never still, all waves.
Your teacher has no answers,
his silence instructs
close your ears and listen,
is that his breath you hear
or only your own?
In is out, out is in
depending on where you sit.
A reflection on case 20 of the Iron Flute Koans.
If you are truly looking for the way
why do you insist on using your eyes.
Any teacher will tell you that your eyes
see nothing, they are only lenses through which
a delusion is created in the mind.
The mind has no eyes, but it is all
that enables you to see anything.
So abandon the eyes that see nothing,
and the mind that only thinks it sees.
Settle on the cushion until you
and the earth and the sky are one,
indistinguishable from each other,
and everything, which is nothing,
will appear before you if only
you refuse to acknowledge it.
A reflection on Case 4 of the Bring Me the Rhinoceros koans.
He had planned
the exercise for weeks,
certain this one
would allow them
to break through the wall
that had imprisoned
the metaphors within them.
It was simple, and that
was its beauty, too many
attempts had become
bogged down, mired in
the fear that words
could do the greatest harm.
The exercise is simple,
he said, and they
put pens to paper.
Later, toward the end
of class, “would one of you
be kind enough
to read to the class
of a young woman’s lips?”
One boy meekly rose
and through half clenched
teeth said, “Her lips
were precisely shaped
to barely cover her teeth.”
First appeared in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press, (2008).