ENGLISH CLASS

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
your description
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).

MIDDLE C

Mrs. Weiskopf lived in a small cottage
Mrs. Weiskopf taught piano in her living room.
Mrs. Weiskopf had no first name, even
checks were to be made payable to Mrs. Weiskopf.
Mrs. Weiskopf grew suddenly old, some said,
to full fit into her name, no one could
remember her ever being young.
Mrs. Weiskopf said I must always find Middle C,
that everything starts there.
Mrs. Wieskopf was not pleased when I said
that Middle C was key number 40 on my piano
and there was no middle key, only
a gap between E4 and F4.
Mrs. Weiskopf looked at me sternly
and ended my lesson early that day.
Mrs. Weiskopf was a great teacher.
I think of her each time I sit down
and place the doumbek on my lap.

GOING AND RETURNING 鐵笛倒吹 三十八

 

Only the fool
will wander
from teacher to teacher
seeking answers.
They will offer only questions.

The wise one returns
to the question again
and again for she may find
many answers within,
just as the apple tree
bears many ripe fruit
if carefully tended,
each with the seeds
of a new tree.
Pick carefully.


A reflection on case 38 of the Iron Flute Koans

SEPPO’S TURNING THE WHEEL 正法眼蔵 三十八

The wisest of men
when asked “at what time
it is best to pursue the Way,”
will answer when a thousand stars
have made their presence known.
The wisest student will say
“when cleaning myself
by bathing in the mud.”
This will become clear
when the frog
consumes the dragon.


A reflection on Case 38 of the Shobogenzo (True Dharma Eye)

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.

NOTHING, AND LESS

The hardest thing, he said
to his teacher, both sitting
on their mats, is not
not thinking, but what to do
when the thoughts come anyway.
I can’t seem to get rid of them
no matter how hard I try.”
“Do not try to do anything,”
the Sensei said, “for anything
you do introduces another thought,
and soon enough you have an onion
of thoughts to peel, layer by layer.
When a thought comes, look at it
with the mind’s eye, say, with
the mind’s voice, look a thought,
and do nothing more, and before
you know it the thought
will be gone and the next
in line will enter your mind.”

GYOZAN DRAWS A LINE 鐵笛倒吹 八十三

At the end
of a long day of discourse
the teacher may ask the student
what have you learned.
How should the student respond.

The student may raise a finger
and trace a line
in the air of a fading day.
Which, I ask you
is the teacher
and which
is the student?


A reflection on Case 83 of The Iron Flute