BASHO DOES NOT TEACH 鐵笛倒吹 八十

There is a woman
who asks no questions,
who fears neither birth nor death.
What can you teach her?
The wise man offers no lesson
but observes closely
and gains great wisdom.

What can you teach
one who already knows.
What can you learn
with a fully open mind.
In a clockless world
there is no time.


A reflection on case 80 of the Iron Flute Koans

SNAKE EYES

They roll in, one after the next,
after the next, gaps that appear
in their rank are soon enough filled.
By night you mark them
by their red lights, lemmings
with no cliff in sight, so they sit
one alongside the next in the queue,
disgorging their chattering, smiling contents
into the vast building, and wait
the prescribed period of time until
they swallow up their contents again,
far lighter in wallet, and leaving
the cacophony of the casino floor behind,
withdraw into the night.

TIME ERODES

The house is suddenly empty
standing alone on a stark barren lot.
The old drapes are drawn tight
and little light enters, but
there is no one there to see it.
Every once in a while there is a rattle,
a creaking, and you expect someone to appear
in one of the now dark windows,
the door to be thrown open, an invitation
to enter or at least a wave, life
asserting itself within, but it will not happen.
You know the house cannot stand long
unattended, that it will, too soon, fall away
leaving only a hole to mark its presence.

TEMPORAL LOGIC

Once upon a time
isn’t such a timeless expression
if you take time to consider
that time doesn’t actually fly
nor does it march on,
and if it is truly on our side
we wouldn’t need to buy it.
I don’t need it to smell the roses
and it doesn’t wait for me,
although I am still human
and just killing it,
but perhaps
neither of us
have time for this.

CONTINUO

The dolphin knows
precisely when to feed
when to bless the day
when to swim south
feels the pull of the tides.

Each day at noon
he walks across the factory floor
around lathes,
shavings, and up
the metal staircase
into the small office
its windows overlooking
the shop floor and pushes
the red button
mounted on the wall.
The whistle peals over town
as people glance reflexively
at their watches.
When asked, he says
it is always precisely noon
never sooner, never later
he is certain, for he checks
the clock on the steeple
of the ancient church
set each Friday by the parson
to insure God’s work
is promptly done.

Each day at ten before six
the parson climbs the ancient
wooden steps into the bell tower
and staring at his watch, waits
until the hands align
then leans into the rope
as the bell rings out six times
then he climbs down and walks
across the neatly trimmed lawn
to the small white clapboard
house that sits on the edge
of the cemetery behind the church.
It is precisely six he says
for each day at noon
he sets his watch
to the factory whistle.


First appeared in PKA Advocate, No. 9, December 1996

MASTER CRAFTSMAN

He waited patiently in the queue
until, after two and one half hours
he approached the battered metal counter.
The young, bored woman, chewing at her gum
asked the usual question, have you
looked hard for work this last week?
I stood in many lines, for hours on end
in my battered old shoes, that is
more work than you can imagine.
Each night I would soak my feet
for hours in the small sink
hoping the swelling would go down.
Each morning I would find another line
or two, if they moved quickly, but
at the end of each they would ask
the same question, what skills do you have
and I would tell them there are
few better than I at standing in lines,
and they would sheepishly smile
and thank me for my patience
and that is why, again this week,
I ask that you stamp my book
so I can stand in the other line
and wait patiently for my check
which I can take to the small bodega
waiting calmly in line to cash it
to buy what canned goods are on sale.
Then I will take my cans
and carefully line them up
on the kitchen counter, and marvel
at how patiently they stand in the queue.


First published in Pearl, Vol. 31, 2002