GYOZAN CAN’T SAY IT

The true artist,
when asked
to draw a perfect tree
will lead you to the garden
and have you sit
under the great maple.
The true master
asked to speak of Dharma
will silently
face the wall
in zazen.

A reflection on case 118 of the Shobogenzo, Dogen’s True Dharma Eye Koans

SNOW

At first it was just odd
to think of snow as merely
a concept, a memory softer,
more pleasant than its reality.

You can grow accustomed
to concepts, they are generally
somewhat neat and tidy, easily
filed and brought forth on demand.

The concept of snow has
its great advantages, snowmen
of perfect shape, never melting
and no one must shovel a concept.

But there are moments, a tree
decorated for Christmas, you
want to reach out and feel
the chill suddenly warm your heart.

TAIGEN FANS HIMSELF 正法眼蔵 三十二

When a leaf leaves the tree
it falls precisely where it should.
When a flower petal is carried
off on a strong wind it
comes to rest in the proper place.
When you smell the sweet aroma
of next summer’s roses
use the nose you had
before your parents were born.

A reflection on case 32 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo (The True Dharma Eye) Koans

ON THIS DAY

It is December, and in this
part of Florida that simply means
that a morning jacket is advised,
and rain comes as a bit of a surprise.
A neighbour was surprised to be told
that they decorated like a Northerner,
but assumed that it was a bit of a dig,
though they thought the inflatable snowman
and reindeer captured the season’s spirit.
We laugh at the red hat wearing
flamingo’s and the Christmas alligators,
the lighted palm trees seem appropriate
and snowflakes, even lit ones, know
better than to appear, for the mocking
of ibis and egrets can be unmerciful.
So we’ll settle for our odd little tree
with its lifetime of ornaments, each
carrying with it the spirit of a day
when we ought to ask ourselves what
we can do to prepare the world
for the generations we hope will follow.

First published in The Poet: Christmas, December 2020 (United Kingdom)

HEART OF DHARMA

A single snowy egret sits
on the lowest branch of a long
barren tree, where hours from now
a thousand birds will arrive
for still another evening and night.

He stares at me as I am mindfully
vacuuming, watching carefully.

I pause and ask if by chance he
is a Buddha and he lifts his long neck
and peers around in all directions.

I repeat my question, and he
lifts one wing, which I know
to be his way of saying, “I,
like you, am imbued with Buddha
nature, and I with mother
nature as well, and if you doubt me
ask one of the countless
Bodhisattvas who will arrive
in hours to study the Dharma
well into what will be a wet night.

The Japanese invented
haiku certain that a painting
of great beauty could
be completed with only
a few strokes of the brush.

The Japanese have no word
for what we claim is higher
order poetry, academic and
pedantic are two other English
words which easily apply.
And the Japanese are hard put
to comprehend so much of what
we deem experimental, the result,
a friend named Yoshi said,
of what seems the odd scraps
of a dictionary torn apart
by an unexpected tornado.

In Tokyo every tree knows
that at least four
poems lie within it, each
awaiting the appropriate
season.

SEPPO CUTS TREES 鐵笛倒吹 二十三

Will you spend
all of your time
sharpening the blade
or will you use it on the tree
and if you strike the pith
what will you say then?

To speak of the sap
flowing freely from
the wound of the axe
is utter foolishness
it has no taste on the finger
better to feel
the blow of the stick.


A reflection on Case 23 of the Iron Flute Koans

REMEMBERING ANOTHER FATHER

It was scrawled on the back of a grocery receipt, barely legible. Charles H. Boustead Tunnel, fryingpan river. The river is lower case, its capitals dangling by serifs in one of the tunnel grates that constricts the water’s flow.

Outside the full moon is ensnared in the gnarled, barren branches of the white birch. She struggles vainly to break free, but the maple wraps its limbs around her. It is only when she retreats into the earth, covers herself over, that the trees cede their grasp.

When Luna curls against you, is she chilled from the night sky, or does she reflect the warmth of the distant star? Does she press against the shredded satin, wrap herself in the fringe of your kittel? And when she tires of you, does she leave by the rotting, split pine boards through which you, bit by bit, return to the soil to nurture her captor?

I stand outside, shivering under a full January moon. Fading impressions of you are shunted into the tunnel of my memory. I never know where or when they will emerge, what they have gathered, what has been lost along the way. I hope for their return, regardless of form. The Boustead Tunnel carries about 54,000 acre feet of water annually from the river to the Turquoise Reservoir.

A MOVING MIND 無門關 二十九

Do not be a foolish monk
stare up at the sky
is that could moving?

The leaves dance
on the morning breeze,
is the wind moving?

take a picture of the tree
a moment of time frozen

There is no motion
of the tree, none
of the wind

only the mind moves.


A reflection on Case 29 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate Koans)