PARTIALLY WHOLLY

It is incredibly difficult
to be a truly holy man, it isn’t
enough to inspire peace
with your words and presence,
you had better walk on water,
turn water into wine, heal
with the touch of a single finger.
You can’t simply stand up
for justice at the risk
of your own life and limb,
you have to wander around
a desert, carry tablets
down the side of a mountain.
You cannot be compassion,
you have to forsake everything
and be always available
for questions that have no answers.
It’s a real problem, since we
all seek to be holy, but no one
wants to do the hard work of it.

EVOLUTION

 

We arose from water,
crawled forth and inhabited the land
and claimed dominion
and the land appeared
to cede itself to us,
knowing better
and caring even less.
We return to the water
feel its pull
but immerse ourselves
only partially, willing
to risk only half drowning,
the land and air
usually silent, knowingly
laugh for they know
that a fish
out of water
eventually drowns
in a sea of air.

 

TIPPING THE WATER BOTTLE 無門關 四十

These few words
gathered neatly on a scrap
of simple paper,
what do you call it?

Answer carefully for you response
may carry the keys
to the doors of Mount Tai-i.
Better still, upend
the water bottle, watch
the ink and water form
a gentle pool into which
no pebble drops.


A reflection on Case 40 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate)

DOGO’S GREATEST DEPTH 鐵笛倒吹 六十六

If you walk into the room
and many are meditating,
how will you know which
is the teacher, which the students?

If one sits on a higher platform
will you assume him teacher
and ask the depth of his Zen?
If he comes down to you
and says he has no depth to offer
do not think him a fool.
When you sit at the bottom
of the ocean and look down
the water beneath you is shallow
but the surface of the sea
cannot be seen.


Reflecting on Case 66 of the Iron Flute (Tetteki Tosui)

ARRIVAL

The lake arrives each morning, just before she opens her eyes.  She’s tried to catch it, getting up earlier or later but it was just lapping the shore outside her window each time she first gazed at it.  Once she tried to stay up all night, and it clung to the shore despite its desire to slip away, but she was certain it did when her eyes fell closed a little after 3 a.m.  She got up at the usual time, and it slid in just ahead of her.  All that day it seemed quieter, almost restive, as if, like her, lacking the energy that curtailed sleep might have provided.

She remembered her grandmother saying that only once in her years along the lake did she ever catch it just coming in around the point.  That was a magical day, never repeated, but it bound grandmother to the lake in a way few could understand.  She kept asking her grandma to tell the story again, but like that day, she’d just tell it once and only smile when asked to repeat it.  She never asked anyone else — she learned as a child of the scorn she would face if she did.  She given up Santa and the tooth fairy, but this was real, she could touch it or even take it home in cups or buckets, though she smiled, it always slipped away sooner or later.

She knew from the doctor’s face the chemo hadn’t worked.  She could feel it failing even as they pumped into her.  It was okay, she wanted to tell him, but it wasn’t and they both knew it.  They tried, won some battles, lost others, but in the end they both knew who would win that war.

This morning the lake never arrived, never touch the shore and the house was shrouded in silence. Continue Reading