WORKSHOP

Grace settles into the chair,
less an act of sitting than
of floating down onto the seat.
She has borrowed my grandmother’s
smile, kind, gentle, inviting.
She pulls a book from her bag,
its pages or most of them
dog eared, and I glimpse
some annotations in the margins.
We sit around her like children
awaiting presents on a holiday,
as acolytes seeking knowledge
from a font of poetic and prosaic
wisdom, or so we think.
She reads in a voice that is
at once soft and loud enough
to reach the back of the room,
opening the book to a random
page and diving in, then after
what seems like a minute and
an hour, she stops and asks
for questions. We sit dumbstruck
for a moment then fire at her
like machine gunners on the range.
She answers each, claims she is
a simple grandmother who writes
but we know better, know we
are in the presence of a true master.

KYOSEI’S BUDDHADHARMA 正法眼蔵 三十九

If you ask when
is the best time
to seek wisdom I
will tell you
at the stroke of midnight
and I will walk
on a lighter left foot.
If you ask the next day
when is the best time
to seek wisdom
I will tell you
at highest noon
and I will walk
on a lighter right foot.

A reflection on Case 39 of Dogen’s Shoboganzo Koans (True Dharma Eye)

The World-Honored One’s Intimate Speech 正法眼蔵 三十四

The wise one delivers
most knowledge
without opening his mouth.
The sagacious student
does not hide the wisdom
he inherits but offers it
in utter silence.
What is it
you wished to say
for I am ready
not to listen.

A reflection on Dogen’s Shobogenzo Koans Case 34 (True Dharma Eye)

CHATTER

The cat tells me that
long after we have gone
to bed for the night she
hears the arguments
of the authors of the books
lining our living room shelves.

The poets, she says, quibble
over rhyme and meter, claim
this one is academic, that
one merely skilled in doggerel.

And don’t, she adds, get her
started on the Buddhist
authors, who argue endlessly
over their solution to this
koan or that one, each
certain of his own wisdom.

So do me a favor, the cat
concludes, and mix them up,
for they will quickly drive
each other to utter silence,
as the short story writers
dominate the conversation.

ZHAOZHOU’S “LOSING THE MIND IN CONFUSION”

Be forewarned
the greatest wisdom
is written on water
on a cloud –
the sun reads it clearly
so why are you
so blind to it?

A blind man will not
be mislead by signs
a deaf man cannot
fall victim
to the siren’s song.

A reflection on Case 11 of the Shobogenzo Koans (Dogen’s True Dharma Eye)

THE CHARM

The first one felt right,
there was nothing deeper considered,
just that feeling that now,
I know, anyone might have provided
but then, it was something
in a world of nothing.

The second, really, was
certainly right, for life this time,
the wisdom of a single failure
enough to ensure success,
and when it came apart
thirty years later, it was
apparent it was never right,
just more than nothing.

This one is right, for it
does not require feeling so,
merely being in her presence,
a completeness I never knew,
which explains why this time
nothing can get in the way
of the ultimate everything.

IN CHORUS

Deep in a small forest,
a murmuring brook reflects
the shards of sun sliding
through the crown of pines,
its whispered wisdom
infinitely more clear
than the babbling of men
holding the reins firmly
in distant cities of power.

The birds know this well,
sing of it in chorus, nature’s
music, jazz scatting that
the graying clouds absorb,
an always willing audience,
and the wind rushing by
cries through the trees
in the voice of long dead 
poets whose words offer
a truth to which cloistered
talking heads have grown deaf.

First published in Pages Penned in Pandemic , 2021

HOGEN’S DRIP OF WATER 鐵笛倒吹 九十一

What are words
of wisdom
from the mouth
of the ancient ones.
I tell you
these are such words.
You may accept
or reject them
as you will.
Better still, tear
this page from its binding
crumple it
and cast it
to the four winds.
Let it be carried
off in ten directions.

A reflection on case 91 of the Iron Flute Koans

YOKUSAN’S LECTURE 鐵笛倒吹 六十三

If you go to a lecture
and listen carefully
will you become wise?
If you go to a hundred lectures
are you a hundred times wiser?

Where did the teacher find wisdom,
did he sit in endless lectures.
Watch him most carefully
is he not wise with sleeping,
and when eating, when he walks
to the lectern and from it?
Watch in silence
and find his wisdom.


A reflection on case 63 of the Iron Flute Koans

CULINARIA

My repertoire was so much wider then
for that is the mis-appreciated burden of youth.
My bookshelves groaned under the weight
of a couple of hundred cookbooks, tomes focused
on the apple, fish, chicken, or on isolated corners
of what seemed to me to be an infinitely large world.
Azeri food seemed a continent apart from Persian,
never mind the neighborhood connections.
I recall the endless hours spent
pounding veal as Escoffier demanded,
and when all else failed, a decent cut of beef
swaddled in a compound butter sauce, Bearnaise, or Choron.
I don’t know if culinary wisdom comes with age,
but the demands of an aging body, carefully listened to,
calls for the seismic shift, and if allowed
a casting aside of marbled beef, paper thin veal,
marbled end papers, pages of instructions.
I don’t recall what moment to lead to epiphany,
the giving away of salmon, taking up tofu
and the joy of creating, not re-creating, of paying
homage to cuisine, no longer being its slave.