What are words
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
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
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
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.
If a gentle flower
falls from its branch
do you mourn its departure.
The fool attempts
to place it back in the tree,
the wise one waits
for another flower to appear.
Each is the same flower
but how will the fool
A reflection on case 52 of the Iron Flute Koans.
A fool may say
I have been many places
in search of true Zen
and have found it here
and there, go look.
The feet of the fool
have been all
of those places
but have the wisdom
to stay silent.
A Reflection on case 21 of the Iron Flute Koans
The vines cling to the hillside,
the small buds soon yielding fruit
but now simply soaking up the spring sun.
You dream the grapes are fat,
the deep purple orbs holding in their Syrah,
Grenache, Mourvedre, and you only wish
it would wash down the hillside
and stain the sometimes fetid River.
The boats flow up and down river
with a metronomic regularity.
The guides march their charges
along cobbled streets hoping some
will retain the great wisdom they impart,
by long, practiced rote, wishing
for the few euros measure of worth.
Along the seawall in the ancient town
two swans stare at the spectacle parade
and offer blessings to the sky God Cygnus
that they are fortunate enough not to be human.
“Every book is a picture book,”
she says, with that certain wisdom
the that comes from being seven,
even though eight is far off on the horizon.
“The difference with some,” she claims,
“is that someone already drew all the lines
and colored in the pictures.”
She likes the books, she concludes,
where she gets to draw the pictures
in her mind, change them freely
and choose whatever colors she likes
at any given moment, and the next time
she reads the book, they can all be different.
A man may own
may volumes of great knowledge
and never have time to read.
An illiterate may take such books
and fashion a stool
on which to sit in meditation.
Which of these is truly wise
which the greatest fool.
Wipe your mouth
with this page
at the conclusion
of the meal.
A reflection on Case 75 of the Iron Flute Koans.
This Sunday, I know, we will take
another journey through mythology,
today a sail down the Lethe, no doubt,
or perhaps a careful avoidance of the Styx.
He will speak of Thanatos and Mors,
and will tell me not to be sad,
and with his sad smile, I will not be,
and though he is seven, he knows
he has touched me yet again, for that
is his magic, and in those moments he
is Damon to my Pythias, and I will find
that my tears are of joy and memory,
and his smile is the same one my father wore
which is my most abiding memory.
As you search for the source
of all wisdom, will you stop
along a beach and consider
that it can be found, fully
in a single grain of sand.
Be careful, for the beach
contains countless grains
of sand, so choose carefully.
If you are uncertain which one
contains the source of all wisdom
select one at random
and it will be the correct
bearer of wisdom, but only
if you look deeply within it,
and then cast it back
onto the beach, carried
on the gentle morning breeze.
A reflection on Case 19 of the Hekiganroku (Blue Cliff Record)