MISTAKE IN SPEAKING 無門關 三十九

When you speak the words
of the Buddha you are lost.
Light is everywhere in silence
but the tongue must hide
in the dark of the mouth.

Buddha’s words are flowers
unfolding in the dawn
by the side of the still pond,
the eyes hear the song
and respond in silent chorus.


A reflection on case 39 of the Mumonkan (The Gateless Gate)

SLOW STREAM

The river that I imagined,
a torrent of words and images
is little more than a dry trickle,
construction cranes along one shore
hauling away half- and ill-formed thoughts,
leaving only desire and frustration
as a marker of what might have been.
I looked at each bend, hidden from sight
as harboring that epiphany
that I promised myself, and not
further evidence of my own delusion.
We will make port this afternoon
Where I can, at last, offload
my frustration and these shards
of a fantasy now gone to dust.

SOUTHERN MOUNTAIN 鐵笛倒吹 四十二

When you visit the Southern Mountain
what will you say
of its Northern brother?
Returning northward what words
will best describe the Southern peak?

Answer carefully after much thought
or remain silent, both choices
are yours to select, as both
mountains caress the passing clouds
and reach out for the sun
which neither may grasp.


A reflection on case 42 of the Iron Flute Koans.

WHAT DO YOU READ, MY LORD?

There is probably much that could be said,
a bit less that should be said, but I
I’m not the person to say it, and remain silent.
You are surprised by the silence — it is
not what you expect of me, and that
you find disconcerting and a bit unnerving.
If I asked you what you would have me say,
I doubt you could find anything in particular.
It is more the sound of my voice you expect,
not the words I choose to utter or retain.
It all comes down to words, doesn’t it?
And yet they fail us with such regularity,
we each must wonder why we speak at all.

REAL TIME

Reality is clearly something to be avoided
to be dressed up in tattery, tied in ribbons,
perfumed, yet its fetid stench
is always lurking in the background
waiting to pierce your nostrils
in an incautious moment until you retch
and bring up the bile that marks
the darker moments of your life,
the kind that lingers in the throat
which no chocolate can erase.
Reality is often ugly, so we ignore it
or hide it behind masks, or offer it
willingly to others, a gift in surfeit.
It sneaks up on you, and sets its hook
periodically, and thrash as you will
the barb only tears through new flesh,
setting itself deeper, intractable.
You and I are dying, as I write,
as you read, an ugly thought
particularly lying in bed
staring into darkness,
no motion or sound from your spouse,
mate, paramour, friend, significant other
or teddy bear, where God
is too busy to respond at the moment
and sleep is perched in the bleachers,
held back by the usher for want
of a ticket stub, content to watch
the game from afar.
I cast ink to paper, an offer of reality
as though the divorce from the words will erase
the little pains and anguishes of our
ever distancing marriage, while
holding vainly onto the warm and sweet,
the far side of the Mobius of reality
(the skunk is at once ugly and soft and caring).
We write of pain, of ugliness, of anger
at terrible lengths, or weave tapestries
of words to cover the flawed, stained walls
of our minds, like so many happy endings,
requisite in the script. Basho
knew only too well that truth of beauty
should be captured in few syllables.


First appeared in Chaminade Literary Review Vols. 16-17 (1995)

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There will come a time in the not distant future when words will be rendered unnecessary, when thought will be freely transmissible, when distance will become a lost dimension. That day will be one of mourning, much as we mourned the death of the Underwood Champion, joined in death with the Royal Standard and a Smith Corona, and cursed IBM and Microsoft. And yet we poets will carry on, for we have always written because we have no other marketable skill.


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