UNGAN’S SWEEPS THE GROUND

As you stoop
to pick up fallen leaves
are you cleaning spring,
summer or autumn?
What seasons are deep
within the winter branch?
How does your work
and that of the tree
truly differ, and
what leaves
do you shed?


A reflection on Case 83 of the Shobogenzo (True Dharma Eye)

ISAN’S QUESTION 鐵笛倒吹 二十九

Gather each single leaf
from the stones of the garden
and place it neatly in a bushel.
It will take weeks or months
to gather them all
even if you have windless days,
but this is important work.
When the last leaf is gathered
take up the bushel
and throw the leaves
into the garden,
this is important work.

If you tie a gold ribbon
carefully around your neck
it is nonetheless a leash.


A reflection on case 29 of the Iron Flute (Tetteki Tōsui)

ERATO’S NIGHTMARE

That one summer
I worked in the plant
I could hear them whisper
in the break room,
with its always empty
Coke machine.
They’d get real quiet
when I came in
some would nod a hello
and quickly leave.
At first I thought
it was because I
was only there
for the summer,
but once, standing silently
outside the break room door,
I heard them talking
about the weirdo
who read fag poems
when no one was looking,
how he was probably
some sort of queer closet pinko.
I tucked my copy
of “Gasoline” in my back pocket
and wandered back
to my workstation, wondering
if Corso put
up with this bullshit.

THE MESSENGER TIRES

He says, in a quiet aside he hopes
no one will overhear, that he
has grown tired of being an angel.
And not for the reason we might think,
he adds with a wry smile.
The work is not all that difficult,
in fact there seems to be less of it
week by week, but he has grown patient.
The real problem is sleeping,
there’s too much time for it now,
but have you ever tried sleeping
with a set of wings on your back,
talk about shoulder pain, and don’t
think of rolling over, that
is always a bumpy ride to the floor.
I tried being birdlike, of course,
but even the saints had to laugh
as I kept falling out of the trees.

TOKYO MEMORIES

1.
An older, silver-haired woman
in neon green pants, a brown blouse
and black shop apron stoops
and carefully scrubs
the alleyway outside her small shop.

2.
Salarymen fill the tunnels
of Kokkai-gijidomae station
at 6 P.M., 7, 8, and in fewer numbers, 9,
shuffling down the long corridors
to the Chiyoda or Marunouchi Line trains,
where they will sit stiffly, faces in books
or papers, or they will hang from the straps
another day complete, ticked off the schedule.
They will dream of trading polyester suits
for wool, and a desk not pressed
against half-height cubicle walls.

3.
Akasaka-mitsuke Station:
the electronic sign marks
the next train for Shibuya at 17:52.
It is 17:54 and the face
of the stationmaster is a mix
of anger and frustration for
such tardiness cannot be accepted.