I see you, Mara.
A FAST, DAY ONE
I rise early and sit on a mat
on the floor, barefoot and shivering, and
try to bend my stubborn, awkward self
into the lotus—legs crossed, feet planted
on my thighs—so I can attain Enlightenment today.
I mind my breathing, in for three seconds and
out for three, and settle my hands together
on my crotch, palms up,
the tips of my thumbs touching.
Buddha said that this is the path to the cessation of
suffering. This alone, Dogen said.
The tingling in my shins forces me to stop for the morning.
Today, I practice a vegetable juice fast. I let it
enter my mouth slowly, I make sure the upper lip of the bottle
doesn’t touch mine, and I chew the juice. This will release
the juice’s essence into my mouth. I feel aroused and
hungry. Puree of eight vegetables eases my halitosis,
but the sodium burns my stomach.
Why do I have to suffer before my suffering ceases?
as I walk around Veteran’s Park in
kinhin, I wonder what I could use to
murder God. An omnipotent pistol? Sin? Love?
A gaggle of fallen angels whisked away at the
will of the Son, and all it would really require is the
love of a decent person. I’m the obsessive type.
I wonder why I don’t have a girlfriend. An oak’s
essence wafts to me on the ripe autumn air, so I
sit beneath it and reassume the lotus. Something in my knee
pops, and I limp home.
I pace around my living room trying to ease pangs of hunger.
Someone once said that hunger is a mental state.
I am myself, and my self is going insane.
I go to sleep early.
A FAST, DAY THREE
I ran three miles this morning on
dewy grass slick beneath my Reeboks.
Dazed, I sit on the edge of my bed—
on the edge of the world—and begin my
zazen. My stomach groans around 100%
orange juice. The mind can control craving,
and craving is suffering, but all my stomach
wants is a bagel. So I sit.
How can one murder God? I ask the walls because I’m alone
in my room, in the half-lotus position because I think
I’ve strained a tendon in my knee. How can you kill God?
You can only kill a weak abstraction in a poetry workshop.
A stabbing pain in my stomach, I want a sandwich. My breathing
falters because I’m dizzy. I get some more juice and
scratch myself in front of a mirror. I’m losing weight,
but that’s not supposed to make me happy.
Kill the ego.
Don’t worry about God yet.
It’s night and I sit again. Incense burning because I can’t
focus my mind and I need a distraction. Smoke hugs me
like a mother, like Jesus’ lapsed love. I’d need a knife maybe,
but not just any blade. An enchanted blade.
But where could you aim? Does God even have an abdomen?
Where in the universe would you bury It? Or Her?
Feet, calves, shins, knees, thighs, balls and hips tingle,
I sip some OJ and stop for the night. Can’t sleep, hungry.
A FAST, DAY SEVEN
Up at six. Can’t shower, no energy.
God must want to kill me.
Water fast day. Tomorrow I eat.
Walk around block a few times, gotta clear the
head. To forget my self, must forget myself.
Take water in my mouth like first-time lovers do. Buddha
nature: you kill craving, you kill suffering. Old women walk
faster today, God, I am hungry. Mercy, please,
even prisoners get three squares.
But craving for mercy is still craving. Head’s a little clearer
after I drink water. I’m not so hungry anymore.
Zazen. Focus on breathing, let mind wander,
kill emotions, and kill God. It’s simple. Force myself to try the
lotus again—breathe in, feel pain in my knee, breathe out,
in again, pull foot over left thigh, squint and clench hands, breathe
out, try other foot, breathe in, pull harder, wipe tears and breathe
out, pull foot over right thigh. I wait for my knee to—
Mind clears. Acres of golden clouds float over me. I run
my hands through the flow of nimbus and lick my fingers and
I’m nourished. The sun shines on the bottoms of my thighs, calves,
ankles. My eyes roll back and I can see elephants
mating with lotus flowers. Peace, the end of want.
I sit on nothing, I listen with nothing to nothing, I feel nothing
crawl into my nothing and settle,
I am nothing.
I open my eyes and find my Sonny Kay poster
hanging by a single tack over my bed.
I didn’t make my bed this morning. Half-burned incense sticks hang
over my dresser, their spent herbs a pile on my dirty socks. I smell
like old sweat—onions—and hunger—epidermal potpourri.
And I’m still hungry. I stand, stretch my hamstrings, yawn.
My knee doesn’t hurt, I’m still hungry, I could use a run,
but I’m at peace with my visitor.
And God lies dead beneath my cramped and tingling feet.
—from Rattle #36, Winter 2011
Tribute to Buddhist Poets