from THE ZEN MASTER POEMS
WHAT THE ZEN MASTER TOLD US
A single blind tortoise
swimming in a vast ocean
surfaces only once
Floating on the vast ocean
is a single golden yoke.
It is more rare,
said the Buddha,
to be reborn human
than for the tortoise
to surface with its head
poking through the hole
in the golden yoke.
You have this rare time.
Do not squander your
on the ephemeral.
Practice the dharma
and, lest you get too serious,
eat sunflower seeds.
at the waves on the water.
THE ZEN MASTER ON THE RAFT
The trouble with you, said the Zen master,
to the ardent scholar
and his ardent disciples,
is you carry the raft everywhere
but you’ve never floated upon it
and if you ever do,
once you reach the other shore,
can you leave it behind,
bobbing in the water?
THE ZEN MASTER ON THE RAFT II
OLD ZEN MASTER
I never in my life before
egg shells are so light,
said the Zen master,
holding the shells of two eggs
in the palm of one hand.
Why, they’re almost
light as a Crayola mark.
Even when I move my head,
if I wasn’t looking,
I doubt I’d know they were there,
and if this is so, what else
might I have missed,
like the tea-kettle whistle
at the end of the sound of “Yes,”
low-lying hills in the distance,
how the sky fits into them
like one hand pressing
the smell of a cloth bag filled
with quarters and dimes,
and at my age, how silly,
to still be discovering this.
THE FLIPPANT ZEN MASTER
“The Pastoral,” blurted
the Zen Master’s student,
Our reality is Information
moving at the speed of light.”
“Oh, go clip your toenails,”
replied the Zen Master.
FRISBEE ZEN MASTER
It’s like tossing Frisbees, the Zen Master said,
you grip them
between your thumb and forefinger,
supporting the Frisbee
with three of your other fingers, then
you cock the wrist and sweep it out. The Frisbee
spins and sails. It’s beautiful. The principle
is arcuate vectors and turbulators.
And when it slows down,
if you’ve sailed it a long, long way,
into another’s outstretched hands
just like a koan, don’t you know, transmitted
over a crowd of disciples
and perhaps someone leaps up to catch it
or maybe not, maybe it just falls.
FORTUNE COOKIE ZEN MASTER
It amuses me, he said, to call them
“Cookies of Fortune.” But then,
Zen turns everything around,
doesn’t it? To understand it,
(although you’ll never understand it
for if you did, you’d not understand it),
practice making palindromes,
did, dad, toot, kayak, radar,
wet sanitary rat in a stew,
Do geese see God?
I’m alas, a salami,
or turning teacups upside down
so that Nothing spills out. Stop trying
to make sense of your life. Yes,
that would make sense, wouldn’t it?
About as much sense as fortune cookies,
sweet crunchy American life.
“THE LITTLE HURTS”
“The little hurts,” the Zen master said,
“the little puncture wounds,
pinches, pinpricks, nicks, slight bruises,
it is to dwell on them. Some, however,
build their whole lives upon such insults
to the body and brain. Row upon row of houses
resting on pits of snakes and worms
continually shifting. How restless, how slimy
it must be to live like that,
forever hurting, forever seeking retribution,
validation, revenge. I see their houses
beside great rivers, their hands and faces
always pressed to windowpanes,
the faces looking out between the hands.”
—from Rattle #36, Winter 2011
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