“Unfavorable Odds” by Michael Mark

Michael Mark


A leaky pot cannot hold the Dharma’s jewels,
my guru scolds. Almost all he has poured 

into me finds the floor, spots the carpet. 
I can’t remember the sacred sutras 

or absorb their meanings, I blank 
on the chants. Even the Diamond Sutra, 

an instant after our lesson, dims. 
Patch the pot! Guru stamps his doll-sized feet. 

Concentration! he growls in my ear 
so close it’s a kiss, and forces cup after cup 

of tea into me so I may continue. 
The chances of a blind tortoise 

swimming the vast oceans, he says, 
and surfacing its head—

my head, he means 

—through a life preserver are more 
favorable than the odds of finding 

enlightenment. And that’s a good pot!
Gurus get angry. It’s called wrath. 

Purposeful rage. Patience in disguise. 
I get it. My progress is his 

after all. His illumination 
hinges on mine. So I meditate 

on the pot, as he instructs, 
visualizing the leaks stopped. Tell me what 

you see. The pot, I say, dented, scoured 
past its shine. Good! Worn from use. 

Shiny is lazy. Where is the pot? 
On a windowsill. Her hands bring it to 

the sink’s spout. She has arrived! Auspicious! 
But the pot is leaking. No-no! The pot 

is solid. The pot is complete, whole. 
Water is running out. How can 

she boil tea, meat? She wants to feed 
the plants. Generous heart. But when she gets 

to her garden, the pot is near dry. 
Garden? She has a nice place! There are 

puddles around her feet. She dances 
in the puddles! No, she apologizes to 

the shrubs, trees, flowers. Ah, 
compassion. Bodhicitta. Drop by 

drop, back and forth, 
she tends to each. Joyful effort! 

I open my eyes. 
My guru is drenched. 

We are getting there, he says.

from Rattle #71, Spring 2021
Tribute to Neurodiversity


Michael Mark: “I have so many voices blathering inside me and then there’s the swarm outside, so I write to see what to believe. I’m not saying what I write is the truth; I’ve learned that’s a fool’s errand. It’s merely my attempt at cracking whatever’s in front of me, putting the flashlight between my teeth and looking around. This poem is about compassion. I’m trying to figure out the Buddhist tradition of Tonglen, in which practitioners dedicate themselves to others’ happiness, even trying to absorb their suffering—pretty challenging for humans.” (web)


Michael Mark is the guest on Rattlecast #92! Click here to join us live at 9pm EDT …

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