Winter Solstice, 2016

WINTER SOLSTICE, 2016

She cries with cold.
She drops her tears upon the wet grass,
sprays the stars with blinding blue,
shatters the calm.

She blusters and snaps us from reverie.
She Mothers our needs until
at last, she allows herself to slip
through the nights, allowing the days
oft-waited glare to return once more.

Her message, unclear this time, though space pauses
until she finishes
and we all move forward
to Light
to another beginning.

 

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A BUDDHA FOR THE BROKEN

A Buddha for the Broken

I.
In the summer heat, the cicada´s cries echoed in the heavy air
he diffidently breathed, cross-legged on the porch, half-naked, his
sweat mixing with the discarded wood shavings
and rich grass smell from the farm across the languid river.
He plodded on, daily, cutting, carving, shaving, knitting his brow
when his aching back demanded attention,
reverently making the humble geta, every single day,
wooden sandals that clap-clapped thru
the streets each year at this time.

Thousands of little slips of wooden strips,
a poor man´s confetti, thousands,
lying scattered all around him and, heavily,
the pressing sun hammering from above.
So he cried his tears and made his marks and then one day
he saw the bees and the cicadas
and the grass and the wretched Life he lived as
all singing the Name.

The summer Light opened his eyes.

He saw too, his own worth, so
unlike the value of
the tidily black clad monks
on the Holy hill,
whose sonorous declarations and complicated chants
reverberated against the mountains,
but never in the hearts of lowly peasants as he,
human scraps never designed to rise above or grow tall.
The paper scraps called.
The Name was written.
10,000 thousand times. More, maybe.

O! Saichi!
I´d trade whole libraries on Mt. Hiei
for one scrap of your wood slips
with the Name.

II.
The afternoon he carried
his father in a box,
was different.
All the prostrations, all the great lamas,
the Roshi teisho talks,
the Empowerments and prayers, the vivid, mysterious, and
Magical Names and images
he´d  pulled into this heart,
the tens of thousands of hours with tense tears
down his face in bruised-kneed agony,to comprehend,
crack, to break the koans he´d wrestled with for years,
in order to rise, determined to achieve,
in this lifetime, in this very body
the Full Awakening as promised a million times;
all the attempts to know Suffering and the causes of Suffering,
the relief from Suffering and the release from it forever,
to then live behind the Great Knowing Smile,
were now seen as different, too.

A waste.

Tears still fell in goblets,
the days gave no relief,
the suffering stood taller than he,
its shadow streaming behind –
a sad and shredded prayer flag.

The sound of the sand hitting the box
below the grass line still sounded fresh
weeks later, when he
turned his back on relief forever,
feeling from then on,
only the misery and loss.

On the iron board he worked months later, pressing the shirt
for a party. The afternoon
swelled so brightly he caught himself smiling,
then looked at his hands and

suddenly saw the lines and delicate veins.
their poetic sensibility
as traitors – for His were roughened thick,
never able to finesse their way through his hair, and
he caught all this in a second,
collapsing in heaves of sad regret.

From work to Octavia Street was a short distance
and he sat on a bench for lunch one day,
the sun cooled behind the trees in the park and across the street
a glimpse called his eye,
a name he recognized,
a Name he´d once dismissed, and,
stepping into the dusty shadows of the stairs he climbed within
and up, in the Sanctuary, saw the Name again.
The Name embraced him whether he stood or kneeled,
whether he succeeded or failed.
She held him and he responded with infant-sized callings
which continue to this day.

III.
She ran.

The trail was deserted save for the
abandoned couches, a few straggling abandoned people,
and the owl hoots.

She ran to feel good. She ran to feel.

Back home she´d tend the soup and then
knead her daughter´s shoulders,
celebrating the moment,
fearing a slip,
back to those Days, the Days of Pain, the Days of Need,
and so she often ran at night, at it´s blackest.
Where the coolness salved the old white heat.

Her art spoke of unmistakable
(and unbearable)
Pain, the hustling, the vein piercings, the rats, the
cuttings reflecting the old self-hatred.
She ran and kept running to stay sober, healthy,
in a world swaying drunkenly between the dead and dying.

She ran to feel Life.
Sometimes the hair was greasy, her sad eyes ached, so she stared
at the canvas and bled into the face
stripping her comfort down
and lighting up the last cigarette as she sat down
to see the face glare back at her.

“Better keep running” she swore she heard.

She ran that night,
and the next morning. And the next.
And on the third day she rose
so tired, her knees forgave nothing and she
had to sit for the whole day.
A friend´s book lay by the lamp and opening it
the Light suddenly faced her, as if she´d never seen light before.
Golden and far away, yet with a hand calling her to step closer,
to be embraced and never
ever abandoned, and she did.
Doors opened and inside the soft stale pages,
she caught a glimpse of Light and Life and, standing up wobbly
she went to the kitchen, looking outside,
and the Light out there was smaller,
but so much kinder than before.
She ran Home every day after.

IV.
He folded his legs under him
and lifted his face.
Satomi sat quietly, ready to fall asleep as soon
as he looked away.
Mr. Tohei, nodded silently even before the gong sounded.
He knew the routine.
There were an old dozen today. Satomi had the day off
so he told her to come along to fix the flowers
which she liked to arrange for the old ladies
who always commented on her skill, remembering the older days
when they had classes in the back,
where the rice flour used to be kept
and the services were always full.
Those were good days, they thought.
The temples brought together the collected remains
of the desert  camps and, finding each other again, they found themselves
protected this time. They stayed all these years…
They were grateful.

The young priest could hear the coughs, the creaking bones, and scanned
the new members who had heard the Name themselves and came,
wondering if they were to be welcomed,
and they were.
He looked around and in the space of the moments before the service began
he heard in his heart the delicate sounds, heard the Call, and heard
the pages being turned to Shinran´s hymns where
they´d begin today.

So many had passed already, so many others had stopped coming, he thought.
Now the priest held the few sets of eyes that looked to him
bestowing upon his heart their own sleepy blessings,
and he counted off in his head
to keep from crying.
How wonderful to be here
amidst the small and the tender,
the broken, and the battered,
and when he sang
the Name
it sounded to the edge of Time,
where the old husbands waited, covered in lotus buds, they said,
waiting for their old wives to come back Home.
The Name, the Light, the Life was
all they had. And he looked, and it was
very good.

More than
enough.

The Heart´s Running Scream

THE HEART´S RUNNING SCREAM

Gainfully employed for Christmas
didn´t stop
the attitude I got
from the boss-
“I had hope in you” he said,
pointing to the wall where the figures were etched.
“Sadly we are in no financial position
to retain you
so we´ll have to call it here.”

I could speak of the deplorable
arrangements
my mind made-
the antics like shitting on his chair
after the cleaning man and I
rearranged his office to look like
a tornado in August.

No, I won´t dive into that mess.
I´ll conserve my attitude
pack my stuff
leave the office
in dogeared facetime
and return
home to where I will
still be asked,
“How was your day, hon?”

It´s not like I will die or live
from the loss.
Not tonight.

Life is a whole lot of non-binary signals
attracting hope in the middle.

We´ll leave the aberrant wishes
for another wistful day.
Tonight, I´ll take out the trash
and stifle the heart´s running scream.

SOMEONE TO CATCH

I used to work in Pacific Heights, in San Francisco, a wealthier part of SF at the hospital there. I taught Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) to priests and ministers who wanted to become Chaplains or who needed to take CPE as a requirement for their ordination. Often I would walk down to Fillmore St. and there regularly encountered a thin, Mr. Peabody looking homeless guy who always stood out front of a bagel store with his “Can you help me?” sign. I´d occasionally give him money, buy him coffee and sandwiches and then one day I asked him simply, “What´s your story?” He was a machinist in the Air Force, he said, when his father died. He went to help his mom out, somewhere in the upper midwest, and when they found that the money his father supposedly had did not in fact exist, he had to leave his position and stay with her. Work was slim but enough for the two of them. At least he had his tools. Then he lost his job and she got very sick. His benefits ran out and the money dried up. He sold his tools to pay for rent. Eventually she had to be put in  an old folks ´home and the house was sold to pay for her support. He was on the street and, after one horrible winter, hitched to SF where he´d been living on the streets since. His stories of living on the streets were heartbreaking. Every day he stood in front of the bagel store and every time I could, I went down there to say hi, get him something to eat or drink and if only for a few minutes spend time with him. I left SF and never saw him again. But as we approach the end of the year, with the cold and the cheery music everywhere urging us to shop for what we don´t really need, maybe we can reaffirm a bit of goodness and help a homeless person. No one should have to live on the streets. No one. Wherever we look, there´s always someone to catch. This is for them.

SOMEONE TO CATCH

There are cracks on the pavement
& one in the sky,
there´s a rumble inside us
& no one knows why.
There are voices we hear
and shadows we watch,
somewhere ´round the corner
there´s someone to catch.

The brownstones are silent
the taxis all drive by,
inside the coffee shop
they give us the eye-
no food & no money,
no place to call home,
we wander the dark,
we wander alone.

Some cops killed an old guy,
four thugs lit another,
I´ve got to keep walking
or I´m the next number.
Across from the alley
some girl frozen stiff,
behind me there´s old blood
I can´t think of this…

Tomorrow is grayer
the night comes on fast
we all have no future
and everyone walks past.
Some days there´s some money
some nights a little food,
but when it´s all done for
it´ll do me no good.

One check threw me down low,
the second threw me out,
for seven long black years
I´ve wandered about.
The roads all go one way
the people they take,
I´ll still be here Sunday,
so please don´t be too late.

That sandwich was Heaven
that coffee so warm,
especially at night
or in a snowstorm.
It all doesn´t make sense
but neither´s my cough,
“hey buddy!” I´ll cry out
but most just walk off.

Alone on the sidewalk
a body was found,
two dimes in his pocket
when they turned him around.
Nobody to claim him
no one to say bye,
maybe now there´s that sandwich
way up in the sky.

There are cracks on the pavement
& one in the sky,
there´s a rumble inside us
& no one knows why.
There are voices we hear
and shadows we watch,
somewhere ´round the corner,
there´s someone to catch.