Sitting in the train compartment, I look at the ticket in my hand – as big as a tablet, thick as animal hide, stamped so many times with the same origin and destination that it is nearly solid black with ink. Stealing glances at the other passengers, their random faces and bodies continually changing as if a hundred tiny storms sped over their surfaces, easy voices rising and falling in a chorus of shifting keys and accents. Anxious, I feel my face for the thousandth time, relieved to find the pins still hold it in place. The conductor appears abruptly beside me; it’s forever shocking, even though I always carefully rehearse this moment. Looking at me with something like sympathy, it gives me back my ticket. “We’re not stamping it this time,” it says in a multitude of language and voice. The wood of my compartment begins to warp and crack; frantically, I feel the pins holding my face give way, the flesh snapping like rubber bands. “This is all I packed for,” I manage to dribble through my crumbling lips, but the conductor is gone, and I am swept up in a river of morphing bodies onto what is already changing into something other than a train platform, everyone melting into each other with boiling faces and spattering conversations, me with my precisely composed face giving way, clutching my ticket relic, not at that destination I had persistently imagined but a bewildering array of shifting gates like a house of mirrors that the others are happily flowing through like water, and with a surprise of excitement I realize I have no idea how to work my new body, or what a step forward even means.
(Thoughts on chapter 7 of Each Moment Is the Universe: Zen And the Way of Being Time, by Dainin Katagiri. My intention is to write a poem or brief meditation on each short chapter as a way of summarizing my understanding.)
I’m failing at this god thing.
The plants on the patio rebel in their pots.
I have given them a home, however cramped,
And I water them when I’m not too busy.
Clearly it is not enough.
Their brown stems, their shriveled leaves,
Drooped in prayerful mockery.
They are not impressed with me.
I hover over them, annoyed and confused.
I worry if they still have time to please me.
Over my shoulder an oak tree towers,
Imperfections on proud display.
Look at me, it implores endlessly.
See how my branches never make sense.
Some of me giving birth, some of me dying,
And all of me right now. What other place to be?
(Thoughts on chapter 6 of Each Moment Is the Universe: Zen And the Way of Being Time, by Dainin Katagiri. My intention is to write a poem or brief meditation on each short chapter as a way of summarizing my understanding.)
How do these things happen?
A bell rings. A door slams. Someone laughs.
It’s enough to make one think,
And we’re eager to oblige.
That bell is too loud.
Why slam the door? Who’s angry?
Who laughed? Did we miss the joke?
What holds us prisoner
Is missing the joke,
Wondering who’s angry,
How to not hear the bell.
Laugh sometimes without knowing why.
Feel the silence after the slam.
Let the bell toll on, and on.
Know that prison is only for those
Who want more than anything to be free.
(Thoughts on chapter 5 of “Each Moment Is the Universe: Zen And the Way of Being Time”, by Dainin Katagiri. My intention is to write a poem or brief meditation on each short chapter as a way of summarizing my understanding.)
I’m a stand-up fabulist; it’s a living. There are plenty of others on the fable circuit – at least, that’s what I’ve heard. I’m too busy making up my own myths to really know. It got started when I was young and I imagined how bad it would be when my father got home, or how life would be different if I only bought that thing. The fantasies and nightmares piled up; there weren’t enough closets, and I forgot most of them. The best parts of the craziest ones I managed to hold on to, working them into brilliant new legends, until finally I felt ready to go on tour. I had sweated out some really killer material: fat, juicy lies and delusions so impossible I almost forgot how absurd they were. I drove into town after town, walked on the stages of a hundred motels, eager to begin talking to myself again. I applauded myself from my usual table in the corner, and on the stage I breathed that applause like air. But the motels always quickly faded and I sped to another, brighter-looking motel, desperate to begin talking to myself on an even bigger stage. Why it took so many years I don’t know, but I discovered the motels were all owned by the same person, and all of them were built in the same slightly disappointing way, and always it was just me in the audience – now glancing restless at my watch, now staring embarrassed into my gin and tonic. I was bombing every night; the tales trailed off into a pitiful wish list of lies, with no art to them at all. One night, I stopped talking and listened. For the first time, I heard things: the clink of ice in the glass at the table where I sat watching me, my own breathing in the nearly empty room, the clattering of the club’s central air system. There were no stories in those sounds, no grand motels to come, no shitty motels to drive away from. I walked off that stage, went to my dressing room, and looked in the mirror. I saw only everything there was to see.
(Thoughts on chapter 4 of “Each Moment Is the Universe: Zen And the Way of Being Time”, by Dainin Katagiri. My intention is to write a poem or brief meditation on each short chapter as a way of summarizing my understanding.)
Out of the endless blue sky appeared that bomb again, the usual sudden mote in my perfect day’s eye. As it tumbled, every square inch was revealed: sinister labyrinths of pipes; bristling nests of wires, LEDs blinking like eyes. I tracked its fall, my network of sirens going off like they always do. I began the usual routine of screaming and starting to run. This time, something made me stare up into its terrible redundant complexities. So many mechanisms, I wondered, just to create the chance of an explosion. Then, for the first time, I recognized my own hand in the baroque wiring. And I realized I had not only built and launched every bomb every single day, but mapped out the alarm system as well. I stopped in my tracks. The bomb slowed its descent, the air around it whistling uncertainly. The sirens sputtered. Still looking up, I slowly spread my arms wide.
(Thoughts on chapter 3 of “Each Moment Is the Universe: Zen And the Way of Being Time”, by Dainin Katagiri. My intention is to write a poem or brief meditation on each short chapter as a way of summarizing my understanding.)
In my magnificent private city, jealously guarded by a militia of changing ghosts, I have constructed vast monuments to honor people and events I cannot even remember. Wandering the thousands of winding streets that always double back on themselves and often abruptly run into walls, I squint hard into the glorious empty faces of the statues, many arranged into busy scenes of obvious temporary importance, but their names and deeds are forever lost. The aura of forgotten desires and passions mottles their hastily carved marbled surfaces as visibly as lichen. And what did these countless buildings mean? All of them needlessly elaborate and most of them abandoned in the middle of construction, girders sticking out like ribs. The cemetery on the border seems endless, filled with the rot of improbable grandiose projects, abandoned tools of entertainment. A heavy rain is all that is needed to expose them to the air again, invoking a vague regret and shame. Numerous churches and temples, all grand beyond believing, all empty, their iconography now unrecognizable, some partially destroyed in unremembered fits of anger or disgust. The more I wander, the more I feel my own breath in the restless silence. And it is my breath that stops me in my tracks. I have suddenly never felt more separated from my city, or more connected with myself. I follow the fragile trail of my breath’s rise and fall, like a map leading home and burning itself as I travel.
(Thoughts on chapter 2 of “Each Moment Is the Universe: Zen And the Way of Being Time”, by Dainin Katagiri. My intention is to write a poem on each short chapter as a way of summarizing my understanding.)
I start to take a step
And hundreds of smaller steps begin,
A neuron sparks, a tendon creaks,
Each in its own brief world,
Four hundred million,
One hundred and eighty worlds
In one day,
And in one world
My foot begins its quivering descent
Into other worlds where
A baby sobs into life,
Someone is elected to office,
One small step
Someone wins an award,
A man is crushed by a bus,
For a man
The planets lurch and swerve,
One giant leap
Galaxies flee from each other,
And my foot finds the floor again –
Hundreds of worlds closer
To taking out the trash,
Hundreds more to go.
(Thoughts on chapter 1 of “Each Moment Is the Universe: Zen And the Way of Being Time”, by Dainin Katagiri. My intention is to write a poem on each short chapter as a way of summarizing my understanding.)