Being & Time (Meditation 5)

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.)

Being and Time (Meditation 4)

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.)

Being & Time (Meditation 3)

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.)

Being & Time (Meditation 2)

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.)

Being & Time (Meditation 1)

I start to take a step
And hundreds of smaller steps begin,
A neuron sparks, a tendon creaks,
Each in its own brief world,
Six billion,
Four hundred million,
Ninety-nine thousand,
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,
For mankind
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.)

Dharma Transmission

From the sun-grizzled sage of the wine-dark seas,
Tongue thick with mead, hand on the lyre,
Voice ringing out through the halls of his king
With a tale of cunning gods and men
And the female victims they traded in,

To a merchant’s bastard swaddled in ermine,
Stinking of old sweat and rosemary,
Pushing his quill across parchment
As he crafts blasphemous odes
In a cold room in Florence,

To a lying Flemish courtier,
Barely keeping his neck from the noose,
Rhyming in flowered deceitful code
Of his lust for a nobleman’s wife
In the guise of a poem on God’s grace,

To the son of a London tanner,
Eyes shining with holy madness,
Scratching the sins of the Industrial Age
On copper plates bearing the weight
Of his wild hieroglyphics,

To the dilettante wife of a dissolute lord,
Skin sallow from craving opium,
Penning incomprehensible sonnets
Of alien worlds and mythical cities,
All bundled tight in her dressing room closet,

To the hollow-cheeked darling of his generation,
Leg and youth blown away in the war,
His brief lyrics sick with a bittersweet poison
Drawn from the mustard air of a guilty time
When killing machines ruined men by the millions,

To a long-haired man packed tight with anger,
Ranting in front of a handful of people,
His verse like a flamethrower sprayed at the world
And all its officials, those in control
Whom he prayed would condemn him as dangerous,

To a quiet professor of slumbering classes,
In his room after dark, tie draped on his chair,
Processing the words to a satirical sonnet
No one will read but his closest of colleagues
And an editor who shakes his head yet again,

To me, a balding ex-shoe salesman,
Alone in my house, iPad in hand,
Poking online for the right sort of phrasing
To put an end to this poem about all those before me,
One more for forgetting by those who just read it.