Poems from ENCOUNTERING ZEN

 A BOUT (WITH) EGO
"You don't have to be a Buddhist to know 
that ego does not take kindly to states 
of mind that tend to expose its insubstantiality." 
                              --Lawrence Shainberg 
 "Who we are has many faces 
  but those faces are not who we are." 
                                --Joko Beck
Ego has a warrant for my mind. 
Each time I stumble on discomfort 
ego wriggles from its core. 
When ego needs to feel alive 
it drapes longing on my neck, 
whispers, auld lang syne.  

It hisses I'm too shiftless 
when I stoop at roses, teases 
only cowards strive for balance 
on life's see-saw of caprice.  

Ego hails me teacher, 
whisks me off to school, 
drops me in a swamp of class-prep 
just ahead of weary students. 
I barely wrench my hatchet 
from a blaze notched in the chalkboard 
when ego cops leap out, 
whack me back to library stacks 
to kneel with my compass 
over others' crinkled maps.   

Sometimes ego shoves me out to sea, 
caged with raging gloom 
that tears at my canoe. 
My eyes can't pull my heart 
beyond the nearest cove 
where films or alcohol are sold.  

Last night I slipped ego, 
walked in light that casts no shadow, 
danced with God herself 
inside the music of the spheres.  

This morning ego found me, 
yanked me out of bed, 
held guilt's pistol to my head, 
grilled me with a coiled ko-an: 
Who do you think you are-- 
Tutsei?  Croat?  Montanyard?   

I smiled, shook my head: 
You want me to grovel, 
wail I'm Apex Carnivore 
in Foodchainland, 
confess I've hoarded fodder, 
peace, and time enough to whine 
because my rubber ducky's blue not red.  

Then I stared in ego's eyes: 
Can your warrant find my real face, 
the one I wore before my birth?
MONKEY MIND

My koan is myself. –Lawrence Shainberg

In zazen I'm enticed by winks 
and wriggles of cerebral monkeys 
swinging through the jungle of my mind. 
Sometimes they reach out, 
grab me gently by the hand.   

Today I zazen with the koan WHO AM I. 
Monkey mind extends a furry paw....  

Suppose last night I had dialed 9-1-1 
when I saw that Chevy crouch inside 
the shopping mall, windshield shouting 
I NEED HELP! PLEASE CALL POLICE! 
Was that another herd of battered letters 
stumbling down the chute of neutered words 
or a real cry for help, ignored 
like some dead metaphor?  

"You called me here for this?" 
I hear the cop retort. 
"It's just a dumb sun screen!"  

"But," I tiptoe toward the obvious, 
"there's no sun in here."   

"Right... the Chevy raised that sign 
because it's cold...." 
"You know the fine for giving false alarms?"  

"Me?!  Why not ask the car?"  

"Hey, who are you, Mac? 
Can you identify yourself?"  

What would I have done? 
Begged pardon from a pissed-off cop? 
Yanked a mirror from my pocket, 
stared a moment, 
grinned and answered, "Yup...?" 
Claimed I was an Eagle Scout, 
boxer drunk on punches, 
poet trusting words...?  

I blink back to zazen....    

Another monkey swoops 
to launch a dopey dialogue. 
Then my koan clatters back, 
asks if I've discovered who I am? 
I straighten, take a breath, exhale, 
watch the monkey loose its grip, 
vanish as it hits the ground.
    FOAMY DHARMA
"Zen is falling in love with fate, 
with God, with Nature.  Zen is 
the blood of the universe...." 
                             -- R.H. Blythe
I lean against the bathroom doorjamb, 
jiggle a toothbrush on my molars, 
watch my bride swoosh down her skirt, 
straighten up in scanty whites.  

I grock our bedroom: 
mirrored wall, slanting eaves, 
a regiment of dusty toys 
pinned down on the closet top.  

I flash upon this morning's run, 
see my spirit take command, 
galvanize my creaky body, 
overtake a youth 
who passed me two miles back.  

This is all I want from life: 
to come upon familiar scenes 
but feel each one new 
as pups and toddlers do.  

Like wading through a stream, 
I want to sense each swirl as real- 
its first and final time.
 TWO-SECOND SATORI
"Enlightenment is an accident, 
but some efforts can make you 
accident prone."    --Zen Roshi  

Watering the cosmos, 
I slip on a frog's washboard, 
fall backward 
into sunflower arms.  

No sunflower guards my garden, 
yet crackly arms reach out, 
rasp my shoulders, 
gently slow my fall.  

I collapse past blue impatiens, 
lizards hard at poker, 
crickets weaving baskets, 
ants scrambling 
to raise a checkered flag.  

A finch is changing diapers 
on a fledgling falcon,  

sees my shadow, 
drops her pins, 
and shrieks.  

Sunflower arms withdraw, 
the second-hand begins again 
on a mouse's waving wrist, 
and with a luscious thud 
I greet the soggy ground.

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