a few stragglers remain.
a few stragglers remain.
The picture of the two of us,
pulled from my suit-coat pocket,
leans on my dresser.
Square with rounded corners,
faded blue ink–
Kodak May 1980–
printed on the back.
I scanned it for my lock screen, too,
so I can see myself
leaning up against her in the slanted spring light.
The first few days after
Mom taught me how to die
but when I walk outside,
leaves are turning and
afternoons are darker now.
hold misunderstood questions
alongside bright smile greetings.
at the end of the day,
I stayed late at the Temple
to water Roshi’s flowers.
oceans of bright clouds,
oceans of solemn clouds.
The final couplet comes from the words of Dogen in our school’s translation of the Ninth Precept.
Standing at their top
in the old house on the hill,
it seemed a long way down
the steepness of the dimly lit stairs.
From below in the kitchen,
you called my spiderman pajamas
I thought to correct you —
but even at nine,
I knew it didn’t matter.
Driving to work this morning,
it was even more remote
from the concerns of this day
or the decades in between.
Yet there we were,
among the forsythia
and apple blossoms
in the brightness of spring.
There’s a much more involved prose piece in here; but for Mother’s Day, this is the essence.
My kids don’t often come with me to the Temple. Given its significance in my life, I often regret that the place and its people feel a bit foreign to them. Yet they looked comfortable as I watched them run ahead of me down the old brick path on the grounds early this afternoon. I would have expected an impulse to quiet or calm them, but it never arose. I caught up and we walked the twisting path together.
We were there so that I could install a piece of stone sculpture that I had done for an upcoming art exhibit. The rain was falling softly on a day that felt too chilly for late April, which made the early green of the spring seem even deeper and richer.
Working in stone is a new creative endeavor. For the last year, there have been piles of it lying across the ground in front of our barn as I have constructed a stone wall along one side of our property. As I shaped a few pieces for the wall with a chisel and point last summer, it occurred to me that perhaps I should shape a piece for something more than utility.
I began to carve a bowl out of a large piece of granite that had an almost glass-flat top. With everything I have felt the need to accomplish, there was really no cause for taking up a project with such a long timeline and that would result in, well, still having a rock sitting on the ground.
Often, as I coaxed out small pieces of stone, the bowl didn’t seem to get any bigger. Perhaps for a moment it would, as a chip or flake flew, but then the shallowness of the bowl would predominate in my attention. I worried that even if I were able to approximate the right shape, I wouldn’t know how to finish the job, know how to smooth the inside to match the image in my mind of how it should be.
Yet I kept working well into autumn. When winter approached and snow began to fall, I rigged up a small sled out of an old barrel cover in order to slide the stone into the barn; it is too heavy to simply lift and move. While I moved it because I had intentions of continuing to work the stone during winter, it sat in the barn mostly idle, between the chicken coop and the kids’ bikes stored for the winter.
I passed by it often and began to wonder if it would always sit there, unfinished.
The first time I tried to pull it out of the barn this spring, I used the same sled on which it had moved across ice and packed snow in the late fall. On the dry barn floor, though, there was too much friction, and the sled only tipped up as I pulled on the rope, sending me backwards to fall hard on a body that has been feeling suddenly older.
As I looked up from the floor, the stone simply sat – and I began to realize that that is what it does. It accepted my dissatisfaction and sat with me.
Days later, when I did manage to move it out of the barn into a pale but warming spring sun, it sat with me there, too, reflecting my growing acceptance that the bowl might never be exactly what I expected.
Sitting outdoors in a hard spring rain, the emerging bowl filled with water and overflowed. A small stick blown by a blustery wind came to rest in the bowl, and the stone didn’t question its arrival.
It listened as my daughter and talked about what I might do next to shape it, or how on earth I was planning to move it, and received them.
It sat still yesterday as I alternated sandpaper, water, and a blowtorch across its surface, and allowed me the space to work without knowing the effect of my efforts.
The stone became my teacher.
Its Buddha nature is clear and bright. For what else is our Buddha nature, but our receiving and reflecting of what the universe has to offer?
Right now, it sits at the edge of a path at the Temple, in the company of wet ground and early-spring growth. Drips from the trees above are falling into its bowl, and it is welcoming each of them. When the sun rises, it will receive that light and grow warm.
As we left the installation, I wondered aloud to my youngest as he shivered why he didn’t put up his hood. My children argued gently about who would have the chance to roll the dolly (which had carried the stone to its resting place) back up the brick path, and I introduced them all to a beloved sangha mate.
“You’ve got your whole crew here, huh?” he said, eyes bright and laughing as we hugged.
“I do,” I responded as my children and I walked back through the rain to head for home.
Reading the master’s commentary strikes fear
I might not pass the koan
were it presented again,
so I look up from the text.
Scenery passes quickly
outside the window,
gathered collections and discarded remnants.
The train passes the same sights,
running on tracks
just twenty feet to the north
of the morning’s run —
only the light is different.
across the oak floor
a single strand of dust
as it floats
cold zendo air
answer the call
of the dokusan bell