I'm at a double wake
in Springfield, for a childhood
friend and his father
who died years ago. I join
my aunt in the queue of mourners
and walk into a brown study,
a sepia room with books
and magazines. The father's
in a coffin; he looks exhumed,
the worse for wear. But where
my friend's remains should be
there's just the empty base
of an urn. Where are his ashes?
His mother hands me
a paper cup with pills:
and AZT. "Henry
wanted you to have these,"
I'm at a double wake
Distance brings proportion. From here
the populated tiers
as much as players seem part of the show:
a constructed stage beast, three folds of Dante’ s rose,
or a Chinese military hat
cunningly chased with bodies.
“Falling from his chariot, a drunk man is unhurt
because his soul is intact. Not knowing his fall,
he is unastonished, he is invulnerable.”
So, too, the “pure man”“pure”
in the sense of undisturbed water.
I like to lie with you wordless
on black cloud rooft beach
in late june 5 o’ clock tempest
on clump weed bed with sand
fitting your contours like tailor made
and I like to wash my summer brown face
in north cold hudson rapids
with octagon soap
knees niched in steamy rocks
where last night’ s frog stared
at our buddhist sleep
but most of all I like to see
the morning happen...
I like to think about the monastery
as I’ m falling asleep, so that it comes
and goes in my mind like a screen saver.
I conjure the lake of the zendo,
rows of dark boats still unless
someone coughs or otherwise
ripples the calm.
I can hear the four AM slipperiness
The non-action of the wise man is not inaction.
It is not studied. It is not shaken by anything.
The sage is quiet because he is not moved,
Not because he wills to be quiet.
Still water is like glass.
You can look in it and see the bristles on your chin.
It is a perfect level;
A carpenter could use it.
If water is so clear, so level,
How much more the spirit of man?
The heart of the wise man is tranquil.
At six I lived for spells:
how a few Hawaiian words could call
up the rain, could hymn like the sea
in the long swirl of chambers
curling in the nautilus of a shell,
how Amida’ s ballads of the Buddhaland
in the drone of the priest’ s liturgy
could conjure money from the poor
and give them nothing but mantras,
the strange syllables that healed desire.
I lived for stories about the war
my grandfather told over hana cards,
slapping them down on the mats
with a sharp Japanese kiai.
Gift of a friend, the stone Buddha sits zazen,
prayer beads clutched in his chubby fingers.
Through snow, icy rain, the riot of spring flowers,
he gazes forward to the city in the distance — always
I saw you in green velvet, wide full sleeves
seated in front of a fireplace, our house
made somehow more gracious, and you said
“There are stars in your hair” — it was truth I
brought down with me
to this sullen and dingy place that we must make golden
make precious and mythical somehow, it is our nature,
and it is truth, that we came here, I told you,
from other planets
where we were lords, we were sent here,
for some purpose
Basho said to refuse a prayer until its warmth hunches inside like
a bird in its hutch. First the fledgling is born, then the worm, then they
meet somewhere in the grass. I choose my paper for its cereal color, fuss
over shaving a pencil. The prayer means to cleanse both triumph and lust.
O derivative, sunlight reaping the trees, this whole morning cries through a
single reed. Pencil, razor blade, spit — I'll try not to hurry.