Orange Colander

My lesson was to focus the camera on it, not the background. These haven’t been edited because I’m not up to that yet!

I focus the camera
on the orange colander
as if it were
a naked goddess
carved in marble
or gilded Aphrodite

Paul Eluard said: “There is another city and it is within this one.” Neil Gaimon uses that as a way to explore magical and parallel realities. But I heard it originally in a Zen context where it refers to something rather different. However, I need to stop thinking of the concept as a To Do item.

The pink saki bottles were harder. It’s easier said than done–to focus.

Martial Art Tanka

Despite my vow not to talk too much about my new Netflix obsession, I do want to mention my experiment of seeing if I could use fairly low rent movies as inspiration. To begin with, many folks (actually mostly librarians) object to my use of “trash” when talking about genre—in books or films. However, I’ve noticed within myself a slightly toxic reaction to too much of the same, akin to eating too many chocolate covered cherries or cheese doodles. Really great things don’t wear me out—I don’t feel toxic from too much nature, say, or time with those I love, or Shakespeare. I might need a change, but not because of toxicity. The same can’t be said for murder mysteries or spy thrillers.
That said, I may as well confess to my love of kung fu movies—particularly ones replete with fakey zen and flying monks. I can’t defend this, and the only other person I’ve known who shared this taste is my long dead first husband Robert (who was also a Zen priest). It all came back to me recently. I was watching several very morose and misery inducing Israeli firms about the horrors of fundamentalistic ultra-orthodox Jewish life—and its horrible toll on women. Pushed to the brink by misogyny, the heroines kill themselves, break down, fall in an existential abyss, and more. I needed a break. Shaolin it was. Here, when warlords destroy your innocent village, what do you do? Fight back and crush them! I started to feel better. The association of Zen with martial arts to this extent is a bit suspect—possibly somewhat historical, definitely Hong Kong movie making.
However, watching a few such movies, I did write the following sequence of tanka. And I’m pleased with it!


birdsong in mist,
an old tale of revenge—
in the birch forest
even the greatest archer
can’t hit the moon

blind swordswoman,
curtain of blue beads
eyebrows raised, unsheathed
blade slices a falling leaf

shaved head monk will steal
rice to feed the starving—
a warlord, a child,
a white flower, a corpse, all
have their own nature.

soldier shaves his head
to pass as a monk,
becomes a monk…
monk picks up a sword

a flight of birds
off a foggy cliff,
even the wind
can’t say if you’ll return
or from what direction

snow falling
on the temple’s curved eaves
a hanging bell
dusk, the border between
this and everything else

Koan of Regret

I’ve been studying a koan with Zen teacher Joan Sutherland Roshi in her koan salon. It is the first koan in the Blue Cliff Record. A lot of things happen in this koan but the bit that claims my attention is when the Emperor fails to recognize Bodhidharma. Then he feels regret, in fact he feels it his whole life and has that regret engraved on his tomb.
      This part of the koan maddens me. First of all, isn’t compassion available to us moment by moment, and so how can the spirit of compassion be gone for good? Some of the traditional commentaries point to this.
      But mostly my problem is that I’m not big on regret. I don’t usually feel it. I might regret I didn’t buy land in Pagosa Springs when it was cheap, but that isn’t the kind of regret in the koan.
My friend Natalie is friendly with regret. She waxed poetic: “I regret I do not live in Cleveland.” She was showing off, that she could feel regret–that soft nostalgic emotion–for anything.
      My lack of regret is how I experience fate. Heraclitus said: character is man’s daimon. I feel not only that what is done is done (and therefor true) but that fate is what I seek, have even made.
      Bodhidarma crossed the river in the dark. Maybe I just don’t want to see that things are always coming and going, like the two lanes of traffic, upper and lower, glittering  at the bottom of the George Washington Bruidge, the beautiful suspension bridge of my childhood, on a winter’s evening.

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Joan Sutherland Roshi

Dear Diary

I’m enjoying blogging, it has a quality of going skinny dipping. It reminds me of a communal household I heard of in San Francisco in the ’80’s where the members kept an open group diary. Of course if this was a novel, the members would soon be keeping individual private diaries.
I think about how, seventeen years ago, Robert Winson and I started keeping a joint diary of our stay in a remote Buddhist monastery in the southern Rockies. After his death in 1995 the joint diary was published as DIRTY LAUNDRY: 100 Days in A Zen Monastery by the enterprising La Alameda Press. It was later sold and re-issued by New American Library.
I wonder if we would have kept a blog had one been available. Maybe we’d never have published a book at all and just put it up on the web and received all the criticism I later got for the book.
Re-reading it is always a bittersweet exercise. At first it was a way to visit with Robert, even if he said critical things about me. Recently when I look at it I’m surprised anew that I thought it was a viable idea to raise to a lively three year old in a Zen monastery.