feet sore from walking
back sweaty from early warmth
jump in shower — ah!
/ / /
25 February 2015
State College PA
I go through periods of reading and writing haiku. I’ve done it ever since I moved to Japan in 1991 and picked up a copy of Basho’s Narrow Road To The Deep North in a bookstore in Sendai. Today I listened to this talk from Upaya Zen Center (where I almost ended up living in 2013) and decided it was time to start writing haiku again.
In the past I paid little to no attention to the 17-syllable rule, given that in Japanese it’s not even syllables that are counted. But Craig Strand’s part of the talk changed my mind. He said that focusing on three elements — form, season and present mind — frees the mind to express exactly what is there. In other words, the restrictions allow for true freedom. So I’m going to try sticking to 17 syllables.
Pinkerton rifles filling the air
with smoke & screams & blood
men of iron & steel
men of flesh & bone
the ground soaks up the evidence
the birds scatter; no witnesses
now: the furnaces shut, rusting
mud colors the Monongahela
two robins rest on a sign
listing the names of the dead
/ / /
21 Feb 2018
This poem is inspired by the Battle of Homestead, which took place just down the road from my hotel. On July 2, 1892, Pinkertons hired by a steel company murdered seven striking workers, all members of the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers. Three Pinkertons were also killed. Shortly thereafter the government used the state militia to bust the strike and break the union. The poem’s title is a list of the names of the seven murdered workers.
The other day I wrote a poem called “the bodhisattva of Prospect Ave (all praise to Jah)” after a walk I took around town. Today I took another walk and discovered two things: (1) the statue is on Hamilton Ave, not Prospect; and (2) someone smashed it in the four days since I wrote the poem.
I discovered it had been smashed because I stopped by to pay my respects on my walk. I was very sad and very angry to see it lying there. I know it’s not mine, and it’s an ephemeral object, like all objects, but it still just felt … wrong. I also felt a little relief that I had placed it on the wrong street in my poem, meaning it’s unlikely someone read the poem and decided, “Hey, I dislike Jason, I’m going to go kick over that statue.”
I live in a conservative, wealth-obsessed town full of drunk college kids, and at the moment I saw the statue it was pretty easy to hate this town. That’s not a particularly Buddhist attitude, but it was my honest reaction. It’s been about 20 minutes and I’m back home, sweaty from the walk, but writing before the emotions pass, which they will. I was thinking I might knock on the door of the house with the statue and offer to help them get it fixed, as a way to turn this into something positive.
I finished Brad Warner’s Don’t Be A Jerk today for the second time, in preparation for reading his follow-up, It Came From Beyond Zen!Don’t Be A Jerk is described as a “radical but reverent paraphrasing of Dogen’s Treasury of the True Dharma Eye.” That pretty much sums it up. Warner goes through chapters from Dogen’s 800-year-old Zen classic and tries to put them into accessible modern language while not diluting their meaning or impact. You can hear me interview him about this book in the video below:
I thoroughly enjoyed Warner’s paraphrasing of Dogen, but on my second reading I found myself most moved by the final chapter, “Dogen’s Zen In The Twenty-First Century,” in which Warner not only brings Dogen into the present, but also movingly depicts his own current view of Zen after several decades of practice. Rather than paraphrase Warner’s writing, I thought I’d just quote him. (I’ve skipped some bits. Missing bits are replaced by an ellipsis. Also note that “zazen” is seated silent meditation.)
“To me Zen is communal practice of individual deep inquiry. … Throughout human history people have been concerned about the deeper meaning of existence. They wanted to understand who and what they actually were and how they fit into the world. … Among those seekers, there is a certain class of people who try to understand the human condition by sitting very quietly and simply observing themselves in action (even sitting still for long periods is a kind of action; try it sometime if you have any doubts). … Buddhism started not when Shakyamuni had his great revelation by himself. Lots of people had done that before. It began when he made his first efforts to transform that into a communal practice. Although you can – and I think you should – do zazen by yourself, that larger thing we call Zen Buddhism is not something you do by yourself. You can do zazen by yourself. You do Zen Buddhism with other people.”
I think that’s one of the most beautiful summations of Zen Buddhism I’ve read. As someone whose practice has primarily been solitary, it also served as the kick in the pants I needed to find some other folks to sit with. Read the book. You won’t be disappointed.
the bodhisattva of Hamilton Ave (all praise to Jah)*
briskly walking (trying to get back
in some sort of shape) I spotted
the bodhisattva beneath a bush
the moss covering him like a robe
the leaves surrounding him
like an offering
at this point in the poem, I very much
want to tell you that I’m listening
to a killer Desmond Dekker track
“Rudie Got Soul” doesn’t have much
to do with a lone bodhisattva
forgotten under a bush
then again, maybe they have
to do with one another
/ / /
16 February 2018
State College PA
*As you can see from the title of this post, rather than the title of the poem, I had mistakenly placed this statue on Prospect Ave, rather on its true home, Hamilton Ave. Also, in the days since I wrote the poem, someone smashed the statue.