Jackie

I lost my little brother this week
And the circumstances of his life
And his death
Have so cracked wide open my heart

I could never face his pain while he was here
Now I am unimaginably grieved and unimaginably grateful
For what he has shown me
About the pain of judgment

Things do not go as I wish they would
And yet things move and shift
And winds blow us all away

I see what I never saw
I know, really know in my heart
What I never could have thought true

I can't lose what I am
We are never lost to each other, brother.

—Georgia

Contraction, Abundance

Winter is a time
      of contraction,
eating less
      of a dwindling larder.
Lent's a virtue
      of doing without.
Will we survive
      the letting go and
find the joy of abundance
      whether Ho Tai with his
bag of treats and a full belly,
      or an abundance of sky
and roads unwalked.
      Almost more joy
at a day we've never seen,
      than we can handle
without shaking.

The juniper so green,
      so scented
it crowds out thought.

—Jeffrey Taylor

When all is said and done....

When all is said and done, we truly only have ourselves. We can spend time with people we like, people we don’t like, people that like us, or people that don't like us. In the end, it is up to us to take each situation as it is, which is sometimes hard to do.

We can find things around us to help us feel better—animals, plants, art, and sometimes even people. We can also find space and quiet so we can visit with ourselves without interruption.

Driving on an empty highway with no radio in the car has been one of my meditation retreats. It is you, the hum of the car, the scenery if it’s day, the blackness if it’s not and memories and dreams. I have relived scenes, pondered countless questions, peered into the future, and anguished over lost loves, all at seventy one miles an hour. The car is a temple hurtling down the highway, sometimes the only light for miles.

The layers peel away and I study my childhood, my children's childhoods and my father’s childhood, what I know of it.

I learn and re-learn things about myself as I climb a long steep grade. As I crest the hill and see the diamond sparkles of a small town in the black distance, I say to myself, “When you step out of this rolling temple to buy gas and a sandwich, you will be closer to God and yourself and your destination.”

—Robert Porter

Samurai Song Prompt

There is always so much going on, even when it is quiet and my body is still. Even when my eyes are closed.

We like to think we know what all of this is. We're pretty pathetic like that.

I know the light that hits the retina on the back of my eyeball presents an upside down image—the lens at the front of my eye does that. My brain makes it right-side-up again. There are glasses you can put on that flip this image over—make it look upside down, which is, of course, really right-side-up. It doesn't take long for the mind to readjust it. I know what I expect to see. I know how to be sure I see exactly that.

This is how we build the world we live in.

Eyes closed, I know clearly the sound of a creaking door. What is hard is to notice that moment before we know a thing, name it, file it, judge it. The sound I name “creaking door” is really just vibrations rippling through the air, setting the little hairs of my inner ear vibrating. Somehow my brain turns this into a sound and finds a match for it among all the sounds I have heard before, the familiar sounds, the ones I have names for.

Similar things happen with light, with smell, with tastes, with touch and texture.

I wish I could get back to that moment, that instant when a sound is just vibration, when a thing is just light and formless substance. When there is no roof, no supper, no father, no mother, no temple, no priest, no fortune, no tactic, no strategy, no thought. No wish.

This does happen occasionally and it scares the crap out of me and I'm right back in my solid right-side-up world in which everything has a name and in which I know what I like and don't like. Or at least I think I do.

—Donna Dechen Birdwell

Prompt: http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/samurai-song

August

Each breath counts time for the Gulf clouds 
of August

Cruising silently 
through all the shades 
of blue

—Lloyd Bridges (Houston)

Ten Thousand Things

In a commentary on practice by my teacher Albert Low, I was surprised to read that he recommended looking down rather than at the scenery as one walked in nature, at least for the beginning student, in the “first fifteen or twenty years.” Since much of the long trip I take each summer is taken up with responding to the landscape, I was taken aback. I read carefully as he explained that “it is neither the trees nor the birds, the river nor the blue sky that weaves its magic: it is awareness. When we go out for a walk like this we adopt a particular mind-set, and this is compatible with practice. With the same mindset one can walk through the slums of London and feel the same communion.” One can be open and aware in nature or anywhere. We may hear the rustle of leaves; better, we may hear a police siren.

It is true that when I travel, my mind is more open and attentive, particularly to dramatic and beautiful natural things. Less so, when I am home. It’s not entirely true that I lack attention, since I have worked on being present over the years, but still, there is a differential.

It might be good, I thought, to take a look at my patterns of awareness as I stayed here in Vancouver. Certain things draw my attention on my walks with my dog and cat: flowers and shrubs, bamboo and fern borders, projections in the sidewalk, lawn ornaments, crows.

Animals capture my interest—a cat on the porch swing, ae little spaniel being walked down the block, fish in a koi pond, a dead squirrel this morning, which my cat Murphy sniffed and pawed. The squirrels that leap to tree trunks and Rex follows, jerking me round. Some of the animal-watching is protective—cats and squirrels may inspire a lunge on the lead. Other things are to my advantage too—trash cans to deposit the sack of dog poop, houses with for sale signs and information sheets (I have rarely found one I could afford), cars coming down the streets we cross.

Interesting differences in houses—roof lines, porches, towers and balconies, stonework, latticework, arbors, palm trees, brushy yards with weeds and overgrown hedges and trees hiding whatever is behind, squares of lavender or lily. Folk art—banners and prayer flags, lawn ornaments, screened images of birds (there are several on the walls around the neighborhood), hand-made signs. A child’s table with a single chair in a shady, postage stamp backyard. A paradise of wagons, three-wheelers, plastic playhouses glimpsed through the slats in a back gate.

Food being grown—grapes in arbors and along fences, espaliered apple trees complete with rounding fruit, herbs in raised beds, drying tangles of sugar snap peas, red gleams of cherry tomatoes, blueberry bushes, blackberry patches left to fruit among weeds, containers of lettuce plants and shaggy tomato bushes on decks and balconies, corn in a row along an alley fence with twine holding it upright, bruised apples on the concrete and green balls of English walnut.

Water in any form—the elaborate stream and falls at Anthem Park between apartment buildings a block away, the shine of something spilt along the asphalt near a dumpster, the shrr of water down a backyard fountain. When it rains, puddles and mud and beading on cars.

Stories—the two women, one black, with tight slicked hair, one a haggard blonde, smoking on the curb outside a residential home. The rose with a short stem abandoned on a metal table outside a Subway early on a Sunday. Underwear and jeans discarded beside the sidewalk, now covered with city grit and leaves. I look down into the gardens of Columbia House, which I believe is assisted living, and see an old man turning onto a path in his automated scooter or a group of women under a canopy playing cards. A man stops to let Rex enter the street, then waves and drives on as Rex veers to inspect a sapling. A young neighbor makes his slow way down the sidewalk, letting his cat trail behind. They cross a street and climb the steps to a porch.

Having read my teacher’s comment about everyday awareness, I let my mind open wider this morning. So many colors and textures to the sidewalk—smooth pale gray in newly paved spots, the gritty, moss-embedded dark of sections that date back to the twenties and have been lifted awry by tree roots, fish scale patterns on sloping corners where bicycles and wheel chairs need access, or red-painted metal plates there with raised polkadots for traction. Cracks and concrete patches, lines of grass or moss, a rain-melted wash of chalk, a scattering of dried fir needles. Someone has sprayed mysterious turquoise markings down the center of the alley—repairs intended?

To some degree, I always participate in what Rex sees. What has he pulled toward? what is he sniffing? He has a much different view of the world. The base of trash cans and dumpsters call him, and mysterious scents. He stops at bamboo piled at the side of the alley, and we walk over the blonde blades which have fallen across the alleyway. He sniffs and paws at a spot like any other in the mulch of a flowerbed.

Today as my mind softens, our trip down the alley is a progression of sniffings, at little nubbins of green with purplish flowers, hairlike fibers of flower or weed, the corner of a gate. On my walks I can tell myself stories about what I attend to (why does the family have peace doves and Tibetan prayer flags, are they pacifists? I remember picking brown-eyed Susans like these for my mother.) Rex’s world is full of things I cannot easily put into words. Since I cannot participate in their olfactory significance, they become random dips into the texture of life—arch of grass, board dark with rot, splay of pebbles, shadowy brown irregularity. Rex is showing me the ten thousand things that make up life—really, below the ten thousand things, not to emptiness but at least to things less codeable in language. That is valuable practice, I think. At the least, it feels good to do.

—Sarah Webb, 7/27/2014

Poem, Emeritus

A poem has achieved
  emeritus status,
when it’s yellowed and rumpled
  with crease lines and sweat stains,
a corner missing, torn loose,
  too many times re-pinned
    to the corkboard and
taken down
  to be read, again.
Stared at in comprehension
  and incomprehension.

See down near the bottom
  the ink fades and runs
in a now dry lakebed
  of evaporated tears.
Underlined,
  in multiple hands and hues.

This poem has retired
  and been recalled,
been re-assigned and inherited.
  And now emeritus, it no longer works
every day, but serves as advisor,
  on call.

—Jeffrey Taylor

Smiling

Evening thunder
rumbles through my chest. Smiling,
hearing the rain fall.

—Korin Anita Swann

Squat

The kitchen is the heart of the home and the fridge is the quietly thrumming heart of the kitchen.
 
We are not a family who displays portraits of ourselves in each room, smiling in uncomfortable sweaters with animals and for a split second, being still. We know what we look like.
 
But on the door of our fridge is a small collection of photographs of my two sons, during mostly their childhood. Each photo is a small tableau of a part of their lives and mine.
 
One has them at a beach in Hawaii, early teens, with the classic shot of older brother buried in the sand, just his head showing, and younger brother laughing wildly with his foot on his brother's head.
 
Another has them in a desperado pose, with real guns, staring dangerously at the camera but wearing bright yellow ear plugs.
 
Then there is one of them, when they were small children, in a pirogue that I used to own. It's taken from behind, over their shoulders, showing the requisite bright orange PFDs, their dripping paddles lifted, about to help propel us past the old Seaholm Power Plant on Lady Bird Lake.
 
My favorite, of course, has me in it with them. My hair is dark red, and my face is young and confident. The boys are five and six years old, and I have one on each hip in a strong, fatherly grip. We are at the Rio Grande Gorge above Taos, New Mexico, and the land falls away behind us with blue mountains in the distance. Seconds after my wife took the photo, a huge wind came swirling up the gorge and I had to squat and hold them close so we wouldn't be blown over the edge to the river below.
 
And that's what I taught my sons—walk close to the edge because the view is invigorating, but always be ready to squat!

—Robert Porter

The Summer Tree


In the dog days of summer, this tree watched two brothers;
Little boys running, wrestling and laying down in the cool shade.
They gazed at the shadow of the leaves on their tanned skin.

In the dog days of summer, this tree watched two brothers;
Teenage boys sneaking, scheming and sharing a stolen cigarette.
Their backs up against the trunk, dreaming in the moonlight.

In the dog days of summer, this tree watched two brothers;
Young men building, learning, and meeting only at vacation times.
Shaking hands under the tree before they went back to their lives.

In the dog days of summer, this tree watched two brothers;
Men in their prime, reaching, searching and talking of money.
Words too loud to hear the breeze float through the leaves above their heads.

In the dog days of summer, this tree watched two brothers;
Come to the full circle of middle age, having won and lost.
Hands with age spots patted the rough strong bark.
Wrinkled eyes looked up at the green leaves blazing gold in the sunshine.

“This tree has seen a lot of life.”

“Yes it has, yes it has.”

“It’s a good tree.”

“Yes it is, yes it is.”

—G. Elizabeth Law

It's all good...


Come here,
    my baby Paul,
        come here,
have some warm cookies,
    with cold chocolate milk.

It is alright,
    It’s alright.
It’s fine if you are upset.
            it’s perfectly good.

Come here,
    be warm.

Come here,
    let me comfort you.
        have some warm cookies and milk.
It’s all good.
    there is nothing wrong.

Don’t worry about vegetables,
    or anything else.

Just these nice warm chocolate chip cookies,
    As many as you want.
        just relax.

enjoy.

Come here,
    my little Paul,
        there is nothing to be afraid of.

It’s all good.
    Just come here,
        sit with me,
have some warm cookies,
                as much milk as you are thirsty for.

Relax,
    take a nap if you want to.

It’s all good...

—Paul Shreeman

The Old Woman Potter

Kim Mosley
Note: The AZC Zen Writing Group used our friend Silas's story for our prompt. Silas, living in Kenya, is the newest member of our group.

==========

Today on my way from school, i met a strong old woman with donkey carrying many pots.i ask her where she was taking the pot and she replied that she was going to sell them in the market tomorow. i ask her again how she made the donkey to kneel down and puts on the pots because donkey sometimes turn wild to people.she replied that donkey needs training inorder to cary any load.

I also ask her how she made pot and it was very interesting to hear how the make the pots. The old woman told me that they walk far along river Nyalbari to dig and pick soil for making pots. reaching home with soil she remove any sticks or grass which can harm their hand. she ensure that the soil is fine.she puts the soil on any polythene and mix it with water to make ready for kneeding.

She wrap it with this polythene for sometimes or may be later for use.

She start making the pot with this soil.after completing kneeding the pot she left it for one or two weeks to dry up.

As they dry up, she looks dry grass which she wil use to cure it to make them strong.
After one to two weeks she will put grass inside this pots and lit fire.

She told me that they add grass gradualy untill inside the pot becomes red in colour.at this point she leaves them to cool hence she finish making the pot.

I finaly told her that i have agood friend of mine from america making and teaching how to make pots. She was very much hapy with me and told me to say hi to Linda.

She request me to visit him and see how she is making pots.
—Silas

==========   

In my middle twenties I moved to Colorado and lived in a teepee on land that belonged to some friends. It was a beautiful place with different vistas to be seen by merely turning one way then another.

We tried to emulate the Indians by taking advantage of the native plants, hunting, fishing and storing food. I'll admit that I wasn't very good at these things but I tried and would encourage those around me that possessed these skills.

I tried once to hand work a piece of cowhide to make a vest for winter. It still had the hair on it when I started and still had the hair on it when I gave up and went looking for the cow so I could return it and apologize.

Over time I really came to respect how much effort went into merely surviving before electricity and mechanization gave us our comfort level of today.

I did learn some basic skills however, like observing nature, fire building and how to be resourceful with basic tools.

Sometimes we would help the old timers that were still left with their farm work and learn from them about tracking, weather shifts and the habits of elk, deer and cattle. Their stories would unknowingly show how how damned tough these people had been in their youth and how little it took to make a life.

Whenever the conversation turned to how I and my friends were living in teepees, school buses and drafty wood heated cabins their response, to a man, would be "Why would you want to do that?"

I guess we did it to find a part of ourselves that valued history over progress and knowledge over comfort.
—Robert Porter

========== 

I made pots from natural clay in a workshop at Esalen. We dug up the clay, just like Silas talked about in his post from Kenya. We set our clay to dry for future classes, however, and used clay earlier classes had dug. I spent most of my time making a small bowl with a bent-over edge. I wanted to do it as carefully as I could so I could use it as an incense burner on my altar. I smoothed the outside with an agate. We fired our pots in a pit (or it may have been a half-pit dug into a slope). We burnt oak down to coals, then put the pots on the coals, and covered it over with layers of cow patty. 
The bowl came out a rusty clay color mottled with black. I use it on my altar and burn incense in it every day.

After I made that slow, careful pot, I did several quickly and with abandon. One was a bowl I wrapped around a wave-smoothed rock. The rock and bowl stayed as one unit for a long time—in fact, the rock could not be removed—until I broke the pot by accident.
In another pot-making session we sat in the surf on loose pebbles. We were actually halfway in the water, with water coming up over our legs. I worked quickly to make the head of a god. He had snake-like hair with shells and twigs and seaweed in it. I pressed shells and ribbed kelp into the wet clay to leave their imprint, but I also put real seaweed and sticks in the hair. They would burn up when it was fired, but I thought maybe I could replace them later in the spaces that were left behind.
I was concerned that the head might fall apart when fired because I was patching together many small bits of clay as I worked and there was no way to smooth them together. I felt inspired, that flow of easy energy.

I loved the head but never got to see if it fell apart or what it looked like or to have it as an object. We were expected at my mother's in Texas, and the firing was delayed just long enough that my daughter and I had to leave for the airport without the objects from the last firing. As it was, I never drove as fast and recklessly as I did to the airport to the San Jose airport. When we got there we tossed our keys to the rental car people and ran through the airport. We just made it before they closed the door on the airplane.
In a way, it's best that I didn't see the completed head. It will remain in my mind as it was when it was being made—glistening clay, the seaweed and shell tangled in the tendrils of the hair, all of it coming out of my hands and the water boiling up into my lap—the god making itself. 
—Sarah Webb

==========

When I was a kid in Oregon, I used to run a burro rink. Kids would come, usually with their parents, and they'd give me 25¢ to put them on a burro and let the burro trod around in a circle eight times. The littlest kids I'd strap on, and sometimes either I or a parent would walk around with the kid, especially if they started to cry. The best part of the job is that girls would come and talk with me. In those days this was a poor little town and there weren't any planned activities for kids. I earned $2 a day and managed to save most of it. It was a great job until the state of Oregon intervened and enforced rules about how old we'd have to be to work and what we should be paid.

We were told that burros were a mix of a donkey and a mule, or something like that. I see from Wikipedia that a burro is just a small donkey. In those days, it was difficult to validate all the things we were told. There was a small library in the town, and perhaps they had some old donated encyclopedia. But I never though of looking up all the stuff people would tell me to check out what they said.

For years I believed that water goes down a drain in one direction, and south of the equater it goes down in the opposite direction. I taught this to my students for over thirty years when they were rocking trays in the darkroom. “Notice how the water swirls in the tray. If you were south of the equader it would....” Lo and behold someone recently told me that was a stupid wife's tale. Like the origin of burros, the truth is not what one cowboy tells you.
—Kim Mosley

I Turned Out to Be Me


I could have been anything. I knew I wouldn't be tall, but I thought I could be a pro basketball player because the Globetrotters had players like Too Tall (5'2").  And during the baseball season I thought I could turn pro and become as good as any of my baseball heroes like Minnie MoƱoso. I would just need to learn to hit the ball and a few other minor things. In fact, I could steal bases with vengeance. Which was useful since I often walked because I was so short that pitchers couldn't find my strike zone.

And then there was art. I had delusions of grandeur there too. No goal was too high—even the Sistine Chapel. Somehow I didn't have too many goals for my kids. My son had enough of his own (are kids having goals a guy thing?), while my daughter didn't seem to share so many of our ambitions. (Nevertheless, both kids have accomplished a lot.)

In our Zen Writing class, we read a poem about the poet’s hurt shoulder and how it impacted her rowing. I am reminded of all the things I can't do for one reason or another. Coming to terms with one limitations seem to be synomonous with getting old, or maybe I should say, getting older.  Of course, one of the biggies is that I'm beginning to realize that I can't live forever. But beyond that, there are many things I can't or won't do because I either can't or I realize the consequences.

I used to believe I could fix anything in a house. My father-in-law could do that and he'd instruct me step-by-step. And then he'd grunt when I'd do something wrong. Now that he's not in Austin, I've hired some people to do stuff and discovered that their skill set is way beyond mine.

I sometime think I know a little about computers, but when I think of the knowledge ofvarious friendly geeks whom I know, I don't stand chance in their world. But I putter along and manage to keep things working.

I turned out to be me, I suppose. Yes, I turned out to be me. It was probably my last resort. It was what I'd become if nothing else worked out.
Some people have extraordinary talents. They can do anything. Fortunately or unfortunately, I can just be me. I wish I would have known that many years ago. Then I might not have spent so much energy trying to be someone else.

—Kim Mosley