This poem originally appeared in Ashe #10

for Dirk

That it’s the third time this has happened seems quite fitting.
Walked randomly into some temple, expecting silent sitting
and all at once the head monk says “Lights up! Right now
we’re to review our precepts and renew our vows—”

And what follows is forever- I take it as a lifetime’s way.
But Dirk, who’s brought me, smirks at puritanical naivite
and says “A temporary precept. I’ll observe it for a day.”
Me, I maintain silence for the vows I will not take.

And the moral of these moralistic words is…?
I think I’m being taught to use discursive
reasoning to advance the ancient law:
“use logic to hack up logic’s penchant for

dividing the world into separate spheres”
(as Levitt quips of the Mahayana seers)
Every vow an intent to engage one’s intelligence fully
and not disown our poor wandering mind as unholy.

That it’s the second time it’s happened seems quite odd, though.
I waltz into a new zendo, sit- and frankly, doze a bit- when suddenly
I’m informed it’s the beginning of something called Ango
monsoon rain retreat. The lights come up real bright, jerking me

awake. Soon ritual is here to rival Catholics and Tibetans:
the incense on chains, mumbled mantras, even funny hats.
I say goodbye to my Zen aesthetic as this other one sets in,
and sit in reverence as I watch an eerily familiar dance.

The variations may be different, but the theme always returns:
Bow to the entire lineage of teachers in a mad chant
And out of careful quiet we emerge back into careful words.
Silence always speaks its mind, even when it can’t-

and it behooves me to remember this. I yearn for synchronicity,
seeing it nearly everywhere: the first time, a gift; the second time,
a miracle. If memory serves, there’ll be a third- and so on indefinitely.
But what is that, then? When miracles are ordinary, what is life?

The first time I took official vows
Was right after Rohatsu- year’s end retreat.
I walked into a New Year’s Eve crowd
(at a local Zen Center) expecting treats—

and chocolate cake there was, but I also found
an elaborate ritual with a Japanese
drum the size of two men and a sound
like a cannon, then dozens of bells, each

a signal to begin the next round of prostrations,
one for each Patriarch, bowing down to a flame
in a rusted iron cauldron- must have weighed a ton-
to hold notes full of psychic trash to burn away.

“I will no longer fight myself” my humble incantation
read, a paper wish beginning something strange.
Whatever forces brought me to this verbal meditation
must have mercy, I believed- this was only my first day.

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