POEM: To Issan Dorsey Roshi, on the occasion of his paranirvana

Tommy Issan Dorsey Roshi

One moment of perfect practice, says Dogen
one moment of perfect enlightenment
One moment of perfect prayer
a Rosary recited with pure attention
loving the Blessed Virgin
wanting to be like her
One moment of perfect obedience
sailor on the deck
performer cheering your comrades at sea
One moment of perfect performance
the wig, the makeup, the bra, the heels
singing on the stage
the boy who looks like the girl next door
One moment of perfect openness
available to the next customer
becoming their need like a bodhisattva
One moment of perfect transcendance
the high the low the trip the ecstasy
One moment of perfect sitting
listening to Suzuki Roshi
a glimpse of the truly real
One moment of perfect maitri
founding a hospice to serve the dying
men like you dying in droves
of a disease without cure,
without compassion
One moment of perfect honor
Issan Dorsey Roshi
Dharma heir
abbot of Hartford Street Zen Center
One moment of perfect humanity
One moment of perfect buddhahood

POEM: For Ryōkan

This full moon? Old man Ryōkan
gave it to me; he said a thief left it behind.
I was having tea with him one day in early spring,
before the cherries had blossomed out,
and after the rain passed over, he took it down
and said he didn’t need it any more.
Do you need it? I have enough light to read his poems by.

(Ryōkan, Zen monk, hermit, poet and calligrapher, died on this date in 1831.)

In paradisum

A friend of mine died last month. His funeral was Saturday. Unfortunately, I could not go.

He was a Navy veteran, a black man from a Caribbean family, a gifted counselor and therapist to many.

He was also homeless.

I heard of his death when I went to get my hair cut at a neighborhood salon. Told the stylists who were there that he had helped me move almost two years ago. Learned that he had been a faithful supporter of the students at the arts high school, showing up for their performances. That through connections on Facebook, people had tracked down members of his family out of state and informed them, had formed a group for sharing reminiscences and information.

A local funeral home donated their services, including a place of burial. An Episcopal church gave him a funeral with music and the dignity of ritual.

I thought about my friend being found dead on a weekday morning, on the sidewalk where I had passed by and chatted with him so many times, dead probably because of an untreated infection in a minor cut, and I wished savagely that some old, wrinkled white man in power was dead in his place. I wished that the people whose political power had denied my friend adequate rehabilitation after his military service, education for his empathic gifts, health care for his injuries, or even the bare minimum of food, shelter, and clothing would die, even if it did not bring my friend back.

I don’t often hate people. I don’t like hatred in myself any more than in others. But I have felt a lot of hatred in the past four years.

Rest in peace, Dwight Claxton. Into paradise may the angels lead you, and with Lazarus, who once was poor, may you have eternal rest.

A Prayer for the Dead

My only sister died suddenly last Friday. She went to the emergency room on Thursday for severe stomach pain, went into cardiac arrest while being examined, and was resuscitated. After being on life support for about twenty-four hours, she was released, authorized by her daughter and her husband. She died soon after the machines were turned off, in the presence of her husband, her daughter, and her five-year-old grandson.

My sister and I were never close, partly due to the eleven years between us (she was the older). This still comes as a blow, in a year full of blows. A number of people close to me lost family members in the past ten days. As it happened, I had an invitation to a dinner party for Saturday night that included a brief Remembrance Day ritual. This had been planned and scheduled weeks ago; the friends who hosted it were friends of my ex-husband also and had sung for him. So we had this dinner, made offerings to the dead, told the bees in my friends’ hive, and sang some choral music in memory of my ex. I wrote this text for the ritual.

The dead are neither present nor absent.

They are neither near to us nor far from us.

They live in us, in our speech, in our hands, in our memories.

We die in them, the parts of us that go with them into the dark.

If they are hidden from us in the shadows,

we are hidden from them by the light.

Yet from time to time we come together

and join hands across the great divide.

They remember us no less than we remember them.

If they are forgotten, they, too, may forget.

Let us not forget our forefathers and foremothers, grandparents and parents,

children born or unborn, spouses and friends, mentors and teachers.

Let us take hold of what they left to us

that we may pass it on before we go.

Let us say their names and offer them our continuing love.