On the Grounds of the Zendo
“The face of the Buddha’s so smooth,” she whispered,
running her hands over the garden statue,
“except for these little indentations here and there
where the stone’s been chipped.” That was her way
with almost everything: first look,
then close your eyes, drop to your knees,
and let your hands feel dimensions.
“I also learned from my rinpoche,” she said,
“to close my eyes and let my hearing go out in circles
like ripples on a pond. First, there might be a nearby hermit thrush,
then wind in the junipers, then
a truck on a far highway, an airplane. . .
and then you come back in and there’s a butterfly, perhaps,
your own breathing, your heart beating.”
We were in her mountain garden
high over the Pacific. We were at that last 1/3rd stage of life
the Western World tries to run over with stocks and bonds,
miracle medicines, IRAs,
One Thousand and One Things to do Before You Die.
“If the Buddha ever had a favorite song,” she told us,
“it would be Simon & Garfunkle’s ‘59th Street Bridge Song’:
Slow down, you move too fast.
Gotta make the morning last. . . ,
and his favorite thing to eat would be frozen custard,
vanilla with caramel sauce running down its ridges,
pooling in the cool valleys of its golden cone.
He would have learned that from Wallace Stevens.” As we strolled,
for that’s what we did, strolled (she wouldn’t move faster),
I kept seeing Buddha statues everywhere,
peering out from the ferns and from under the red footbridge,
and looking over the carp pond, and a Thai one
lying on its side, right hand supporting its head,
meditating, I suppose, on clouds and tennis rackets.
America, America, God shed his grace on Thee.
And crown Thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea, our guide
suddenly blurted. Just after that,
a UPS truck came up the long steep driveway,
honking its horn. “Oh, it’s just John,” she said,
“with something or other. Rice. A letter from China.
Books from Amazon.com. You can never tell.”
All through the rest of that day, quiet
hung around me like the smoothest
stone you’ve ever touched, the wisest word you’ve yet said,
light, maybe. Maybe dark. Or it could be waves
as those far below us, rolling in on this bright morning
like thoughts, or great foamy eyebrows,
or consciousness broken free from all its depths,
how she knelt down, how I swear
she kissed the Buddha’s lips and he responded.