This was a fun prose poem to write because it addresses that notion so many of us meditation practitioners have— that we don't meditate very well or we do it wrong!


I wrote it after doing Shikantaza for about nine months and loving it. The most relaxed kind of sitting I'd ever done. In fact, after practicing it for a while, my writing itself changed and loosened. The feeling of not being wrong and having everything be okay started applying to experiments in writing.


Old Zen Shikantaza

They meditate badly so bad you would never believe. They don’t inhale exhale. They don’t concentrate. They don’t sit still. Instead, some pet their cats. They used to meditate with diligence, with inquiry, with taskmaking — like rocketfueling toward black heaven. Sometimes. Their new game is the all okay game. Small sauntering sighs begin with body being. Their minds wander, though, do not empty. It’s them bad meditating, and it’s good. Cats’ paws kneading. The pleasure of paws. And even claws. It’s all allowed in bad meditating.


They don’t do it clean now they do it dirty and how good dirty it can be. Be. The meditation teacher at the center says it’s fine—it’s close to old Zen shikantaza. But they wonder. ‘Cause they don’t sit in caves, don’t read noble truths, don’t sit real long maybe thirty. Nothing to do or see. See. One goal that’s it — it’s nothing.


Hand goes on heart and reminds them more and more, it’s good. Whatever is and whatever isn’t. Even when life hurts. They tell themselves so sorry, so sorry. Look for currents present to float up top like cream. Or listen to the freeway. Like their minds, the freeway likes to have its say. It used to torment with midnight ceaseless, with early constant, with twelve noon roar and roar. They don’t mind now because sometimes it sounds now . . . like nothing much now . . . even with the commuter cars . . . even with the trucks . . . even with motorcycles riding loud as Harleys.


My teacher gave me two restraints for this next poem: I needed to use "The Vigilance" as a title, and it had to be eleven lines. It taught me about making each word count, or as my teacher says: make every word an energetic node. Waste nothing.

The Vigilance


“This is my mother!” I write in ballpoint sketchy blues on her hospital gown, hardly a gown, the thinnest thin to barely guard her breasts’ last warmth. A big new empty wing of Kaiser in the middle of our nights. A wide cheery nurse alone behind the counter station. Ask the question. “No, fear! I’ll be the one to bag her up and bring her down.”


“I know just how you feel,” she says and must have heard my wails. In time her dark soliloquy falls and breaks. “When mine went, there was no one left.” Beat     beat. She remembers something. “Except my husband.” Except her husband! Glad I’d stood and stood—ah ha!—until she was all storied out.


“This is my mother,” I write. Warn the other players


before morgue steel    before burning    ash. Her broken snaggle tooth jabbed that rosy lip since her dawn’s rolling fall     hours I held her dead limbs not cold, till nurse insisted. Empty wing.