The American Zen Master
Zen also is to be found, he tried to instruct us,
in a car dealer’s showroom, and in shoelaces…. Also, in America,
you don’t sit at the feet of the Zen Master
but you have coffee with him, preferably at Starbucks,
next to one of those outsized suburban malls where everyone looks half dressed,
half dazed and half dead. “The secret of Zen,” the Master said,
“may come halfway through a Yankee Candle store
when you realize you can smell nothing,
or from reading Hallmark Cards backwards,
or choosing nothing from an overstuffed refrigerator. But it isn’t a secret.”
As for our questions,
instead of smiting us around the shoulders with a bamboo cane,
he’d hand us little writing-intensive packets of Equal and Sweet ’N Low,
then lean back, smiling like a sushi plate. Sometimes, he’d babble:
“Tums, drive-up windows, ATM machines.
Checkout line scanners, 1000 Megahertz,
the industrial landscapes so remarkable.” Often
we’d catch him staring at the intricate face
of a digital wristwatch, or contemplating
a simple button-down shirt on a white shelf in a Wal-Mart.
All things. “Throw your computers into the eyes of children,”
he loved to tell us. “Work for the Federal administration,
if that’s what you must.
Wear last year’s fashions, re-endure the 80s.
Take the last train to Clarksville.
If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill her.” We’d come to Zen
because everything else seemed about the mystery, not of it,
and all we could think about for days was money,
Internet cable, huge pasta dishes. Our pain is real, we said.
The only words we have to describe our lives
are “Please wake us!” Our Zen Master
was patient. Our Zen Master assigned us these exercises: “Tie your shoes.
Open doors. Close them. Gaze
into the heart of a microwave. Fold a piece of paper eight times into halves.
Present yourself with the present.” Still, we puzzled.
Riding Chevrolets into the dark, we’d turn around to find
only a series of accidents strewn behind us,
our dead mothers, our dead fathers, our dead friends.
And when he’d say “Focus on what’s in store windows,” we could see the Obvious
and where the Obvious came from, and beyond the Obvious,
but the Obvious eluded us. I thought it was William James,
our love of Marilyn Monroe. He said it was the Suburu of Wiltshire Boulevard
and to give it more time. He didn’t care. We shouldn’t care.
No one should care. One evening,
he mentioned the greatest work is not to work at all.
So difficult. So difficult to do nothing
but gaze at the Momentum. The small boats upon the Momentum. We didn’t get it.
We’d spread our wings and all they’d brushed was air.
He laughed at our earnestness. Finally,
when a man in a business suit, after only one interview,
grasped “the koan of the singing microphone without a voice behind it,”
smote his forehead and burst into spacious skies,
we became jealous. “Here’s your own koan,” the Master whispered.
“Don’t expect anything of it but itself:
‘Why is the Statue of Liberty invisible as the scent of cherry blossoms?’”
then smiled his enlightened smile, and bowed off into Satori
or was that the Food Court, at the end of a path of blue tiles.