“What the Buddha Teaches,” “Marking Time” and “Researching a New Text”

Issue 30 by Rick Christman

What the Buddha Teaches

The Buddha teaches

Cessation of desires as

The key to Nirvana.

Life is like a wheel

Spinning on many levels,

Toward Nirvana,

Or like an old, but

Fast moving merry-go-round.

Spinning, spinning.

Every time we die,

Without eliminating our desires,

We are thrown back

On the merry-go-round,

Confused, empty,

As if made of straw,

To try our best again,

Without knowing

That we've ever been off

In the first place.

The Buddha teaches that

This is Eternal.

We do our best to

Reach the higher plane.

But many of us

Never reach Nirvana,

Like deaf, sightless

Wanderers,

Destined to circle

Around, die, circle around,

Die, circle around, die,

Forever,

As the organ music

Plays on

Until the end of time.

Marking Time

Every morning,

Just after sunrise,

I sit on my porch and

Watch an old man

Limp by on the street.

He must be ninety.

A white plastic bag

Dangles around his neck

On a chain,

like a burden.

The old man picks up

Small pieces of litter

And places them inside his bag

As if for safe keeping.

Bent over nearly to his waist,

He keeps his head down,

Steadying himself

With a black cane.

As I watch him,

I think of Shakespeare's

"Seven Ages of Man."

The old man wears

A green shirt and gray trousers,

Like a convenience store worker.

Butterflies and small birds

Circle and land ahead of him.

As if leading him on his journey.

As he bends over

And picks up another scrap,

He must smell water and pluff mud

from the salt river

Over the rise to the east,

And the sweet magnolias

That line our front yards

Like white angel trees.

Silence reigns.

At that time of the morning.

The old man shuffles,

Stops and fills his bag,

Picking each scrap

As if it were his mission.

His hair is thick and white

Like cotton batting.

Steady, Relentless,

The old man's face

Remains down, unseen.

And I hear no morning greeting.

He turns and makes his way back

On the other side,

Picks litter as he goes

By my house again,

Then disappears into the distance.

Tomorrow he will return

And every day after,

Like a living clock

Marking time.

His movement.

This is his work

Created in his old age,

His essence.

One day

He will disappear.

Everything passes on.

Researching a New Text

As I grow older,

I search my dreams

And my imagination,

Like a scholar researching

A newly discovered text,

For what is left

Of my future.

Dreams and imaginings

Blend in my mind,

Like daylight

Becoming night.

I imagine myself

Walking Monet's garden at d'Argenteuil,

Walking his life,

One painting after another

Imprinting on my mind.

Le Pont d'Argenteuil's

Greens and yellows,

And boats of gold and white,

Pointing,

Shadowed blue water

Moving from left to right

Without hurry toward the bridge,

Toward the end of the painting,

Toward greatness.

I dream that I am married

And that my East Asian

wife and I

Have several children

Of all ages and genders,

Though I have never

Been married and

Never fathered a child.

We all live in

a three story house

In San Francisco

on Telegraph Hill

That resembles a boat.

The children are foreign to me.

They look like their mother,

Pale, yellow-brown skin,

Black hair and piercing dark eyes.

But they are mine.

The dream tells me that

And my heart breaks

At the thought of losing

One of them.

I imagine myself

In Dickens old house

On Doughty Street,

In Bloomsbury,

Handling pieces of his life,

A vase with flowers,

A ceramic teapot

Rimmed by children,

Hand in hand

In Christmas clothes,

A piece of delicate dining silver

That may have once

Touched his mouth.

Then I go on to Westminster,

The gray stones of his grave

Removed, moved aside,

Like fake blocks of concrete

Without weight,

Red roses rising out of his tomb,

Piled into mountains

Inside the great cathedral

And out onto the street.

I dream that I am still

A young man,

Strong and confident,

Heading off into the chaos of life,

My hand waving for recognition,

Like a football player

In the open for a long forward pass,

Speaking loud enough

To be heard above

The present crowd,

I move ahead

Like a gazelle,

As fast as I can.

Without thinking,

Without worrying what

Others may think or do.

But my pace slows,

Until I am finished

And barely moving

On the periphery,

Flat like cardboard,

Without substance,

Of no more consequence

To others or

To myself.

About the Author

Rick Christman

Rick Christman is the author of Falling in Love at the End of the World (New Rivers Press) and Searching for Mozart (Brighthorse Books).