Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Poems From the Day I Was Sick at Tassajara

And now for something completely different. Apparently last year my daughter visited the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center south of Carmel, California. Apparently while she was there she was under the weather. Like all great artists, she took this opportunity spin some golden poems from the straw of illness. I give you now one of those poems.

I particularly liked the bit that goes "the last thing that she wants to do/Is vomit in the yurt."

After that teaser, and without further ado, from Poems From the Day I Was Sick at Tassajara I give you "Did Buddha use toilet paper?"

Did Buddha use toilet paper?
by Elaine Albertson
A starry night folds into dawn,
The birds and crickets coo,
But in the Zendo one is gone.
A monk has got the flu.
"Alas," she sighs, "I can not move."
Her shaved head starts to quiver.
She thinks, "I might faint if I do."
Her stomach gives a shiver.
She rolls up on her belly
And attempts to sit upright.
As she pulls her legs to lotus
Her intestines twitch in fright.
She looks around in panic
At the freshly washed wood floors.
It makes her clenched and manic
To think of vomiting indoors.
So she flashes up to standing
And her bare feet quickly tread
Across the room and towards the landing
Pausing by her bed.
"I don't think I can make it,"
She despairs, "My tummy hurts,"
But the last thing that she wants to do
Is vomit in the yurt.
She grasps the wood support that lines
The hut's circular wall.
Her conscience starts to cry inside,
"This isn't zen at all!"
Yet like a hungry fire
Stomach pain makes her knees buckle.
It burns her from the inside
And makes white paste of her knuckles.
It's a fast and sudden moment
As her true nature is found.
Moaning she pulls back her robes
And vomits on the ground.
She stares in blurry wonder
At the artwork that she's made;
Last night's dinner torn asunder.
Her throat feels raw and scathed.
A puddle lies below her,
Half-digested rice and beans.
Disgust would be expected but
She somehow feels quite clean.
She tiptoes carefully around
The new acidic lake
And leaves the front way, bathroom-bound.
She's finally awake.
She waddles to the outhouse,
Splashes water on her face,
Scrubs some vomit from her chin
And thinks about the space
Did Buddha use an outhouse?
Did he vomit, weak and leaning?
Did he give every gross excretion
Equal weight and meaning?
In nausea and pain can one
Realize one's Buddha nature?
When our Buddha relieved himself
Did he use toilet paper?
The monk fumbles these questions
As she stares into the mirror
But in sight of her reflection
Her muddled thoughts are clearer.
A human must be human
Woman, man, or in-between
And it would not be right then
To pretend that we are clean.
The monk looks at the toilet,
At the waste can filled with pads,
Tampons, and contraceptives.
She smiles. She is glad.
She groks the fragile moment
Casting off all separation.
No right nor wrong nor clean nor gross.
She rejects all gradations.
Not posh, not intellectual,
Not simple, not refined,
She leans forward, palms on the sink,
And melts into her mind.
She crumbles through linguistic bounds,
In that outhouse, and then
She lives the moment she has found:
A smelly, nauseus zen.

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