I'm a Portland, Oregon poet who traveled to Tassajara, a Zen Buddhist monastery for a retreat. These two poems are from a sequence of poems I wrote about the experience...from the newness of being with men and women studying to be Buddhist monks in sunny Carmel Valley to a settled realization that I too had something to offer to a discipline I came knowing so little of. To see many more poems published in online journals, visit triciaknoll.com
Right Order in the Shop at Tassajara
— for Gentoku —
The shop is as I expected it to be.
Wrenches hung by descending size
like my father's basement tool bench.
A dust-free solar powered band saw.
Work requests stacked to the left of the altar
repair a window screen (marked kind-of-urgent)
build a new drawer for kitchen utensils (marked would be nice)
a place on the work order to dedicate the merit to all beings.
We poets came to ask the shop master questions.
How do tools sing? He buckled a saw.
The hum of solar inverters.
He shared respect
for adjustable wrenches, Phillips screw drivers,
the store in San Francisco dedicated to fasteners.
A story of his grandfather’s hammer and a bench.
The odes of a carpenter.
I saw two white stuffed animals, life-size,
on the most inaccessible shelf in the woodlot.
Sheep, I think. Pasture pets.
A quiet hilarity bubbles up.
Do these monks in the silence of mid-winter,
their discipline in the dark of dharma,
do they build nativity scenes?
I point. Those sheep?
He smiles. They are coyotes.
One snarls. A monk bought them
to put in the garden to scare the squirrels.
His breath, a sigh.
It didn't really work out.
This May wind
rattles the latch
of the zendo door.
I bow to the young woman inside the flower garden
as I go through the willow gate. She’s the head gardener,
Felco pruners in a holster on her hip, a straw hat.
I’m a paying guest. She practices
to be a Buddhist monk.
Could I, I ask, frog-throated, show you the way
to prune for more rose blooms? I know roses.
She answers, These don’t produce
many blooms. There is a great call here,
flowers for the dining room, the altars
outside the hot springs, vases in the guest rooms.
I’m an organic farmer. I don’t know roses.
This one thing
my age knows – to feel
for both the hard nodes
in new growth that become blooms
and the mushy give of a blind shoot
never to flower.
I ask for her pruners,
a request I know
to be like asking a samurai
to hand over a sword.
I show her the touch,
then when, where to cut.
Her young bloom face,
her petal hands discover
how to encourage a rose
to find more bloom.
Today’s one act
the red rose.
©2015 Tricia Knoll