Tag Archives: fatherhood

spring fragment

the afternoon sun is strong
even though apple blossoms are weeks away
and only slightest hints of early-green
appear on the knoll horizon

smoke drifts from the pile of collected brush
as my father points out streaks of grey
in the stubble on my cheek

i always wonder if there is more to come

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I Don’t Want My Dukkha Here

This story might be easier to write, might be simpler to read and digest, had I been writing all along about our experience living for a year in France. Had I written about the early stages of discovery, about the long settling into a different sort of Zen life (as I referred to it in my mind), then giving words to my current state might come more naturally.

But these last few days—with only weeks left before we leave what has become our home—have been filled with a question.

When does discovery become death?

We went for a hike as a family today, up a steep trail in the forest behind the town of Yzeron. The shade of the trees was welcome on this humid day. The kids gathered sticks to walk with, and Jessica and I pointed out flowers along the path. We came through clearings that held a sense of energy and mystery, and into a field of wheat that sloped down into the farthest distance, our home somewhere in between where we stood and the impossibly far-off horizon.

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I yearned for a feeling of wonder and newness, and it seemed to be just within reach—yet was somehow wrapped in discontent. Instead of the sense of discovery I expected, there was the death of a sense of ease, an intruding sadness of a bitter goodbye.

Is this another experience of the home-leaving practice of Zen?

If it is, I don’t care for it.

It’s quite different than leaving for retreat. But then, of course, I always had the sense I would be coming back. In what way was I truly leaving? Was I—in the Zen sense—having my cake and eating, too?

When we first arrived in France, everything was new. The town, our home, the language, the kids’ school, the bus routes into the city. The light, the birdsong, the scents in the air. Each morning’s run was a new discovery, each visit to the marché, each conversation was an exploration. Each season was a chance to wonder what it would bring in this new home of ours.

After a time, of course, things became familiar—but the sense of discovery persisted in the act of settling. We were becoming part of a new fabric, and a simpler (if not always simple, being so far from what was familiar) life than what we had left aided the sense of discovery even after novelty receded from the surface. For most of eleven months, this carried me and contended me.

And then, recently, almost suddenly, it has changed. Things don’t feel as they should. Encountering a new place or a new word or tradition or story feels not like discovery, but like loss, becoming sadness at what we must soon leave behind. The same experience, instead of being embodied with a sense of discovery, feels somehow diminished. Somehow thinner.

Why should a sense of losing something diminish my ability to revel in its discovery?

I can hear the words of my teachers, those alive and from centuries of lineage. There are no shoulds, especially in how we feel. And this sense of loss, this discomforting, is no surprise. This is the life of a human being and the suffering that comes with change. This is dukkha. I try to let it come. I can’t change it, after all.

But still. I don’t want my dukkha here.

After our walk, we came home and planted flowers in the small raised beds, the ones up against the stone wall with terra-cotta shingles. We pulled weeds from the ground around the beds and smoothed the gravel.

ten

it was a purple one that first caught his eye
as we walked through the field—
perhaps some sort of clover,
but i don’t know the name in french.
papa, he showed me,
adding the smallest white daisies
and a few others i don’t recognize—
a tall thin grass, and
even dandelions, too.

they might not last the car ride home,
but they’ve once been collected,
spilling gently over the edge
of the vase he made of his hand.

My first post here in more than eighteen months. I think the moments have still been with me. Perhaps I’ve been better at not becoming attached—or perhaps I’ve been neglecting to pay attention.

I Peel an Orange

Our home is a pale shade of blue,
one you might find looking west in the spring
minutes after sunrise,
or in a robin’s egg whose green tints
have been replaced by gentle grays.

It was once a deep red,
more readily apparent in recent years
from the street-facing, sun-bleached southern side,
where spots of peeling and chipping have grown
past neighborly size,

reflecting the same inertia
that has kept me from replacing
the almost imperceptibly dripping basement pipe.

I peel an orange –
the fruit itself is disappointing and dry;

my son pushes the lawnmower
back and forth across the lawn,
glancing to me each time he makes a turn.

It’s the first time I’ve stood back so far.

Touching the Heart Mind

I finished work early today,
walked out of the office
I built in my barn
into a cool afternoon.

I took the clippers from the
upstairs linen closet and
cut my hair with the shortest blade.

There were still a few errands to run
before I came to sit here in our kitchen,
distracted by house sounds and
typing out a home-leaving poem
for sesshin,

where I’ll sit with the sangha,
alone together
under autumn skies.

Untitled

birthdays, too,
hold misunderstood questions
alongside bright smile greetings.

at the end of the day,
I stayed late at the Temple
to water Roshi’s flowers.

oceans of bright clouds,
oceans of solemn clouds.

The final couplet comes from the words of Dogen in our school’s translation of the Ninth Precept.

Lazy Ovals

I’ve scolded my son for riding
the old green bike
(the one with training wheels that used to be his)
when he runs to get it before his little brother can,
riding it gleefully away from him.

Today, though, his brother wasn’t home;
so he pedaled slowly
around the driveway, pulled gently
at the duct-taped edge of the handle
as he rode.
I heard him talking softly to himself and
humming as he made lazy ovals
in the bright sunshine.

He kept going
until his sister called to him from the porch,
asked him what he was doing.

I heard the first words of the story
he began to make up,
then turned away so I wouldn’t
hear the end.