Zen & the Arts - Field Notes

Suppose it is February and there are writers writing at picnic tables in the park. Suppose writing leads us to this park.

Suppose the rhythm of the afternoon sky courses through you, igniting relief and terror. Suppose you are hungry and light-headed while hoping to retrieve the faintest mark.

Suppose a writer has planted a score inside her mouth. Suppose the wind morphs that score into something fizzy and warm. Suppose everyone puts pens down at the same time. Suppose each utterance is fatal.

Suppose the wind upends food in boxes sitting on tables. Suppose the grooves inside picnic tables become embedded with crumbs. Suppose you study everyone’s furrowed brow.

Suppose the writers are all writing about descent. Perhaps to bring Rene Char’s “ship closer to its longing,” you pin your sunken hearts to the ship’s mast in unison. Suppose the collective ache is relieving.

Suppose everyone lifted their palms from the page and pages inside their notebooks shuddered. Perhaps the times you’ve shuddered before, you felt an ancestor push through violently. Perhaps you tried to smooth it out and became very tired.

Suppose you can’t fix anything at all.

Suppose a bedazzled ax appears. Suppose the ax is offered to you first, since you’ve become impatient and you’ve been given permission to get to the light any way you can.

Suppose you strike down as if you have really strong arms.

Suppose you deliciously strike a piñata, block of ice or vial of liquid. Suppose diffuse light. Suppose you stopped going over your old movies. Suppose everyone leaves their spot and takes turns with the ax.

Suppose too much strength is not a good thing.

Suppose that even when autumn is long gone glamorous winds appear like time-release golden capsules. Suppose the barren trees have long oozed your secrets. Suppose your favorite body of water is a shade of bruisy blue.

Suppose all poems are evacuation routes. Suppose the most jubilant landings are the most dangerous ones. Suppose the park has become littered with foreign liquids, depleted wind-up toys and ticket stubs. Suppose the poem has an obligation to graph each scent wafting through.

Suppose teenagers strut through park in the dark. And that dancer you remember who wore a dress made of milk jugs. Suppose your phrases get caught in the jugs.

Suppose the park’s activation points are invisible and you’ve limited yourself by staying in one place. Suppose you give up and become giddy from reciting infinitives. Suppose you look up to find everyone’s eyes glowing in the dark.

Suppose brief-lived fevers are tossed back and forth. Suppose heads bow down and collapse into the spines of notebooks. Perhaps deceit is cooled inside this heat. Suppose your fever writes you back.

Suppose someone held your head, and their hand became a rhapsody. Suppose the dark is now the color of eggplant. Suppose eyes inside eggplant. Suppose the day’s pages shuffle before you like a child’s flipbook.


– Originally appeared in the Seattle Review of Books, February 2, 2016


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Field Notes

“There is the dependent condition called bodhi, the dependent condition of nirvana, the dependent condition of emancipation, the dependent condition of the three fold body, the dependent condition of environment and wisdom, the dependent condition of bodhisattva, the dependent condition of Buddha. You live in a land of changing dependent conditions – what is it you are looking for?”

– From The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-Chi, translated by Burton Watson

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