For the Birds Who Own Nothing

The reason they can fly

This beautiful fly was traipsing about on top of my garbage can yesterday morning when I prepared to roll it out onto the street. When I leaned in to take a picture, the fly flipped itself over onto its back. "What is this, some kind of possum fly?" I wondered. It reminded me of soccer camp many, many years ago, when unruly campers would be directed, via a pointing finger, to, "Dead bug!" At that point you had to drop and roll over onto your back with your legs and arms in the air until you were told to stop. It never happened to me, because in those days I was too timid in unfamiliar surroundings to be so unruly. But I've never forgotten. I might have used it myself a time or two back when I coached soccer for little kids. Might be useful for those people who, at readings or presentations, start to say, “This is more of a comment than a question….”

Anyway, after I took this photo I nudged the fly back onto its landing gear and it flew away.

I'm making a conscious effort today to write about things I'm grateful for, that make me happy. Like this morning, I finished reading a wonderful manuscript written by a friend with a new book coming out. It brought me so much pleasure; not just the beauty of his writing, of his heart, but also the honor of being asked to weigh in on it at its earliest, most vulnerable point. I'll be talking about this one a lot more when it hits the wider world. Meanwhile, I have another friend's book next in the queue, one I'm eager to dig into because the PDF version of it is already gorgeous. More on this one in the future too. Finally, I have a big stack of printed pages rubberbanded together in a manila folder that represents one of my absolute favorite writer's next book. It is stuffed in my bag to take with me on a short trip today, also a request to read in advance. It is a joy to have the early opportunity to experience the work of people I admire, and a privilege. I don't take it lightly.

I swiped the following from a piece by Koshin Paley Ellison linked in a daily email I get from Tricycle magazine. You can read the whole piece HERE. He writes:

There is an expression in Zen: itchi-go itchi-e. One Moment, one chance. I’m reminded of itchi-go itchi-e throughout my day, when meeting friends, saying good morning to a stranger, or reading the news. It reminds me to take note of my life, to notice where I am, what I’m doing, and who I am with. Dogen also wrote, “For you must know that just there in this moment of zazen, exactly the right dharma is manifesting itself.” Whatever is happening right now is exactly what we need to be receptive to. What’s arising for you moment-by-moment, in this moment, is exactly our practice.

Does anything more need to be said about it? One moment, one chance. Live it, and squeeze every bit out of it, whether you think of it as dharma or not.

Another bit, from the same piece, taking us back 800-and-some years:

Dogen, the founder of Soto Zen School, studied with many different teachers in Japan, but he still had not found anyone to answer his question: “If we are already perfect and complete, and lacking nothing, why practice?” In search of a new teacher, he made the arduous sea journey from Japan to China. There he met [Chinese Zen master] Rujing, with whom he studied and also received dharma transmission.

On his return to Japan, Dogen began to offer the Buddhist teachings written in Japanese, which was quite radical for the time. Buddhist teachings were more commonly transmitted in Chinese, readable only by the educated elite—but Dogen wanted the teachings to be made available to any literate person who wanted to study them. Eventually, Soto Zen became known as “farmer Zen,” or Zen for the ordinary people.

Ellison is talking about Zen here, but I like it as a metaphor for poetry. I’ve talked about it before, but this quote from David Budbill is worth mentioning again, when he says, “I am a very simpleminded person. I write in a very plain way. I want to write poems that can be understood by just about anybody.” I write in a plain way too, or at least I try to. Somewhere along the line poetry was taken up by the elite, or their children, who absconded to the upper echelons of culture and fanciness. I’m with the rabble who aim to bring it back for the rest of us to enjoy. #bld1

Finally, today, September the 10th, the final word coming from the transcendent Mary Oliver, born on this date in 1935….


Be Like Dogen