New York City, #4

When I’m in New York I visit the Village Zendo and the StillMind Zen zendo to sit zazen and attend services. They are both nice places. The sanghas are open-hearted and warm. It’s always nice to hear the bell ring and sit zazen with others.  Recently Pat Enkyo O’Hara, Roshi at the VZ, conducted a workshop—getting ready for death. There are forms to be filled out, wills to be update, end-of-life options to be considered, decisions to be made and important discussions to be had with loved ones. I didn’t go. New York is different than Texas. But I read her comments online. Enkyo O’Hara said that she’s always surprised how many people have not done this important task. Lee and I have never done this. Well, we’ve done it sort of half ass. I suppose we should. Even mentioning this here, Lee will get us ready to work on the project. She’s like that. I’m not. I’m a last minute kind of guy. Ha!

Anyway, Enkyo said that it’s a custom for dharma practitioners, especially teachers, to write a Death Poem every year. It’s one more way to remind ourselves that death is inevitable, although (strangely) it never seems that way as we go about our everyday chores making plans from one day to the next. Doing the poem is one more way to remind us not to squander our lives. Well, I got on a Death Poem toot. Trying to catch up, I guess. Here are two of them, again from this imaginative diary I've been playing with since coming to New York for the month.

The Roshi said to write a death poem. All the Zen people do it, she said. Every year. Then finally they don’t need to do it anymore. So I told her nobody knows me in New York City. My feet ache, my legs ache. Art gets in the way. Like Leo Stein. He fought with his sister Gertrude. They were saying goodbye. Alice had moved in. Leo wanted Henri’s Five Apples, and Gertrude wanted Henri’s Five Apples too. Leo was moving to Italy to chase a skirt. He called his beloved sort of “an abnormal vampire.” This was 1914. Gertrude was queer.  Leo stole the Apples and wrote to his sister, “I’m afraid you’ll have to look upon the loss of the apples as an act of God.” Like the Garden of Eden all over again. But differently. This is the end of my assignment. It’s my death poem. 2012. I am 70 years old.

Death Poem from NYC Transit
Going downtown on the Broadway #104
We’re all in this together
The canned voice of the bus lady
Says over and over again
Please exit from the rear of the bus.    


Of course, Basho, that old wandering cahoot, did a wonderful death poem, although he didn't know it was his death poem. He fell sick one of his journeys and this is the last poem he wrote--

falling sick on a journey / my dream goes wandering / over a field of dried grass


Anonymous said...

A non-death haiku:

Eighty-eight years old
she goes to view today's
magnolia blossoms

Bruce Kennedy

Sheela Wolford said...

This post just makes me feel so happy. A death poem. Love it. Here is mine:

Sometimes the ticker winces and she stops. Huh? Should I? Need I? Then on she goes. "I will do the rooftop stairs 50 times tonight", she says, and notices the three trees across the park who when she will walk under them, as always will think, "faith, grace, and love."