Saturday, December 3, 2016

Kratae shoots

Surat Thani


IN AN ON-ONE (self-portrait, unfinished for now)

Sophiadome aflame,

halfunplundered yet.

The Moon is trapped in our crimson net

(like a Frisbee in a cage)

(aluminum pan in macrame)

dark iris riveted to bloodshot eye.

No. Wait.

This is altogether too depressing a prospect. Let the picture compose elsehow:

Bloated fingers like floodwaters upon the plain.

Unberibboned wrists, not tigered yet by failure.

Arms loose and empty, tethered to boney shoulders

and a lonely bed.

Nope. No improvement from that angle either.

Silver is the ego-greed that turns glass into a looking glass; and mercury, that poison, makes us mistake temperament for actual temperature; while the iron lasts us through the large littleness of our long lives.

Such is the brittle wisdom, these are the elements of our same old sad story:

                       “The Naked One in the Vacant Lot”

Friday, December 2, 2016

Jack Scott writes

Satan Was a Methodist

Satan was a Methodist 

when I was child six days a week 
and Jesus’ on Sundays.

Sermons were the hell 

with which Frank Herson 
blistered heaven Irish black 
and scalded faint believers, 
here for their weekly dose of hellfire 
and deliverance, 
cooking god his Sunday dinner 
on this stained glass stove, 
to be shared among the sinners. 
In the furnace that the preacher stoked 
the devil would be well at home. 
He saved us from the fire below 
by firing up the earth so hot 
the heat of it scorched heaven. 
Where there’s eternal light 
there must be eternal heat.

Sweating sinners close as armpits 

straight and hard as galley oarsmen 
set to row to heaven 
come collection and Amen. 
Onward Christian Sailors
To the right and to the left 

silent sinners coughing softly 
sniffling in their Sunday hankies, 
taking hell like wafers  
and sweating blood.

Heavy hymnals tabled on their knees,
crackling starch and singing louder 

as if god were deaf as well as mute, 
standing up at halftime, 
squeezing voices into song, 
taking on the endless verses 
printed where the music ends 
trading volume for relief. 
Singing like they’re pressing bladders 
hoping heaven has a pot.

Ready for salvation 

in the vacuum when the organ stops, 
they settle into humble prayer 
meekly suffering benediction, 
biting off a cough 
and moaning love on cue.

I was scared they’d take me with them 

where I didn’t really want to go, 
but he made me worry Sundays. 
Did I really want to stay behind 
and wait for Satan 
to come and pull me under? 
I wondered if I didn’t go to hell 
would He come and get me
for playing with my meat 
by beating on my soul? 
Is it as bad to spend a lifetime fearing hell 
as suffering in the wrong heaven?

 Michelangelo's famous Damned Man.

I was yet too young to ponder 
Satan, Metaphor.

Minos, judge of the Underworld by Michelangelo
 The Last Judgment [details] -- Michaelangelo

Stephen Evans writes


Part I

“Hello, Ben.”

Father Boon looked up from the earth he was hoeing, shocked by the now strange form of address, the once-familiar voice. He smiled automatically, as one does upon encountering an old friend, feeling simultaneously a surge of anger. A virtuoso of the mind, he at once recognized the anger, and, recognizing it, dissolved it. Almost instantaneously he had composed himself in the attitude of equanimity.

“Hello, Jane.” He said easily, calmly. “What a surprise. How are you?” It was odd, even a bit disturbing, how easily the English fell from his lips.

“You weren’t easy to find.” She brushed a leaf from her arm. Her hands were slender, almost bony, the flesh stretched too thin over long fingers, perpetually tensed for action. Jane had been one of his students in the States. Unmarried and childless she was an attractive, well-formed woman of fifty or so. Her cropped pale-blond hair framed an intense face, thin lips perpetually pursed, a permanent line between her brows, wide, piercing blue eyes. She was deliberate and earnest in everything. Earnest in her meditation. Deliberate in her career. Deliberate in her natural beauty, her refusal to wear makeup, her simplicity. She stood before Father Boon now, deliberately herself in expensive hiking boots, pressed blue jeans and khaki blouse hanging loose, yet revealing the curves of her body. “You have no idea how many monasteries I’ve been to. I’d almost think that you were hiding out.”

But of course he was. Why else had he moved, world to world, back to his native Thailand after so many years in America? Why else had he taken residence in this forest monastery in his home province, deep in the Northeast? Without Internet. Without even phone service. A tiny garden, a tiny hut on stilts, lost among tangles of vines as thick as arms, in the still, leafy twilight among the trees.
“Something is wrong,” he had said to the meditation group gathered at the monastery for Thursday evening meditation, seated in a semi-circle before Father Boon, a giant golden Buddha looming over them, glowing in the failing light. “Just not right.” It was already mid-winter and snow was sifting down outside the windows. He shivered slightly in the chill.

“What is it?” One of the men had asked.

Why had he said anything? he thought in agony. He suddenly had no idea why he was here, here in America, wearing monk’s robes, who these people were, sitting before him, looking up to him expecting everything from him. Thirty plus years, and suddenly he had no idea. They would be thinking that he wanted to adjust the meditation schedule. Or that there was some trouble in the monastery. Something objective. A vague unease had come over him (How long ago? Months? Years?) and grown into a heaviness that finally oppressed him with a perpetual feeling of disgust, like nausea, like decomposition.

“What is it Ben? Are you ill?” Jane had asked.

“Oh, no. Nothing like that.” He said, but flatly. Not ill in body, which was what she meant, but ill in himself, what a Christian would call soul-sickness: he himself was not right. But how could he say that to these faithful few who admired him, emulated him, followed him? His every word had always been geared to the culture of the mind, straining always to discover what a student needed to hear at any moment. He had earned some small fame as a meditation master, and it was whispered, though he was pleased to deny it, that he was fully enlightened. Some of the ten or so meditators sitting before him had been with him for years. Jane had moved halfway across the country to have his guidance always at hand. And the rest, more newly come to the Path, hungry for instruction and guidance—he could not disappoint them. He could not allow his private unease to interfere with their meditation practice, to endanger their faith.

“I’m tired,” he said at last. And he was tired. Perhaps that’s all it was, exhaustion after a lifetime of teaching in a language not his own, and of guiding these brash, opinionated Americans along a Path that they persisted, insistently, in misunderstanding, reduced finally to teaching bare meditation techniques with the faint hope that they would thus come to understand for themselves and in spite of themselves. He was tired; but the word felt like a lie on his tongue and the sense of oppression enveloped him, so that he felt insulated, separated by a palpably thick distance from these sudden strangers gathered about him and hanging on his every word.

“I’m tired,” he repeated nevertheless. “I think it’s time for me to go home.”

Maybe it’s just the season, he mused after they had gone; he had never grown accustomed to the winter, the unnatural cold, the beautifully sinister snow, now blowing thick outside the window. But the idea grew over the following weeks. They begged him not to go. They felt abandoned. Betrayed. But the more they begged him to stay the more he needed to go, until he felt it as a kind of panic. “I’m old,” he said in the early spring sitting in the Buddha Hall on another Thursday evening, surrounded by his closest followers. “Even the Buddha, when he was old, left the cities for a backwards, backwoods town and died there. You don’t need me anymore.” He smiled. “You are all well advanced in meditation and in understanding. Every one of you is capable of teaching others. Carry on!” He didn’t like comparing himself to the Buddha like that, but it placated them. In a week he was on a plane back to Thailand.  The disgust, the nausea, remained in America.
Now, here he was, a year later, hoeing his garden. Doing so violated at least two of the ancient rules: digging in the earth and cutting plants. Some rules, however, are taken more seriously than others, and, he had realized with something of a shock, he simply didn’t care. The other monks, intimidated by his international stature, left him to his devices.

He had worried that life in a rural monastery would become monotonous, but he found it comforting. Chanting at sunrise and sunset. Sweeping his hut and feeding the birds. Working in his little garden. Early-morning, the women walked up from the village bringing the daily meal, which was duly offered, Father Boon and the other monks chanting the power of the offering, the boon, the goodness, back to the women. He socialized little with the other monks, but occupied his hours pouring over Plato, the Sutras, the Upanishads, Heidegger. For too many years, others had looked to him for answers. But he too had questions, and he plunged into the origins of thought; What had become of the world? What had become of himself? Someday he would write an open letter to his former students giving at least partial answers to the questions he had too easily answered before. In short, he was happy. He scarcely thought at all about America, and after only a year, his circle of followers were no more immediate to him than characters from children’s stories heard decades before.

And now, absurdly, Jane, dear earnest Jane, stood before him, a stray scrap of middle-class America displaced in the midst of the Southeast Asian jungle.

The year of freedom collapsed. The feelings of vague disgust that had driven him from the West flooded in upon him again. But his years of meditation served him well. Automatically, mechanically, he recognized those feelings as they arose, and in recognizing them neutralized them, becoming perfectly equanimous in her presence.

Jane had been one of his best students, certainly his most loyal. She had spent some years experimenting, as she called it, with Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, but was finally drawn to the straightforward simplicity of the Theravada as Father Boon taught it. She had been with him for 15 years, meditating, teaching, organizing retreats.

“I have not yet arrived,” she said. “I require your wisdom. I demand transmission.”

Father Boon looked down at the lumpy, not very fertile soil and resumed hoeing, working vegetable matter and chicken droppings into the hard red earth. That’s what he wanted to do, and for Jane to vanish. But she did not, and under her eyes even the simple activity of hoeing became performance: a display of indifference or distain, a Zen-like word, an image of Enlightenment.

“It’s time for the meal,” he knocked the dirt off the hoe and leaned it against his hut. “Why don’t you wait in the Hall?” he pointed up the path through the woods. The monastery stood on several acres of the old jungle that used to carpet all of Southeast Asia. It was thick with trees and a chaos of vines, teaming with ancient spirits and the ghosts of the men and women who had been cremated there. Chickens ran wild in the brush along with various rodents. As recently as Father Boon’s childhood, there had been man-eating tigers, but as the great forest was cleared for farmland, retreating behind the walls of the monasteries, the tigers disappeared. There was a snake, or snakes, here large enough to swallow a chicken, or, some said, even a child, in one gulp. Behind Father Boon’s hut there was a small clearing with enough sunlight to barely nourish his rows of basil, cabbage and tomatoes. The trees and vines closed thickly about, allowing him to feel gratefully lost in the great forest.

Father Boon waited for his irritation to dissolve before mounting the steps to his hut, a room on stilts three or four feet off the ground, just big enough for a man to lie down in. It was nothing more than planks nailed to a frame, with a corrugated iron roof and a small window in each wall. High up on one wall was a shelf with a Buddha image amidst spent incense and candles and with a small vase holding a fresh spray of wildflowers. The musty odor of burned-out incense permeated the room.  Several books lay open on the straw sleeping mat, Plato’s Timaeas, a Greek grammar, notebooks filled with Father Boon’s own scrawls. That morning, the books had been alive with challenges, teasing him with elusive meanings. Hoeing the garden, he had struggled with the Demiurge: what exactly did Plato have in mind? He had been eager to continue the wonderful game of ideas and words but now the books lay inanimate on the mat, like a lover who has turned away without moving or ceasing to look at you. I’ve lost my place, he thought.

The Buddha Hall was about 20 meters long, an unpainted wooden structure on stilts high enough to accommodate a cooking area underneath. Every day, the women from the nearby village brought food for the monks. Usually they brought it already prepared, but sometimes they cooked it there, and you could see them through the spaces between the floorboards. A low dais ran along one side of the Hall. A large Buddha, painted gold and surrounded by smaller Buddha-images sat at one end. The walls reached only halfway to the eves and sunlight and breezes drifted easily in and out.

Ten or fifteen women from the village were sitting about on the floor as Father Boon entered, gossiping and arranging steaming bowls on trays. Several folded their hands in the prayerful gesture as he passed and he smiled in return. Jane was sitting against the wall, looking confused, but also proud. She stood, smiled broadly and waved as he entered. He groaned inwardly as he joined the other monks on the dais and bowed three times to the Buddha. The Thais would not approve of Jane’s familiarity. Jane would not approve of the ritual. Even more, she would not approve of the monks sitting higher than the laity, which, since all the laity were women meant: the men sitting higher than the women. “One of my old students,” he remarked to the abbot in explanation.

“Yes, I know.” Was there a snigger in his voice?

A young woman, bending low so as not to be physically higher than the monks, approached him. “Hello, Nok!” he said. “How is your mother?” Chatting with the appropriate kind of familiarity in his own language he nearly forgot Jane.

“I dreamed about Grandfather,” she said. “I want to make boon for him.”

He smiled as he sat up straight and pulled one leg back in the chanting posture. He adjusted his robe slightly. She held her gifts reverently before her face for a few moments, muttering words of affection, then placed them before him: candles, incense, a spray of flowers, an envelope with a small amount of money (another rule violated). Then she placed a bowl of coconut milk and bananas before him. That must have been her grandfather’s favorite sweet. Father Boon smiled gently as he touched the gifts in acceptance, then folded his hands in the prayerful gesture and recited the incantation sending the boon, the goodness, along with the sweet bananas, to the ghost of her grandfather. He loved these little rites, these gifts to the dead, the incantations calling upon the deities and protecting against malevolent spirits, the chants that, whether you understood the words or not, traced the endless rhythms of life. Jane glared, disapproving, from across the room.

The meal was offered, the village women bowing as they placed the bowls before the monks. They sat about gossiping as the monks ate. A group gathered around Jane, chatting gaily as they stroked Jane’s bare arms. She looked terrified. Father Boon chuckled to himself.

“They are so wonderful,” Jane gushed, when everyone else had gone. Father Boon was sitting casually, legs dangling over the edge of the dais, Jane sitting cross-legged on the floor. “If only we could communicate!”

“They were fascinated by the whiteness of your skin,” he said with an ironic grin.


“They’re jealous.”


“They want white skin like yours.”

“But isn’t that...?” Jane began. “But they’re so lovely just as they are!”

Father Boon laughed.

Stephen Evans writes


Part II

He hoped that the strangeness would frighten her away. But she came every day with the women and by the third day had traded her jeans for a brightly-colored sarong that made her seem large and awkward among the slight women for whom it was designed. In spite of the language barrier, she had managed to hire a room and meals in the village.

She continued to wave and call out, “Good morning, Ben,” when he came into the hall, militantly, it seemed to him, refusing to bow either to the monks or to the Buddha image. She was one of those “rational” Western Buddhists who thought Buddhism was all about self-fulfillment and the rejection of superstition. For several days she did not approach him, but remained sitting in meditation in the Buddha Hall after everyone else had left. Finally, he called her to him, sitting formally on the dais and motioning her to sit below. She came, moving with an air of self-confidence and knowingness that he found irritating.

 “I’ve followed you and your instructions for fifteen years now,” she said at once. “I’ve followed you here. I am prepared. I am ripe for the Word.”

Father Boon hesitated. “The word?”

“The True Word. The Enlightenment Word. I am ready. Give it to me.”

Father Boon squinted. “There is no True Word,” he said, “That’s just Tibetan superstition. You know that. I thought you gave all that up long ago.”

“I know that it is a secret and that is how you keep it. But is it not time for transmission?”

“This isn’t Zen. No one can transmit enlightenment to another. Go and meditate,” he said, repeating words that he had repeated countless times before. “Just sit and observe the rising and falling of existence. Any secrets that there are will reveal themselves to you.” He hated himself for falling back into the role of a teacher and for repeating these old formulas. He felt trapped, but he was not constituted such as to simply order her away.

“That’s not enough anymore,” she retorted. “I’m not a beginner. I demand the full teaching.”

“But dear Jane, I’ve taught you everything I know. There’s nothing more I can say. Nothing.”

She meditated for a moment, then said, “Thank you,” and rose. “Thank you.” Father Boon left her sitting in meditation in the middle of the Hall.

She was impossible to avoid. If he worked in the garden she would appear, demanding the True Word. If he was reading in the meager library she would appear. She was almost always present for the morning meal in the Buddha Hall, after which she would importune him for transmission. In self-defense, he agreed to a daily instruction session.

Every afternoon after a short nap he went to the Buddha Hall, bowed to the Buddha and sat on the dais. Often the smell of incense lingered from morning devotions. He had always found it pleasant to go through the motions of devotion and to sit quietly in the presence of the Buddha. Now, however, he was anxious. What could he say to this woman? Easy as it was to give meditation instructions, appropriately tuned for whatever she was feeling on any given day, he did not want to. He felt compelled. Compelled to come to the Hall, compelled to say something profound, compelled to perform. And however much he dissolved these feelings by observing them and letting them go, the compulsion remained. Gradually he recognized in the sense of compulsion part of the unease he had felt in America.

“What is the secret of Enlightenment?”

“How do birds fly?”


“The birds know nothing of aerodynamics. Yet they fly.”

He felt inspired when he came up with this kind of thing, and she seemed inspired as well. But he hated himself for it.

Jane grew visibly more strained, almost frantic at times. “It’s all so charming!” she would say one day. “The little village. The green, so much green. The frogs singing all night.” The next day she might blurt out: “Raw meat! They eat raw meat. Even the children! It’’s, unhealthy. Its wrong! And frogs! And bugs! They eat bugs!” She complained about the old women and their betel nut. “The disgusting stuff dribbles down their chins. And they come up and shout in my face, spewing that awful stuff, and grinning like idiots with their red-stained mouths and rotten teeth!” On any given day she might speak enthusiastically about the people, “So friendly! So open! So respectful!” or burst out in frustration, “Everybody talks at me. Making noises at me and expecting an answer but its just noise! And the slavish bowing and scraping. To each other. To the Buddha statue. To you!” Father Boon tried to explain and told her to meditate on the confusion and frustration, hoping inwardly that the disorientation would drive her away. But she hung on, becoming more and more insistent in demanding transmission of the True Word.

Realization grew gradually. The more she dragged answers out of him, the more he detested his answers. The greater her faith in him, the more he sank into self-doubt. He was not, after all, enlightened. Neither had he pretended to be, but only to be far enough along the Path to lead others to their common goal. But what if that way were wrong? It occurred to him now for the first time, that for all these years he may have been going down the wrong path. But in that case, he had wasted not only his own life, but the lives of others as well, unrecoverable years committed to him, following him—to nowhere. That was too much to entertain. Easier to imagine that the Buddha had been a delusional lunatic or a charlatan, like Jesus. Thoughts and feelings arose; he observed them and they dissolved. Nevertheless, realization grew till he longed to tell one simple truth: “I don’t know.” In that, he knew, would be release. Yet he continued to give her more nonsense, day after day, feeling more and more miserable, waiting for the day that she would pack up and go home.

He dreaded her coming. Often he would hide in his hut at the appointed hour thinking: I’ll never come out. I’ll slit my wrists. I’ll starve myself to death. Usually he dragged himself to the Buddha Hall, arriving late and despondent, half determined to tell her the truth. He could not carry it. “There is no secret,” he might begin, but he always ended with something like an exhortation to find it for herself. Once he went so far as to venture the truth: “I don’t know.” But she insisted on knowing exactly what that meant, and how it contributed to Enlightenment. He ended by telling her that knowing is a barrier to being. That one must not know in order to truly Know. He felt that she had forced it out of him, this nonsense, with her questions, her leading questions. And to some extent she had. But he knew too that it was his own cowardice that allowed him to be forced.

Sometimes he did not go at all. Brash as she was she would stride over to his hut and call to him and he would sit huddled and miserable with the door locked, pretending not to be there.

There came a day when Father Boon was sitting on the floor of his hut, Parmenides and a Greek grammar spread out before him. Whatever is, the sum total of existence, according to Parmenides, is undivided, unchanging, perfect. What did he mean? Parmenides was evidently no fool: what did he mean by this absurdity? But Father Boon could not concentrate. It was nearing the time to meet with Jane and he was growing increasingly anxious. He was not undivided and the rest. For example, before Jane’s arrival, his studies had been aimed at knowledge. Now they were a distraction from Jane. He closed his eyes, observing his anxiety in order to neutralize it. He did not want to teach: teaching made him feel at odds with himself, duplicitous, dishonest. He stood suddenly, stunned by the explicit realization: The feeling that he had fled in America and that had followed him in the person of Jane, was precisely the cloying, hateful feeling of dishonesty. Some people lie easily, as it were with a clear conscience.  Father Boon did not. Whether by virtue or defect, every lie left him with a taste as of vomit on his tongue and a feeling of deathly corruption in his bowels. Why had he not recognized the feeling before? The answer came at once: because he was not lying. He had not lied, indeed, yet his duplicity all those years came clearly before him. The duplicity yesterday, the duplicity he was just now girding himself to repeat. And recognizing the duplicity, he also recognized the lie: It was not that he did not know, but that he did not believe. His faith had fallen away little by little over the years even as he fell willy-nilly into the role of enlightened master. Without his noticing it, his life had become performance, a lie. Anger welled up—anger at himself, anger at Jane, anger at the world. There was no Secret. No Enlightenment. There was nothing. He snatched the Buddha off its shelf and hissed in its face: “Liar!” and flung it to the floor. The flowers and incense followed. “There, now.” He said out loud, standing legs apart in a kind of proud satisfaction. “That’s something: the truth!” And that was the one way forward: the truth. But with this thought he fell back into despair. Telling the truth, this truth, would be faithless to one who had faith in him. It would be to tell Jane that she had wasted the best years of her life and then to abandon her. She was 50 more-or-less, never again to be 30 and full of hope and trust and possibility. To tell the truth, this truth, would be cruel, and he was incapable of cruelty. He sank to the floor in burning paralysis. He sat for some time, unable to think. Unable to move. Longing for death. A knock on the door roused him and instinctively he grabbed the Buddha and placed it back on the shrine, “Yes?” he said in what he tried to make his normal tone. “Your groupie is waiting!” One of the Brothers. The jest was made lightheartedly, but it cut Father Boon to the quick. Yes, that’s what she was.

Father Boon forced himself up the stairs to the Buddha hall, mechanical flesh bearing an empty but infinitely heavy consciousness. Jane was sitting alone in the Hall, cross-legged before the Buddha. She turned quickly as he entered, rose and strode to meet him, eyes flashing with steel-hard determination. He hated her. Her confidence. Her determination. He hated his inability to say so.

“I will wait no longer,” she cried with what was both desperation and demand. In one quick movement she pulled off her blouse and her sarong fell to the floor, leaving her naked before him. “Give it to me!"

Father Boon was shocked. Not the least at the fact that he felt in his loins a stirring of the desires he had renounced so long ago. At 61 that desire was not strong, but the possibilities ran quickly through his mind: He could have sex with her just to make her happy; or to disillusion her so that she would go home; or to make her think she had got the Secret, with the same result. No. More than aroused, he was angry. He had demurred from crushing her fantasies; must she assault his?

“Cover yourself!” he said. “And sit.” He spoke with such force that she instantly pulled her clothes back on and sat before him. “Listen to me! It’s all nonsense. Nonsense! There is no secret. Period. No True Word. Period. No Enlightenment either. I’m sorry dammit, but you’ve wasted precious years of your life for a stupid dream. You think I left America to meditate full time? I left because I couldn’t stand the lies. Because it’s all a scam and a waste of time and I couldn’t keep up the pretense. There is no Enlightenment. There is no Buddha. Nothing. Go home already and try to enjoy what’s left of your life.” He stood over her as she sat looking at the floor. As she raised her face, he could see the conflict of anger, disappointment, and grief. “Go!” he cried, resisting the temptation to answer the conflict on her face with one of his profound teachings. “Get out of this place: there is nothing here for you!”

She rose, white-faced, and went slowly, weaving like a drunk out of the Hall. Father Boon felt good. That’s right! He thought to himself. You don’t own me! That night he fell asleep thinking about his garden, and how he would mulch the new plants, how he would ask the villagers for pig droppings to make compost. Why had he been so easy all those years?

The next afternoon, out of habit, out of a sense of obligation, or perhaps out of a perverse anticipation of Jane’s farewell, he took up his post in the Buddha Hall. She would excoriate. She would blaspheme. Then she would leave. Oh heaven! She would leave.

She came indeed. She came into the Hall slowly, head bowed, and did something she had never done before. She knelt in the midst of the Hall and bowed three times to the Buddha image. Then she turned to Father Boon, remaining on her knees and bowed three times, head touching the floor. “Thank you,” she murmured, kneeling before him, hands in the prayerful gesture before her face. “At last. I was dull, but now it is all clear. At last, I have found the joy of Enlightenment. I have received your transmission. The True Word is now mine as well.”

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Leonard D Greco Jr paints


 IMG_3670 (1)

Soodabeh Saeidnia writes

Sunny lover

This bright sun
that warms our hearts
and sweeps frost away
from the Earth
was once a shy red lover
blushing of the first kiss
Image result for dawn painting
 Morning Dawn -- Michael Pickett