How Does Your Dinner Taste?

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Sometimes we get so tangled up in our mind we have a hard time seeing clearly -- being able to see where we are -- which is why this poem by a young Japanese schoolboy* is so startling:
In the middle of Japan, surrounded by
The Pacific Ocean, the Sea of Okhotsk,
The Japan Sea, and the East China Sea,
At Furokawa First Elementary School,
Right now I am fighting.”

In a few lines this child has managed to merge perspective with the hot point of his present moment. Reading it gives you that zoom-in/zoom-out feel which immediately made me think of a poem by William Carlos Williams.
The Red Wheelbarrow
so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

It’s the clear-sighted focus that brought this poem to mind, the way it zeroes in on a few elemental details. (When I first came across this poem back in college, I wondered why it was even a poem but here I am 40 years later remembering it.) The stark simplicity of the images is calming and also oddly arresting, which brings me to dinner and another poem**, this one about our delusions.
Gently I weep for my mind,
caught in its illusion of ownership.

Mind, you’re not who you think you are.
You’re dancing over a pit.

Soon you’ll fall through,
and these things you’ve valued
and collected will be left behind.

My sweet dear, do you understand this,
and if you do, how does your food taste?

How does your food taste! Now that’s a jolt back to reality. Frankly, it was a relief because that poem was dragging me down. Then magic happened when we were brought back to our senses.

Coming back to our senses
Simple truths are calming and clarifying. I am fighting. The wheelbarrow is red. My food tastes salty. We can always come back to simple truths.
And so begins another brave day.
*From Zen Seeds, a book by Shundo Aoyama Roshi, a contemporary Zen Buddhist nun
**By Lalla, a 14th-century mystic poet