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Sandra Becker

MAY 22, 2003

Searching for my beloved, well-worn zafu,
buckwheat hull filled, fine-pleated edges.
Last seen, Now or Never Zendo,
Boulder, Colorado, 1974.
Somehow I find myself thinking of you today. You must think
I chose to leave you all those years ago.
How would you have known one bright, white,
snow-blinding Colorado morning,
I’d find the Zendo door bolted closed,
windows boarded up, having for once left you there,
thinking I’d return the next day?

You’d never know me now.
I no longer wear baggy linens,
shapeless as old burlap rice sacks from India,
that blunt any trace of a human form.
And, this will disappoint you, I’ve stopped sitting zazen.
There’s only one thing worse than being trapped
in a body and mind and that’s the endless struggle
to break free:  Bloody hands, bruised limbs,
aching head – exhausting. I thought, no,
I was driven, to try to make peace with the rigid bars
encircling me. Perhaps a mind less filled with despair
would make the cage seem larger. Maybe
that’s what the masters meant all along
by “no future, no past, no hope, no regret.” I don’t know.

All those years counting breaths!
Remember how every now and then someone
would tap me on the shoulder, tell me
I was sitting with a slight tilt?
It was as if I would not admit either heaven or earth.
I never forgot that you bore my weight
no matter how heavy or how lopsided.

It’s me, your old Zafu; crushed,
flattened, mangled. 
Used, betrayed, abandoned.
I remember the days - our 5 a.m. walks
through the streets of Boulder,
past the humming stream to the Zendo,
me tucked in the cove of your arm,
We thought we could achieve anything
together, a higher goal, Nirvana.
I gave my best to serve you,
perennially crowned by your lowest chakra, I might add,
for hours, days, sometimes weeks without complaint,
absorbed the trembling energy of your body and mind,
its lofty thoughts, sweaty anxieties,
complicated fears and hopes.
I allowed you to punch me into shape
before each sitting (okay, I enjoyed that part).
I suppose you run your own Zendo now,
practice the Dharma, commune with Sangha,
give out numberless zafus at no cost
or freed from all Sanskaric bindings, 
as a Bodhisattva in Calcutta,
you live as and serve the poorest of the poor.
Would you even care that I’m confined
to the back of a closet no one ever opens,
our cherished zendo now a Karaoke bar –
vulgar – no one cares to just sit anymore.
Time has no meaning here – didn’t we hope for that? –
one moment drones into the next
and I’m full of the ghost of your mind-wrangled days.


Night screeched and jammed its brakes
early at our doorstep. Dad’s death, mom’s Miltown,
kids’ relentless jeers. The sun might have shone
for all I knew, but the days choked closed.

Young boys threw rocks at seagulls on the beach,
the government told us what to do
when the nuclear bomb would strike
and from what I could tell, God was inconsolably
pissed off at the whole lot of us.

I did not believe the mind and body
could sing in its own holy voice,
deliver its own pregnant dirge.

Buddha’s words: life is suffering, desire its root
a liberty bell to my old Sadhu ears:
Amputee of the sea, strangled weed, shard of shell,
dried mollusk, abandoned anemone, beached whale,
food for the piper’s belly –
if only to merge
with ocean, Bodhidarma, no body, no mind.

I would not bow to moon and tide.
I renounced life before I had lived enough to die,
before I had self enough to empty and forget.
My refusal, a cilice, lashed
against the soft skin of each new day.


Then suddenly, I simply step into the moment
as naturally as a tongue to taste, an ear to sound,
a moment with no consciousness of time
in which my hands know exactly what to do
and my legs lead me exactly where I’m supposed
to go, a moment exalted as Raw Sienna eclipsing
Burnt Umber eclipsing Cobalt Violet eclipsing
Garnet Lake eclipsing Lunar Black occurring
at the most unlikely moment, Winter Solstice,
the sun’s light furthest away, as if I’d never suffered
a migraine, never made a zillion mistakes,
as if I’d never known the sorrow of an orphaned child,
never had a mother committed for shock treatment,
as if life had been the dream and this moment the reality.
And then, just as swiftly the moment banished, I’m back
into the world of alarm clocks, mourning the singular
Morning Glory that knows precisely when to raise its head
toward light. Now the particles and waves that compose
what I am seem muddled and perturbed and although I’m told
by others that every moment is exactly perfect—I refuse
to believe it and grieve the next lost one, resume sitting zazen
to find the universe without, the universe within.