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Laura Foley

Breaking Free: Zen Ordination


                        If you are free of illusion, life is worthwhile and not worthwhile

                        to an almost equal degree. 



At attention on your zafu every dawn, legs crossed,

spine straight to avoid the patrolling monks’ sharp stick.

Eat in unison, clean your bowl, crease your napkin in a six-point fold.

Sew your robe till midnight, record in neatest penmanship

the lineage from Buddha through Roshi to you,

accept the incense, prostrations, the chanting,

the new name given to you, bending your head to the ground

at Roshi’s feet. Driving home after two weeks,

breathing freely, you find your new self stuck in traffic,

smiling and not smiling, in almost equal degree.



Every Wave


This morning as a friend 
drinks the potion prepared 
to end her life,


having deemed her body unlivable
after two years struggle—
I leave my house and ride


a ferry slowly across a lake,

as wind lifts

every shining wave.



Under the Bodhi Tree


I love the Buddha for leaving his home, wife,

and baby, to sit under a tree learning awareness;

for his courage in experimenting: fasting,

walking hot coals barefoot, sleeping on nails—

and admitting none of it offered benefit.


I love the tree, for sheltering him from the Indian sun,

and his grounding himself while demons argued,

for his crossing the river on a bamboo raft,

and letting it float away after—for contemplating

afterlife, and deciding kindness is what matters.


I love Buddha for choosing a Bodhi tree,

for just sitting, watching the river flow,

noting each ripple of light on waves,

offering thirty-nine thousand meditation

practices, forms for every kind of learning—

so even a murderer, wearing his necklace of

trophy skull bones, may find a path to peace.


I love Buddha for teaching us how to sit,

for examining attachment and the process of thought

in pointillist detail, for teaching us how to let go,

to adjust to constant change.


But do I love him today, sitting cross-legged,

mind dulled by pain? Do I buy relaxing

into it minus the intention to let go?


Let me learn kindness through suffering,

how in identifying our smallness, we grow generous.

Let me understand pain’s blessing, the music

in blood’s thrumming, the phantom humming

in my ears foretelling hearing, and greater loss to come—

attune me more keenly to my breath.



Laura Foley is the author of four poetry collections. The Glass Tree won the Foreword Book of the Year Award, Silver, and was a Finalist for the New Hampshire Writer’s Project, Outstanding Book of Poetry. Her poems have appeared in journals and magazines including Valparaiso Poetry Review, Inquiring Mind, Pulse Magazine, Poetry Nook, Lavender Review, and in the anthology, In the Arms of Words: Poems for Disaster Relief. She won Harpur Palate’s Milton Kessler Memorial Poetry Award and the Grand Prize for the Atlanta Review’s International Poetry Contest.