Poetry: Love is Not Tough

Buddhism 150He stands doe-eyed
as he faces a fear disrobed from its darkness,
sprawled naked before him.
Behind the flash of terror
an animal runs into the thicket
of safe and soft and warm.

The world imagines this is the part
where we get to hit him with bamboo
shake the bushes, rattle the cage
fill the safe spaces with the noises of hell
to make him come leaping out.

This, we are told, is what the old masters would do.
Shine the lights on every hiding place until
exposure was the only option
and the fear killed you. Buddha would spring
from the wreckage wearing your clothes
his mouth as wide as a newborn’s

But here is what I think: clarity from trauma
can only come with the softness
and the distance of time.
So when I see him, the whites of his eyes
flashing and frozen, see him retreating
I want to hide with him
Breathe with him
Fear with him

Then, when the panic restores our vision
I turn him around in our safe spaces
and watch from a distance as we notice
what we’re afraid of is never as big as we think
and even when we grow closer
its size, its rough edges
remain dulled, shrunken.

But that’s my idea, a step here, a small bolt of genius
that strikes us when we examine ourselves
after we’ve given in. I have no use for bamboo.
I am a Soto kid
in a Rinzai world.

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