When There Is No Buddha

  • Posted on: 27 November 2015
  • By: Joe

at a baseball game in Oakland Coliseum
an overweight sixtyish man
sits next to me
talks throughout the doubleheader
in a raspy recovering alcoholic voice:

I've played golf with Joe Morgan
an old drinking buddy of Don Larsen's
i've met a lot of people
seen the inside of Jerry Falwell's office--
Jesus saved me, but these guys are fakes.
He told me he thinks he's the Moses of the modern era.

the New York Yankess
the team of the century
recovering coke addict in left field
alcoholic perfect game pitcher
manager from my Brooklyn neighborhood
with brother rescued from the dead

and I'm complaining about a second baseman hitting under .250
Rivera giving up too many walks
errors on routine grounders
weak setup men in the bullpen

You're an angry man. Very critical.
The best team in history and all you do is criticize.
I think I see your blood pressure rising.
I hear a gall bladder problem coming on.

I think of my father's high blood pressure
my mother's gall stones

this from a gambler, writer, former teacher,
a man who says he was in organized crime
before Jesus come into his life:

           Now I don't believe in anything.
           I wish I could care about something.

he pokes fun at my idealism
my human potential movement
my Sufi poetry

I hate everybody--
I guess it's because I hate myself
most of all.
My father burned down his warehouse one day
collected the insurance
and gambled it away
left town in the dark one night
and was never seen again.

I had a father
who disappeared three times a week
I lose some part of myself each day
I look for a flaw in everything

down by four runs in the top of the ninth
the Yankess tie it up on a grand slam
by the dope fiend
go ahead when the A's first baseman
is knocked unconscious
score again on homers into the bleachers
it's the eternal comeback story
it ain't over till it's over--
it's Siddhartha on the basepaths
rounding third and heading for . . .

Now don't start giving me that crap again
about humanity
about Rumi and Kabir
somebody once told me
I was a Sufi poet myself
I've heard all that crap--
"When there is no Buddha,
be the Buddha!"

What was that?
What was that line about the Buddha?

You never heard that before?
I guess you never watched a ballgame
with someone with a theology degree.

"When there is no Buddha, be the Buddha"

Tibetan Village Scenes

  • Posted on: 27 November 2015
  • By: Joe

in the cafe
beneath the photo
of the Dalai Lama

a poster of a 
woman in red
playing pool
drinking Carlsberg


at the stupa
one hundred
thousand prostrations
to the Buddha--
who is keeping count?


after evening meditation
thirteen-year-old monk
takes off his maroon robes

puts on his Nike shorts


walking into a cave
where Padma Sambhava meditated
a thousand years ago

I cut my forehead
on the ceiling
not bowing low enough


these prayer flags
are faded

the words already blown
into the wind


from the corrugated
iron shacks

outside the
Monkey Temple

the sound of refugees


                                               Kathmandu Valley

The Backyard Shrine

  • Posted on: 27 November 2015
  • By: Joe

behind a crumbling brick apartment house
surrounded by old tires and empty barrels

a young girl silently performs the morning prayers

kneels to the statue of a god
touches her fingertips to her forehead three times
and walks to the three corners of the small backyard shrine

dabs everything with red vermillion
tears a leaf off a branch
places it on her tray
walks back to a red broken brick
circles it and returns

leaves food out for the birds
before walking home
over the corrugated iron



Temple of the Emerald Buddha

  • Posted on: 27 November 2015
  • By: Joe

a toothless shaman
grins at you
as you enter
this holy place


young boy
takes gold leaf
off buddha statue
puts it on
his own face


the man in the mirror
is losing his hair--
pretty soon
he'll be gone too


the emerald buddha
is really made of jade--
it doesn't matter
to the Buddha


the buddhas in Bangkok
are all smiling--
still you say
"Life is suffering"


a serpent
with five heads
all with the
buddha's face


four teenaged girls
with a tape recorder
ask to interview me
for their English class--

one of them asks me:
"Why are you here?"


sitting in the presence
of the buddha
I forget
the four vows


twelve summers ago
when I first visited this temple:
someone else


the buddha holds his arms
to stop the sea


a small boy
walks into the temple
sees the buddha
calls out: "Hello!"


twelve years ago
I first saw myself
in the mirror

looking at the green
emerald buddha

looking at me