My bow-legs crossed, I sat before someone I thought the great teacher.
His whole body a fist, he said, "Pain is the great teacher."
As sun rejects moon, as water rejects fire, one must reject a notion first
if one is ever to embrace it. The flower of denial, perhaps, the great teacher?
I wandered the museums of terra cotta soldiers and the mansions
of silence. I asked the ronin where I might find the great teacher.
I sent my dream-self to the rounded hovels at the edge of imagination.
I asked all the creatures in the dreaming where I might find the great teacher.
I learned to see the world through the eye of a needle, to shape sticks,
to sing mourning songs. I thought myself the envy of the great teacher.
But stone grew around my feet, and held me fast as I became stone.
Then I believed for some years that humility was the great teacher.
In autumn evening, the outline of a woman broke the purple horizon.
She looked at me with such pity, and asked if I had found the great teacher.
My ruin forgotten, I thawed. I built us a canoe, I painted figurines of ronin as gifts.
Her delight was rose-petal. I abandoned my search for the great teacher.
One cannot know incompletion until completed. Newly in love,
what need had I for the counsel of the great teacher?
It never occurred to me that I might undress my beloved and discover
the white blooms of scar across her back, shadows of the great teacher.
New England Review
Volume 34, Number 2 / 2013