Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

what a difference a day makes (and other ways I wish I was like my grandson)

origami Kirin, by Satoshi Kamiya courtesy Google

origami Kirin, by Satoshi Kamiya
courtesy Google

My grandson burnt his hands Sunday. Not horribly, but badly enough that he cried inconsolably for hours. Today? He’s his usual sunny self: slapping the Cheerios on the highchair tray, pulling my hair, and laughing at nothing at all.

Why can’t I be like that?  Why can’t I let go of yesterday/ last year/ some childhood nightmare? How does he DO that??


Watching Trin, I learn as much as my doctoral studies, I swear. Obviously not ‘content’ (a word I’ve come to mistrust hugely), but critical life skills. Mostly how to be happy.  And it begins — just like the Buddha said — with letting go.

Trin has no expectations, other than what happens in the now. He’s used to being loved, I grant you. But he isn’t… attached to it, if that makes sense. When he’s burned (through no one’s fault), he cries because it’s not going away. But then? It does, and he moves on. image


The picture at the top of the page is a  Japanese kirin, known as qilin in Chinese. It’s a mythical animal, a cloven-footed, dragon-like chimera. And it has healing properties, some say. It’s the product of innumerable foldings of paper, carefully creased to bring to life an animal that probably never existed, other than in fable & legend. And yet Satoshi Kamiya, the origami artist, could see it so clearly in his mind’s eye that he was able to create a recognisable kirin. From gold paper.

Here’s the problem for me: my brain wants to be able to create the tangible from the evanescent: bubbles from air, a poem from a dream, a meal from a wish to comfort. But the very vision that enables that creative thought also makes me subject to that Buddhist bugaboo: attachment. I become attached to my creations. I build castles (sometimes from… well, alliterative substances) that I never end up even visiting, but which still cause me grief.


Trin can’t create a poem (yet). Nor can he envision much of what isn’t there in front of him. (To be fair, sometimes he has a hard time with what’s tangibly present!) But he also doesn’t attach to what has never been. He doesn’t worry about something that may never come to pass.

So no, he can’t imagine a kirin. But he also doesn’t fixate on the pain of a day now past. I’m not sure I have the better deal…


in the flash of a moment


courtesy Google

My grandson hurt himself today. Not horribly, but bad enough that he’s been crying for two+ hours.

On a lovely spring day — temps in the lower 70s — he was on the deck w/ his folks, crawling happily around. Apparently, the threshold strip is too hot for baby hands. :( Even though I felt it later, and it seemed only very warm to me, it raised blisters on newish palms.


This is bad enough, but remember: at 11 months old, you use your hands for EVERYTHING. Crawling, eating, holding, exploring. And blisters HURT.

So a day that began beautifully — with a hungry Trin chowing down on his brunch of eggwhite from my breakfast sandwich, Cheerios, and bananas — in the flash of an instant went to trauma.

That is, I suspect, the nature of life & Buddhism, right? Change… even when life changes (at least temporarily) for the worse. But listening to my beloved grandson sobbing his heart out, as his mommy & daddy try to soothe him? Heart-rending. I try to console myself with the idea of kintsugi, mending broken places with gold (or kisses and parental love). The idea being that damaged places can be beautiful — they make us human, make us grow.

But it still doesn’t seem very fair…


the poetry of every day

imageIt’s easy to forget that every day holds poetry. Especially if you’re hectic: packing, moving, cleaning a new house, unpacking… Soothing a disolocated dog, holding a curious baby. Eating out of cartons while you locate the dishes and pans.

All of this can make you forget the whole point of the exercise. New house! Beautiful baby! GREAT life! Well, not really forget, but kind of lose sight of…

Watching my grandson today, as he tried to climb over the boxes that have yet to be unpacked, I remembered why I love haiku so much: it’s a verbal snapshot of a moment. Any moment will do, if you look closely. For me, it’s almost any moment I spend watching my grandson… :)image


Tanka (at least for me) differs only in a short reflection — it’s the caption for the snapshot, if that makes sense.

So today’s poem — after a hiatus of traveling here and hectic moving! — is both snapshot and reflection: a tanka for Trin.

tanka for Trinidad

my grandson chows down
one entire banana
singing na na na
his fisted hands keep time
thump thump thump song of feeding


what poetry gives us

courtesy Google

courtesy Google

Today’s poem is actually a three-fer. I’ve been writing to prompts from NaPoWriMo, one of the national sites for National Poetry Writing Month. The poem today is written from yesterday’s prompt, which asked writers to do a riff on a poem (Black Stone Lying On A White Stone) by César Vallejo. To show those writers who might wonder how the heck you write from/ to another’s poem, NaPoWriMo offered a 2nd poem by Stephen Burt (A Nickel on Top of a Penny).


All of this is by way of remarking: poetry is another kind of web. Like Buddhism (you KNEW I was going to say that), like life. If all that I’ve learned from reading & writing poetry could be measured and sold? I’d be so rich! Oh wait ~ that’s the whole point of poetry…

Seriously? To look so closely at anything — poetry, a bee, the surface of a cup of hot tea — is to learn. Just seeing the moment clearly is, as all meditation teaches (in any faith tradition) a form of reverence for life.

So here is my poem today, a tribute to both poets, as well as my own childhood, and the differences that were obvious very early.

Lam Son Park, Saigon in 1960s, with Saigon Opera House in background Courtesy Google

Lam Son Park, Saigon in 1960s, with Saigon Opera House in background
Courtesy Google


Dust On a Tropical Breeze

after César Vallejo


Old Saigon will claim me

after I fold my wings, after decades of flight.

Probably on Monday moonday, Lundi, at the grande marché

I will collapse in feathery dust beside the leper at the gate.


I knew this even as a child, watching the leper’s outstretched hands

knew I was already half-erased, only a dusty ghost

like the hungry bụi đời[1] who float upon the wind.

I am half Saigon still.


‘She is gone,’ they will murmur, in breathy whispers.

My words will unravel like the silk of cocoons


and they will weave a sieve to catch the wind.


‘We didn’t mean to hurt her,’ they will say.

‘Who knew she would fall to dust?

She seemed so much more solid…’

[1] The Vietnamese term bụi đời means”dust of life”; it has come to refer to refugees vagrants, as well as Amerasian children left behind after the Việt Nam war.

Previous Posts

leafturn, oceanstill
It's autumn, when life begins to slow. Sap draws down, and other than the frenzied cheek-stuffing of squirrels, outside seems quieter. Except for the ...

posted 9:00:24pm Oct. 08, 2015 | read full post »

thinking of lost boys
When I hear of the serial murder sprees -- all done w/ guns -- that plague America, I think of my sons. Not always first, but always. Probably too ...

posted 4:48:57pm Oct. 04, 2015 | read full post »

pebbles, lobsters, and priorities
I went to brunch with my beloved yesterday, to celebrate our zillionth (happy!) anniversary. It was beyond heavenly: all kinds of food I ...

posted 3:33:14pm Sep. 28, 2015 | read full post »

the souls of the others
I don't normally do book reviews, much less book raves. And yet... I just finished a book that captured me completely, Sy Montgomery's The Soul of an ...

posted 3:11:31pm Sep. 20, 2015 | read full post »

the gift of friends
I am blessed with friends far better than I deserve. Colleagues; former students; girlfriends & guy friends; family who have long since blurred that ...

posted 4:35:30pm Sep. 18, 2015 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.