Michael Herr Once Asked Me…

Michael Herr Once Asked Me... 

“How do you write about Buddhism?” and looked around 
where we stood, eating our ritual potluck rice and stew after 
evening puja—our Teacher sat huddled with the other 
Tibetans laughing—I asked if he was writing anything 
“Nah, not much...”
	I never brought it up again, the writing, but now 
hearing news of his death—
watching the ceiling fan thrum humid tropic air as a helicopter 
whomp-whomps tourists down-coast Hawaii to fiery lava 
flow, instead of soldiers to die in jungle
	—I think of his Vietnam War correspondent novel 
Dispatches and the APOCALYPSE NOW movie voice-
over narration he wrote... 

	Seeing the big crazy woman on the beach last night at 
sunset, the long track of her knees across damp sand to where 
she knelt, pounding her face and fists into it
	big belly hanging below her bra, her sudden 
	heaving up to scream at the sea: 
“WHY? WHY? WHY?
WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?”	 	
	then slogging out into the waves
		the Bubba Gump restaurant manager and a 			
                few others of us moved to call 911 when a 			
                shadow croaked:
“That’s just Doreen being Doreen. Happens all the time. 
No need to call nobody.”

	...regret I didn’t tell Michael, when last saw him 
at our Teacher’s funeral, that the answer to his question 
I find in his own lines: 

	“Everyone gets everything they want. I wanted
a mission, and for my sins they gave me one.” 

...which I quote often, likening difficult kitchen-work karma  
to heading upriver in the boat I chose 
		—but keeping track as I go—
		my demons and saints urging me deeper 
to answer what Doreen demanded of her own voices: 	
to keep pushing past the arrows the lassitude 		
incomprehension and horror of the everyday
		to help finish for all Beings
			what our Teacher started.

–Peter Marti


Poetry

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