Beth Walker

The Anecdote of ContingenciesAfter reading “Chiyono’s No Water No Moon” The famous koan does not tell us what really happened to the servant girl Chiyono once she rushed back to the nunnery after breaking her bucket. Did she go thirsty? After all, her bucket was so old, so patched it must have been her only one, and her need so great that she deigned to speak to the abbess about her poverty in the first place. Maybe she panicked, frightened she’d be whipped for both its breaking and her clumsiness. As she herself pointed out, she had no skills. Or with her enlightenment spilled like silk all about her feet, did she fancy she’d be presented with a new bucket, which she would tote at her side like a crown or a halo, too humble to wear? I like to picture her still yearning after the old broken one, which had brought her the moment that brought her to her knees. And what happened to that bucket? The one she had patched so many times it was held together with nothing but splinters and resignation. When she kneeled to gather them in the sleeves of her threadbare kimono, did they prick her fingers like the enchanted needle on the nuns’ spinning wheel, putting such a spell on her that she ran back to the kitchen, crying Look! Look! Maybe. Because she spun such a story! She saw the moon. She wrote a poem. She shaved her head. She took her seat at the head of the nunnery’s table. And all the nuns bowed and made way. Years passed, as years do in stories. The woodcuts show her frowning, sat very straight. Stern and stoic, she drank her tea from a cup everyday washed and filled, to be sure, by a servant girl who herself wondered what it would take to become the next no water no moon, who worried that mighty frown meant the tea was too cool and she too slow about the dragging and fetching. In any case, the nunnery never ran out of serving girls. Or buckets on the verge of bursting. The One Who Hears the World Cry,“Mama, I Can’t Breathe” from a line by William Staffordand last words of George Floyd Will you be the one who hears the worldmake its night cry, sometimes from sorrow? Sometimes from horror?Sometimes for no reason at all? Will you be the one who cools the fireof your own eternal tongue to better attend the whisper, the whimperand the roar, the anguish of neighbors, strangers suffocatingunder the bent knee of oppression? Will you be the one who reaches outthe willow branch to rescue them? Crack open your heart so widethat your two arms shatter and a thousand more armsarise to comfort them, a thousand hands hoveringto wipe their tears, five-thousand fingertips of lightbeckoning forth the dawn. The Stream-Enterer The way is all around us.Neither the right-branching roadnor the left-branching. Neither standing at the crossroads,puzzled for a day, nor camped outcold and starved for years. There is no good or bad, only risk,the moment you drop off the edgeand dip your toe into the stream instead. The water is both moving and still,reflecting your familiar face and your stranger heart,foregoing everything except its own transparent nature.You become this same familiar stranger,alive and beyond, once you enter the stream. Beth Walker is a writing consultant whose work has appeared recently in Rockvale Review, Hemingway Shorts, and Still Point Arts Quarterly. Her essay on the work of Zen Buddhist Natalie Goldberg appears in the book American Creative Nonfiction.