Juliet and Brother John

Catherine Gammon


Juliet Meets Shakespeare

Juliet goes to L.A. for a Zen retreat and finds herself sitting next to Shakespeare. She knows it's Shakespeare, everybody knows, but it's a silent environment, one where things like personal identity and fame in the outside world don't seem to exist. The seats are assigned, and every day, for just a few hours, there he is. He isn't doing the whole retreat, just the hour preceding the daily talk by the teacher and the hour of the talk itself. He's very advanced, almost a friend of the teacher or maybe actually a friend. Probably he sits with the roshi alone, has tea with him alone, while Juliet hangs out in the zendo with the monks and other practitioners, the most beginning of beginners. So she doesn't say to Shakespeare what she's thinking, that he has been the teacher of her life, one of the first if not the first, that he's the one who made her, showed her to herself in a complexity experience hadn't yet taken her to, that it was he who prepared the way that all along, for so many years, so many lifetimes, has been leading her to this: sitting still and upright on a cushion in Los Angeles, where she was born, her maker beside her, and her heart no longer with Romeo, but traveled on, out across its own country and into the heart of the heart of itself. What, after all, can she say to Shakespeare that he doesn't already know? He sits like a rock. She knows who she loves. Maybe that. No one he ever imagined for her. A crack in the margin of the play. A plot device. Where the border gets transgressed, where light gets in. Until in the sunlit afternoon of the fifth day the eucalyptus tree growing just beyond the courtyard breaks through the wall, the distance—reaches in and down to her, touches her, teaches her, and opens—tree, space, light, and time—and the man she knows she loves she sees has been this tree and is and sees that she is also and together out across the veins and arteries of her own uncharted country and his map they meet and have met and will meet until time and space and tree and light and he and she go vanishing into the ordinary day. He, not Shakespeare—him, the unimagined other. On the fifth night she collapses for sleep, her muscles rope, her joints loose sacks of marbles, she fills the darkness with exhaustion, exaltation, with if it's possible to feel this good, who needs sex? while out across and deep inside her too-well-traveled country the man she would have love her sleeps and maybe dreams her and upstairs in their little tower Shakespeare and the roshi take their bedtime tea.


About the Rose

It was supposed to be a molecular disruption. That was last week. Now it only is. A rose by any other name, a rose. Ongoing disintegration. A rose by any other, etc. Disintegration: collapse of the integral, the one into the many. No distinction, no separation. No sight, no sound, no object of sight, no object of sound, and so on, no fixed self, and so and for that reason Juliet found herself a roshi. Juliet found herself a roshi and it was not Brother John's roshi, Shakespeare's roshi, but a younger man, a man with a little dog, and she asked him would he be her teacher and was there a way she could study with him without being in residence in the monastic community which the circumstances of her life didn't presently permit even though to be in residence in the monastic community was the desire of her deepest heart and the roshi told her to imagine a way to do that and then they would see and that's what she did and they did and he became her teacher and nothing changed and everything did, nothing because it already had changed and everything because to change was the nature of things and anyhow Juliet's life has always been that kind of life that all or nothing kind of life so suddenly or maybe not so suddenly it has changed to all and nothing or nothing and everything and she feels herself knows herself most of the time living two lives in one and therefore (she understands but only rarely glimpses) all lives in one but the glimpses are getting brighter all the time or maybe only some of the time but still getting brighter and that then would have to be the all and nothing that has changed because the brighter it gets the clearer it gets that everything here has always been here and always is so that change after all the idea of change is an illusion even though impermanence is the rule of things arising and disappearing and there is no fixed self on which anything can hang and so no eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind, no sight, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no object of mind, no realm of sight, and so forth, down to no realm of mind consciousness. And about the rose, remember? The rose by any other, it is his name that is her enemy, etc., but in the realm of the no-self what then? What is it that is nor hand nor foot nor arm nor face? The rose belonging to a man, his name. And for his name, which is no part of him, take all herself. But that was in the long ago the once upon a time. Five hundred wild fox bodies past. And this another, or not. Perhaps a turning word that comes. And so the roshis, the little dogs, the rose. And so Juliet etc. the names the wild fox bodies the arisings and infinite Romeos. Does it have to go on and ever on to make it known how it goes on and ever on, how molecules disrupt, distinctions dissolve, dissolution spreads itself out and about and disappears and petals fall until not and again petals and again not etc. and is etc. the only word, otherwise just the no forms, no sensations, no perceptions, no formations, no consciousness, the neither ignorance nor extinction of ignorance, neither old age and death nor extinction of old age and death, and still the rose the name the word the petals fallen the any other name the just as sweet? Whether you see what she means or not and how he can acknowledge her need to be special without indulging it and how everything before was ignoring or indulgence and ignoring was suffering and indulgence like candy empty of nourishment but this but this and still the rose was sweet by any name and here and somewhere nowhere no more Romeos but something else not roshis either something someone no-named no-selfed else and still and still again the disruption disintegration is the great etc. and nowhere nohow on or not and still you guessed it yes the yes by any other word the yes and even the yes she said yes she would yes etc. but not that yes this other that includes that yes somewhere in its undissolved self but dissolved is else something somewhere else out here somewhere nowhere with the rose and it was supposed to be it was it is and still it is and there's nothing more that isn't already the same and every moment every detail every petal every breath new this moment arising and falling away. And so. And on. Etc. And supposed so to be. Until and then the roshi and the rose. But not until as if a stopping, so far and near, so always ever after and before, so neither old age and death nor extinction of old age and death, so on so going on so supposed and yes molecular atomizing re-forming and this only one of the lives coming to meet her, for example, another yes, the yes Lady Capulet says when any other word is too hard and she wants to express her good will and regret, her willingness, yes she says yes in a yes like no previous a yes that carries the weight of her eighty-five now eighty-six years and all those foxes her own wild fox bodies and the weight of this one, the indrawn silence of apraxia yes she says and breathes again for Juliet her daughter and this also only one and still the rose the name the petals fallen the any other word the just as sweet—


Zen Master Dogen composes a love letter

Certain things become impossible to say. It is not nothing is dear to him, nothing is lovely. We want to admonish you, we want to say you are wrong, you attach too much to wood and stone. It is not true love is the love at the end of love. It is not waiting for the miracle to come. The beautiful equally ugly, beauty hurts. What gives pleasure gives pain. This is the life of the ten thousand things. The flower, white splattered red. The flower.

—Manifest true love for the flower, said the roshi. Her first effort, a poem—

White lily tear-streaked red

Broken human heart—

One perfect flower

—rejected before she could speak it: as soon as she said the word poem as a question—I have a poem?—at once the roshi sent her away, in silence and tears, back to the flower, for days in the shadows loving the flower, the white star-bursting petals, the dark splatterings.

—Make relationship with the flower, the roshi said—thought forbidden, words forbidden, touch forbidden—make relationship, the language a mystery, and the flower, there, just there, white, red, enormous, out of reach, until the white was the snow in her mother's hair, the red the blood in her brain, the heartbreak of her own heart her mother's heart breaking, until at last the flower speaks, its silence heard, and love gets visible only to vanish again in tears and failure, the flower darkening to tapestry flowers of earliest memory, those big red splashy tropical flowers of couches and chairs, of heavy long-hanging drapes, of her mother's late-forties dresses, the command to love the flower propelling her back into that time, that two-year-old mind of heartbreak and separation, weeping two-year-old, critical mother, into her own creation of herself and that mother, the two of them, until they are again, as before, the same, one, as they have always been one, weepy two-year-old, internalized critical mother, and dwelling in their identity, hours, days, nights, the unmoving mind dissolves them, until somewhere, someone, before them, begins again to be born.

So monk, brother, John, that is her story. What is yours? Seeker of samadhi, to you we have to say this beginning again to be born is not nothing is dear to him, nothing is lovely. To adhere to wood and stone is to adhere to characteristics. Do not attach to nonattachment. Nor if you attach to winter and deny spring is it true love is the love at the end of love. It is not waiting for the miracle, when the miracle comes, has always already come. Because waiting is a movement of the mind, the begins again to be born is this sky inevitably flowers, just as all plants flower. Without beginning, without birth, it is not, is not, is not, is. It is one should study the time of this flower's blooming. It is certain things impossible to say. For this reason you should understand that she loves you very much and in understanding you should understand that this loves you very much is not understanding and is not love and is not very much but is trustworthy and is not moving in this sky that inevitably flowers, is the time of this flower's blooming, and is still and always certain things impossible to say.










End Note:
The section About the rose quotes phrases from the Buddhist text called the Heart Sutra as well as lines from Romeo and Juliet. It also echoes Gertrude Stein, Samuel Beckett, and James Joyce. The section Zen Master Dogen composes a love letter, in addition to playing off of Dogen's language and style as translated by Thomas Cleary in Zen Essays, also uses fragments of lyrics of Leonard Cohen songs, as does Juliet Meets Shakespeare.