What Would Leonard Cohen Do?

Sep 24, 2013

Jason Youngers_tekishinjuku_zendo_guesthouse_garden_1000We file into the zendo
in a single file
children on the first day
of kindergarten
discarding scarves and boots
the air is snappy at 6:30 am
a time of day I don’t ordinarily see
but the spiritual requirements
are rigorous on Mount Baldy.

We are scared of the monk
with his shaved head
who could hit us with a stick,
The stick is hanging there
but we are guests after all
not real monks
tattoos and facials give us away
pure terror, too
head monk clacks his clackers
rings the bell
signifying tea
and oh, the tea is terrible.
It doesn’t taste like tea at all
possibly it’s some type of medicine
thank God I don’t choke
we are not to move a muscle
or speak—this is a silent retreat—
there is only the echo of the monk’s bell
and the sound of us
trying to be very still
and not choke on tea.

Outside the San Gabriel Mountains
rise like a balcony over the camp
they respect the code of silence
Leonard Cohen must have contemplated
these mountains—
he lived here for years
and must have learned
how to not choke on the tea
how to sit correctly
on the little round zafu.

The wood floor gleams
from the bare feet of monks.
We can see our reflections
as we meditate on
how many more minutes
we have to meditate
sitting still as corpses.

25 minutes pass
until we file out
making sure to walk
in square-angle corners
as we were taught
dashing on hats and gloves
to pace silently outside
for 10 minutes in a cold circle
hot breath steaming
hands held in front of us
left palm on right
knuckles lined up
thumbs touching
10 minutes
of quiet circles
boots shuffling in the dirt
then back into the zendo
25 more minutes of sitting
on the benches against the walls
prayer flag planted on the moon
of our drone brains
just waking up.

Initiated to the Zendo by Sato Zenchu; courtesy of

Initiated to the Zendo by Sato Zenchu; courtesy of

Copyright © Mary Monroe
Photograph, top right, by Jason Youngers at the Tekishinjuku International Zendo.

Mary MonroeA writer and poet since childhood, Mary Monroe has spent most of her life as a journalist, writer, and editor. She has edited consumer and trade magazines, edited and ghostwritten books, and written too many magazine articles to count. She is currently working on a poetry collection, They Gather at the Water’s Edge: Death of the Wizard Prince.

Mary is a student of writer and poet Esther Bradley-DeTally in Pasadena, and also studies with poet Jack Grapes. She has performed her work at Beyond Baroque in Venice, and her poetry recently appeared in the L.A. Times. She also studies tai chi, qigong, kundalini and raja yoga, energy healing and mysticism. “Poetry is a bridge between the worlds we believe we live in and the world we don’t know we live in.”

3 Responses for “What Would Leonard Cohen Do?”

  1. Richard says:

    Thank you so much for this gentle and beautiful poem. A lovely gift to Leonard’s admirers – and others – everywhere! You write beautifully.

  2. Mary Monroe says:

    What a lovely comment, thank you Richard.

  3. Rebeca Guerrero says:

    Rumi came to mind when I was reading your ‘waking up’ poem.



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