Erik Evenson: “Koans”

We’re in the dairy aisle of the super market and Mom says that she’s getting so old she can’t get out of tickets when she’s pulled over anymore. I tell her that’s not true, that the homeless man she gave money to outside the store said she’s still got it.

“You’re such a sweetheart,” she tells me. “Now,” she turns to the yogurt. “About that remedy.”

That morning, she told me she’d developed a yeast infection.

“What flavor?” I ask.

“Not for eating,” she says. “For application.”


“That’s how it’s done,” she says. She scans her choices. “Oh look, sugar-free.”

Never any fig leaves with Mom. She pees with the door open. She says, “Aha!” after she farts like she discovered electricity.

She told me once that the second she met Dad, she knew she would sleep with him.

“Poor thing,” she said. “I had so much and he wanted it all, right that moment.”

“What did you get out of it?” I asked.

“Sixteen years of bliss,” she said and pinched my cheek.

Mom is banned from the zoo because she sneaks food to the endangered animals. We have twelve children on the fridge that are going less and less hungry because of the meager fifteen cents a day Mom gives to each of them.

That’s what Mom does. Some people fight. Some people make money. Some people win. Mom gives.

The Chinese man that Mom broke up with about a month ago tried to bring more balance into her life. He told her, “You need to listen to what you need.” He said, “Strive towards the path.” He said, “In China, we think you all look alike.” He liked to smoke pot, light candles and read her zen koans at night out of an old book he stole from the library. She recited them back, acted interested, sensed that they were important, but I knew she had no idea what they were about.

Mom found him sleeping with another woman. She dumped him and sponsored another child, a baker’s dozen. This one from Zimbabwe.

Now, she’s dating a motivational speaker she met at her primal screaming class. He’s in the supplements aisle replenishing his stock of lemongrass. Sometimes he whistles Phil Collins songs. He adds vibrato. I’m pretty sure it’s not going to work out.

But Mom still does recite her koans.

I hear her even now, in the dairy aisle, under her breath, when she thinks no one is listening, the lines coming out in pieces:

Without thinking of good or evil, show me your original face before your mother and father were born.

Two hands clap and there is a sound. What is the sound of one hand?

And I know she thinks that this is now something to dutifully observe. I’m happy for that. Maybe, I hope, if she recites them over enough times, like their supposed to be recited, they’ll give something back.

Erik Evenson was born and raised in Boise, Idaho and now lives in Seattle, Washington. He has work published in PANK, Hobart (web), Spartan and others. He lives with his wife, son and three chickens.

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