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The New Mexican's Weekly Magazine of Arts, Entertainment & Culture Friday, September 4, 2015

Subtexts — Koan-head: Alvaro Cardona-Hine’s “Phantom Buddha”

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Posted: Friday, January 17, 2014 5:00 am

What is Phantom Buddha? The book’s subtitle offers a hint: “Forty-six Dream Koans and a Mudra of Reality.” These koans, if koans they be, exist as italicized dream sequences interspersed within a larger, more autobiographical work. And a mudra, author Alvaro Cardona-Hine explains, is the “Sanskrit term for the symbolic gestures or hand postures used in Buddhist rituals, extended here to mean that reality as we know it, is just that, a gesture.” The author’s own reality is one of betrayals still bitter after the passage of decades. At the opening, we meet Cardona-Hine (now a painter, poet, and long-term resident of Truchas) during his nine-year period stuck in the corporate grind as a supervisor at an insurance mega-firm in Los Angeles. The burgeoning poet initially finds solace in art and drugs, as epitomized by clinical LSD studies he participated in during the 1950s. (“Writing under LSD,” he remembers, “is like writing during an earthquake while standing under a cascade of shredded ice wedded to mint, to lavender.”) Later he finds consolation in the form of a mysterious woman who attends various of his poetry readings. Because of their mutual ensuing infatuation, his life takes the first of several abrupt swerves, starting with him abandoning his wife and children to devote himself to his new lover. Soon the two are sharing everything, including an interest in Zen philosophy. This in turn leads them to intense studies with a Japanese master whose intentions may be less than honorable. Phantom Buddha is a memoir more than anything else — a sustained look inward that seeks to understand through words what the author once confronted through meditation. Cardona-Hine reads at Collected Works Bookstore (202 Galisteo St., 505-988-4226), on Sunday, Jan. 19, at 3 p.m., following an introduction by poet Joan Logghe.

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