A SUDDEN DEPARTURE

You sneaked away one night.
You were there, but while
sleep claimed me, you were gone
without notice or warning.
Where should I look for you?
In these barren hills
where the spirits of the first nations
roam, looking for their ancestral land?

Where should I look for you?
Wandering these verdant fields
where a hundred generations
have been sacrificed
to the will of power mad men
who know no satisfaction?

Where should I look for you?
In these filth ridden streets
and narrow alleys where
the rats scamper in search
of a meal, where a child
at play would be a fine repast?

Where should I look for you?
Across these wind blown sands
where brother has hunted brother
for three generations, each
laying God’s claim
to the birthright of the other
while wives and mothers
wail in mourning?


First published in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press (2008)

TEMPUS FUGIT

She parked her cart across the face
of the bin, she fills the only gap.
She has a look of determination
that says “give me space
if you know what’s good for you.”
She examines each banana
with the care of it gemologist
and you imagine that she wears a loop.
She pulls bunches apart, finally picking one,
then five minutes later the line
behind her in awe and frustration, another one.
There is almost a third, until
as she places it in her cart
she sees something beyond our comprehension,
and back it goes amid the host of rejectees.
I glanced at my watch, realize
how long I have been on this few item shop
and grab three of her misbegotten, then
seeing her head for the grapes,
make my own mad dash to get there first,
so I might get home for dinner.

A PEN FOR YOUR THOUGHTS

It has a certain heft
that says something substantial
lies within, waiting to be freed.
It glides easily, suggesting an
effortlessness you know is a tease,
that labor still waits.
Still, it does said comfortably,
is appealing to the eye,
has the deep jade green 
along its barrel, the knots interwoven
top and bottom that say what lies
within cannot be easily unraveled.
As you draw it across the page
you hope that somewhere in Neamh
old Robbie will look down on you,
smile and share a thought or two,
but that you know, is for another day.

ISAN’S I HAVE EXHAUSTED MYSELF 正法眼蔵 四十四

Approach the master
sitting on his seat.
The fool will seek answers
having slept through the lesson
but the wise student will bow
silently and retreat
having learned all there is
and knowing absolutely nothing.


A reflection on case 44 of Dogen’s True Dharma Eye Koans

MOBIUS STRIP

You imagine tomorrow will arrive
without warning or notice, and even
though you are skeptical, you accept
the possibility, and if it doesn’t arrive
what are the odds you will miss it?
If, as expected, it arrives, what the hell, it
was supposed to do that so nothing is odd
about it, and if not, well you never
really expected it to, it’s the blessing
of a shortening memory, so you win either way.
And so you go on with today, and when
not if, tomorrow comes you’ll be there
since you will recall your doubt
and you’ll assume it is nothing more
than the fall of the next domino
in the perpetual parade.

WRITING MEMORY

It is well past time
I wrote a poem about
the great joys of my childhood,
for memory should bubble up
like lava through the crust of time,
they should rain in flashes
as so much matter dropping
into the atmosphere
in their ultimate light show.
This isn’t going to happen, of course,
whether because memory has
grown dim over time’s distance
or for lack of subject matter.
At 68, the difference hardly matters
for a blank page hardly cares
which pen chooses not to write it.

NIGHT

In the end, it always comes down to night,
regardless of the moon, if any, it’s faint light
drowned by the city’s oppressive glow,
headlights, streetlights and once,
spotlights painting the sky, traceable
down to that new place we don’t wish
or can’t afford, would never dare to go.
Death is omnipresent, his shadow is at least,
but at night he has greater freedom of movement
his reaches longer, less random
and we claim not to fear the night, the sun
assumes we mourn  its absence, and this
is true at some level beyond our comprehension,
but it isn’t the dark, that is their origin and
destination, it’s the hour at which we
cede control, and that, like the roller-
coaster in freefall, is what we so deeply fear