WOODEN PILLOW 鐵笛倒吹 六十

If, sitting at your meal
you hear the song of a bird,
what do you do?
You may tap your chopstick rest,
and perhaps he will answer
and repeat his sweet song.
If you tap a second time
and there is only silence
is the bird rejecting you
or offering his song to another,
flown from your window.

Perhaps you should tap again
and hear the sweeter song
of silence that echoes
over the garden and zendo.
On a distant limb
the small songbird smiles.

A reflection on Case 60 of the Iron Flute Koans.

GRAMMATICALLY APART

What sets us apart
from other species
has little or nothing
to do with self-awareness
and everything to do
with parts of speech.

The birds outside
my window shun labels,
think only of eating,
mating, flight, of going
and arriving, of being.

They know nothing of birth,
do not fear death, for it
is merely a label they cannot
accept or understand.

It is left to our kind
to need to label, to define
every small and large thing
for we sense our existence
and must rely on two things,
for we knew that we live
a world of pronoun and noun.

IBIS SEEING YOU

They pause
in their foraging in the lawn
to peer up at us,
strange looking interlopers,
but they are used 
to us by now
and return 
to the task at hand.

We no longer 
find them strange
though we never quite
get used to the curved
salmon colored beaks,
and we do wonder
why the ancient 
Egyptians held 
them sacred.

It seems that they
have never forgiven
their Egyptian ancestors
from affixing
their head 
to a man, god
or no god, he
couldn’t find
a grub if his life
depended on it.

INVASION

The light has faded
and the wetland lies under
its mantle of faint starlight.

The birds are there, we
can hear them, but our eyes
do not allow us to see them,
despite our desire to have
more time with them.

They can see us, in our 
well lit homes, staring out,
but they do not want 
particularly to see us.

To us they are a fascination,
to them we are an invader
and the victim does not care
to see his conqueror, but
the invader always wants
to see his victims yet again.

IN CHORUS

Deep in a small forest,
a murmuring brook reflects
the shards of sun sliding
through the crown of pines,
its whispered wisdom
infinitely more clear
than the babbling of men
holding the reins firmly
in distant cities of power.

The birds know this well,
sing of it in chorus, nature’s
music, jazz scatting that
the graying clouds absorb,
an always willing audience,
and the wind rushing by
cries through the trees
in the voice of long dead 
poets whose words offer
a truth to which cloistered
talking heads have grown deaf.

First published in Pages Penned in Pandemic , 2021

CHANGES

The finches are struggling
this morning, searching the lawn
for the odd clover seed that’s yet 
to be reduced to dust by a summer
where the rain has painted
our world with a palette 
of parchment, ochre, leaving us
wandering an increasingly sepia world. 

We know that the rains will come 
again, that nature’s green will 
return, however briefly, before
winter encases us all in its white
mantle that we pierce at our risk.

The finches and wrens know,
or simply care nothing of this
and go on with their search, until
the approach of the cat brings
their effort to a sudden end.The finches and wrens know,
or simply care nothing of this
and go on with their search, until
the approach of the cat brings
their effort to a sudden end.

ABIDING NATURE

The abiding Buddha nature
of birds is demonstrated
by their calm ability to carry
on conversations in the presence
of interacting humans, who
are too often deaf to the sounds
in which nature immerses them.

But when we speak to the birds
in a crude facsimile of their
native chirp, caw and trill,
they pause to listen, strain
to understand us, wishing
only to let us know their thoughts,
their love of nature, and just
how shocked and disappointed
they are at our inability
to exercise our stewardship.