MY PAIN

I want so to say that i feel
your pain, but we’d both
know that was an utter lie.

I can tell you abut my pain,
describe it at great length,
and I will be utterly disappointed
when you admit you can only
imagine it as a reflection
of your own pain, which I
am certain doesn’t begin
to rise to the level of mine,
but that is your failure, and I
will forgive it for I know
that my pain is unique and
beyond even your imagination.

So let us just agree that each
of our pains is beyond
the contemplation of the other,
secure in our own uniqueness.

LANGUAGE

The Hawaiian language has 12 letters
which is important to understand
particularly if you consider writing
an apostrophic poem, not to a person
or thing, but to a letter of the alphabet.

It might help to explain why Hawaiian
poets never write about zoology or
the role that zygotes play in life, and
leave zymurgy to the haoles, for
native Hawaiians prefer a linear
life, free of endless zigs and zags

I don’t imagine I will try and learn
Hawaiian any time soon, although
with twelve letters, I’d have an easier
time of it than Russian, say, but nor
will I write an apostrophic poem
to the letter Z although I will open
a bottle of zinfandel to honor it.

IT’S ABOUT TIME

My first inclination, in fact
my strong desire, when he asks me
what time it is, is not to consult
my watch, but to say that we live
in an age of unprecedented uncertainty,
an era of division and incivility,
and days fraught with risk that
each might be the last.

I know he wants to know the hour
and the minute, but if he is late,
the moment wasted in knowing
just how much so merely adds
marginally to the problem.

And if the question lacks
that import to him, then time
is no more than a human construct,
malleable despite our demand
of rigidity, and subject to
the whims of Popes and politicians,
and all the rest of nature
can only marvel at our absurdity.

RUYGE’S ULTIMATE STAGE 鐵笛倒吹 二十八

If you answer the question
I will ask you another
each more difficult.

If you enter a room
and catalog its contents
there will always be a door
leading to yet another room,
another inventory to be taken
to determine what is there
and what is missing.

It is only when you enter
an empty room,
that you will find all things.

A reflection on Case 28 of the Iron Flute Koans

THE POEM

The poem, all too often,
suffers from a solitariness that
borders on despair, alone
in a world that otherwise offers
no peace or quiet contemplaton.

The poem does not wish this,
it prefers to be the center
of attention in the midst
of all that is happening
at any given moment.

The poem never expected
to have to struggle so much
for even the smallest audience,
and knows it will be a battle
holding attention if it finds one.

The poem knows it has much
to say, that it has seen more
than most eyes could appreciate,
but has no voice, and thus
dies its slow death in silence.

NIGHTLY PRAYERS

My mother always told me to say
my prayers before bed, which was odd
given that she never prayed, and didn’t
as far as we could tell, believe in a deity.

I knew, as my Rabbi taught, that you do not
seek something for yourself in prayer,
and world peace and harmony did not
seem on the horizon despite my entreaties.

Now I kneel, and face the wall before bed,
and listen to the prayers of the birds
in the wetlands, although it is not clear
if it is a deity or the moon to which they pray.

My mother is long buried now, I will join
her eventually, and there is still no peace
in the world, merely violence and poverty,
but the birds have greater faith than I ever did.

HEART OF DHARMA

A single snowy egret sits
on the lowest branch of a long
barren tree, where hours from now
a thousand birds will arrive
for still another evening and night.

He stares at me as I am mindfully
vacuuming, watching carefully.

I pause and ask if by chance he
is a Buddha and he lifts his long neck
and peers around in all directions.

I repeat my question, and he
lifts one wing, which I know
to be his way of saying, “I,
like you, am imbued with Buddha
nature, and I with mother
nature as well, and if you doubt me
ask one of the countless
Bodhisattvas who will arrive
in hours to study the Dharma
well into what will be a wet night.

HYAKUJO’S SECOND VISIT 正法眼蔵 語十四

You may come asking questions,
and perhaps the teacher
will answer you with a discourse.
If you go deaf and hear nothing,
if the words flit
like so many mayflies
just as soon gone,
if no word finds purchase
you will have a grasp
the heart of the Dharma.

A reflection on Case 54 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo (The True Dharma Eye)

DEFLATED DREAMS

when did youthful dreams
slip away
erode
get consumed by
parents
teachers
or simply abandoned

reality, yours
theirs a poor substitute
all edges
and points
piercing hope

love once (a) given
rendered faint hope
worse, impossible dream
delusion? you want
to think not
want so much
can’t have
bad for you
we know good
when we give it
none for you

time
past so
grow up

THE MISSING KEY

You said you’d leave a key
under the mat on the front stoop,
or was it taped atop the light fixture
just to the right of the door jamb top?

Well I checked both places
and there was no key to be found,
so perhaps it slipped out, got kicked
and someone absentmindedly took it

and saved it meaning one day
to return it, or tossed in in the nearest
garbage dumpster they could find,
or is wearing on a chain around their neck.

I did pause to consider that this key
could be a metaphor for your feelings
and that perhaps I was victim of my own
dream of a love that was never to be.

But that would be ridiculous, wouldn’t it?

First published in Dreich , Issue 10, Autumn 2020 (Scotland)