WHAT DID YOU DO

When they asked him
what did you do during the war
he said “I just stood guard.”
When they asked him where
he said “A station, just
a station, like most others,
I just stood guard.”
When they asked him
did you see the trains
carrying the bodies crammed
into cattle cars
he said “I saw many trains,
it was just a station, but mostly
I looked at the sky, wishing
for the sun, but mostly it was gray
and there was smoke
from the chimneys.”
When they asked him
why did you wear
the lightening bolts
he said “I was a ski instructor
but I broke my leg
so I stood at the station,
just a station like most others.”
When they asked him
did he know of the ovens
he said “They made bread
which we ate each night
when there were no potatoes.”
When they asked him
about the Jews
he said “I knew no Jews;
there were none in the town
where I stood guard
at a station, just
a station like most others.”
When they asked him
what he did after the war
he said “I prayed, just
prayed for my sins,
sins like those
of so many others.”

ARLINGTON NATIONAL

As the plane slowly descends
the cemetery appears
through a break in the clouds.
The headstones are arrayed
in neatly ordered geometries,
unknown to those who lie beneath,
and those who water
the always verdant lawns.
Mausoleums cluster

in a small village,
from which no one ever moves,
and rest comes easily
to those who lie within.

ANCESTORS

He clearly remembers standing on the edge
peering down into the almost bottomless canyon,
listening to the narrow river slide across the rocks
thrown down by its walls over millennia.
He was a visitor here, knew he would stay
only briefly, then leave, his spirit hiding
among the rocks in the nearby mountains,
staring down on the mesa for eternity.
He remembers listening for coyote, begging
the wily one to tell him the tales of its ancestors
with whom he will soon share this canyon.
All he hears is the wail of the jackrabbit,
coyote’s message in a foreign voice,
as night engulfs the mesa and he
stares up at the galaxies and stars
which barely notice the small orb
hanging in the distant sky.

WHERE?

Set aside for a moment
the sheer insanity of it all.
Pretend that this is not
your concern, it is merely
something that you inherited,
never wanted, would gladly
part with on the simplest
of requests you doubt
will ever be forthcoming.
Is this why you treasure it
and cling to it so tightly
or is there still the slightest
but of the magic that once
attracted you, that you thought
you had put aside, knowing
full well you never could.

SEKITO’S ASK THE PILLAR 正法眼蔵 四十一

If you want an answer
do not ask a question –
your answer cannot be mine
nor can mine be yours.
Instead, ask the stone wall,
it has nothing to say
and in its perfect silence
all questions are asked
and all answers are found.


A reflection on Case 41 of the Shobogenzo, Dogen’s True Dharma Eye

EARLY MORNING

Early this morning
as I drove through the mist
that clings to Portland in March
like a child’s yellow slicker,
I thought of you, home,
asleep on our bed, my side
tidy, no faint indentation
of life, and I thought of
the thousands who have died to date
in Iraq, who never again will leave
a faint indentation in any bed.
It is far easier thinking of you,
of regretting the miles between us
at this moment, but knowing
that I will shortly bridge
those miles and we will tonight indent
our bed, that two thousand miles
is little more than an inconvenience,
while many of them are no more
that a dozen miles outside of
countless towns; but the effect
of that short distance is infinite
and they can only indent the thawing
earth beneath the granite stones.


For a while, I will be using Thursday’s posts to feature poems I previously had published. Today’s, Early Morning previously appeared in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press, (2008).