Stuck in traffic yet again
my mind wanders, unimpinged
by the need to pay careful attention
to the car on front also frozen in place.
I am back in school listening carefully
as the teacher explains the problem:
“You are at point B and I am at point A.
The points are 100 miles apart and we
each leave for the other point
at exactly the same time, 10:00 A.M., you
driving at a constant 40 mile per hour,
I at a constant 30 miles per hour.
At exactly what time will we
be able to wave to one another?”
The car in front begins to move,
ending my revery, so I cannot
tell the teacher that we’ll never
wave to each other because
I am far too young to drive.
The old bus shelter
has spray painted walls
and a broken metal bench.
up the hill,
a battered leatherette
briefcase clutched tightly
in his right hand,
a copy of the Seattle Times
“Nixon in China”
in the other.
He sits calmly
on the bench
case between his knees
and waits patiently
for the bus
that hasn’t run
for the better part
of sixteen years.
Still, he waits
until the sun
when he shuffles
down the hill
toward his small apartment
satisfied with another day
If you ask, she says,
you take away the chance
of ever getting a miracle.
If you ask and it happens
you reduce it to a simple
prayer answered, no matter
how surprising the outcome.
You don’t see, he said
it’s not the final act
that is the miracle,
it’s that it actually happens
to someone presumptuous enough
to believe themselves deserving.
On the road, you
will meet many.
Greet each with a silence
that speaks loudly.
All of the books
of the dharma
are contained in
a single gassho.
A reflection on Case 36 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate) Koans
Richard Wilbur lives in Massachusetts
and in Key West, Florida according
to his dust jackets. If you set sail westward
from San Diego you may find your dream
of China, of the endless wall which draws
the stares and wonder more foreboding
more forbidden even than the city,
which you visit to sate yourself of lights,
sirens and the blood heat of steam grates.
It is far easier than digging and far less
dirty, and the walls of the sea rise
more slowly. Once it was a risky journey
the danger of the edge looming over the horizon,
but then digging was no option, pushing deeper
with your crude shovel, knees bloody,
until, at last, you broke through
with dreams of the dragon as you fell
into the limitless void. Now you sail
with dreams of the Pacific sky, although
water has no need of names. The poet
has grandchildren now, and it is to them
to dream of the China that was.
First appeared in Midnight Mind, Number Two (2001) and again in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press, (2008)
He knew he should not have brought the gun. He hated guns,
they served no purpose in his world of words. He wanted to
look at it, to stare at it, really. He thought that if he did so
he might be better able to write about the senselessness
of the world in which he lived, a world he so very much wanted to
change. He had the gun. He knew what he had to do. He
shot a hole in the forehead of the picture of Anton Chekhov
that hung on the wall over his desk.
It is just that sort of summer day
when the sparse clouds crawl ever more slowly
across the city, peering down, as if wishing
they could end their journey, knowing this won’t happen.
On the fields of Falkirk and Culloden Moor
stained with the blood of ancestors who, only now,
claim me as one of them, allow me to wear the tartan,
the clouds build and flee without ever pausing
to peer down on the carnage below.
They want only to move on, continue the passage,
give endless chase to the sun, certain
they will fail and fall, only to take up
the chase again onward into eternity.