CARNEY BARKER

You there, walking along the midway

come into my tent, for only a dollar

I will show you wonders

beyond your meager comprehension

but this offer is only good

for the next fifteen minutes

for that is when I start my show,

It’s not something you want to miss.

I know you’ve seen quarters pulled

from ears, doves fly off

from and oversized top hat

that moments before was empty

but you have never seen

the likes of what I will show you.

Here is my father, watch him

closely cast his seed, closely

and like that he is gone.

Not good enough you say

then watch again, even

more closely this time, see her

lie on my table, her gown

draped over her, see me reach

and pluck a small baby

better than a pigeon isn’t it,

but you blinked, where has she gone.

Only tepid applause, so I guess

you want one more, and I

am never one to disappoint.

See him standing there

it almost looked like

he is standing before a mirror shaving

and now he, too, is gone

before your very eyes.

If you still aren’t satisfied

if you haven’t gotten

your monies worth then please,

please step forward, for I can work

with others than my parents,

truly I can, so where are you going.

Step into my tent ladies and gentlemen

the next show starts

in only fifteen minutes,

all for a single dollar.

First published in The Parliament Literary Magazine – Issue 5- Masks and Manes 

A MATTER OF TIME

It was only
a matter of time,
and the time has come
when the Chinese
would abandon
the time honored
“please to be
placing the Tab A
withinside the slot
on Part E,”
and instead
merely show
undecipherable
pictures of parts,
so that with
but a single
set of instructions
they can frustrate
buyers in all nations.

DŌGO WON’T SAY 正法眼蔵 二十九

I am the life
of a hundred million others,
you are the life
of a hundred million others,
a hundred million others
are my life, a hundred million
others arise from my death.
How many hundred million
are the same?
None of them will say.

A reflection on Case 29 of the Shobogenzo (Dogen’s True Dharma Eye) Koans

VISITORS

We keep looking, some of us
certain they are there,
others as certain they are not,
as God didn’t mention them.

We hope to see them
to reach out to them
to understand them,
to learn from them.

Of course, we know
that if they are here
they are so much more
intelligent than we

and hardly likely
to announce their
presence given what
they must know about

how we behave
with immigrants
and aliens of all sorts.

Chu Gives Three Calls 無門關 十七

Three times the master’s question

three times the student’s response

each time, the same answer

each time the master shrinks

as answer surpasses question.

There is no master

there is no student

there is only the lamp

in two sets of hands.

A reflection on case 11 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate) koans.

TECHNICAL SERVICE

At some point in each call
to a customer service representative,
or worse still technical assistance
which is a painful oxymoron
in and of itself, I pause and wonder
how the conversation might go
if I could reach through
the ether of the phone
and grab the script.
Would the voice on the other end
suddenly become attached
to a person, ripped
from its computer home?
Would that person engage
in pleasantries for a bit
before telling me that I should
go to the website where
I will inevitably learn that
there is nothing they can
or will do for me? And why
is a call to my local doctor
garbled, but my computer
voice in India is crisp, clear
if never fully intelligible?

I HAVE NEVER BEEN

six foot four with a full head
of longish brown hair neatly cut

five foot ten as the Air Force
claimed although I never
conformed to their assumption

sitting on the deck of a yacht
trying to decide if it was
sufficiently large enough
to meet my desires

sitting on a beach in Hawaii
my oceanside villa
mere steps away,
the housekeeper beckoning
with a freshly made drink

lying in Arlington Cemetery
my life marked by a simple
white stone marker, name,
religion, and branch of service

But I am here, writing this,
and have no real complaints.

SOZAN’S FALLING AND RISING 正法眼蔵 三十三

When you fall
earth on one side
sky the other.
When you rise,
earth on one side
sky the other.
When there is no falling,
no sky, no earth,
when there is no rising
no earth, no sky.
Sky and earth
do not stand still.

A reflection on Case 33 of the Shobogenzo (Dogen’s True Dharma Eye) Koans

THE OFFICE

Step into a hotel elevator
and you will see the sign
“Elevator certificate is located
In the General Manager’s Office.”

If Einstein were to come back
to life and see this, would he
inquire as to where he could find
the Special Manager’s Office?

And George S. Patton would
no doubt bellow out a demand
that the Corporal Manager
stand front and center.

But as a lawyer, now retired
I am far more interested
in learning the precise office
location of the Specific Manager.

HELL DONE OVER

My ultimate goal, never to be achieved
is to redesign hell and all of its circles
to better reflect the world we live in now.

Of course I’d need two circles for
politicians, one for each major party,
and independents get to choose.

Catholic priests, minister and rabbis
who abused members of their flocks
get a circle of their own with the movie

Dogma playing in an endless loop.
There would be all the usual circles
for the those whose lives fell short

and one for Buddhists. Imagine
a run down Motel 6 in the worst possible
neighborhood, since they will only

stay until their reincarnation as
something truly ghastly and detested.
Those would be my desirables, but

the one certainty, the absolute is
the worst of all, set aside for those
who spent untold hours toiling

to write catchy but ever so vapid, cloying
melodies and lyrics that become stuck
in your mind like an intractable fungus.

First Published in AGON Journal, Issue 0, 2021