LADDER

You have to stop and wonder,
the child said, why people
can take joy in killing, why
people can scheme each other,
why people can cheat if they can.

Birds, the child added, only
try and scheme people for food,
why they cheat for the sake
of cheating, kill for pleasure,
yet we say we are the higher species.

Perhaps, the child concludes,
it is we who are standing
on our heads, looking up
the species ladder, and we
are actually on the bottom.

WE COULD

We could, if you want,
sit in the park on our folding
chairs or better a folded blanket
and stare out over the pond,
its silver surface shirred
by a midday breeze.

We could picnic, sandwiches
of brie and apples, or for us
hummous with tahini and
a bottle of chardonnay, carefully
poured into plastic glasses
imagining themseles crystal.

The dragonflies would ignore us,
busy doing what we cannot see,
though we might draw the eye
of a great egret, for they like
nothing more than to stare
at the strangeness around them.

THE WAVES

We, so far out at sea,
see only the waves passing,
the rise and fall, the rhythm,
and cannot imagine
it could be otherwise,

You, on the shore
cannot perceive the waves
we do, torn by the reef
that leaves you only
imagining what you think
the waves might be.

We cannot imagine
the silence, the isolation
you must feel in your
waveless world with
only memory of voices
to shape the shards
of sounds you hear.

GYOZAN CAN’T SAY IT

The true artist,
when asked
to draw a perfect tree
will lead you to the garden
and have you sit
under the great maple.
The true master
asked to speak of Dharma
will silently
face the wall
in zazen.

A reflection on case 118 of the Shobogenzo, Dogen’s True Dharma Eye Koans

SNOW

At first it was just odd
to think of snow as merely
a concept, a memory softer,
more pleasant than its reality.

You can grow accustomed
to concepts, they are generally
somewhat neat and tidy, easily
filed and brought forth on demand.

The concept of snow has
its great advantages, snowmen
of perfect shape, never melting
and no one must shovel a concept.

But there are moments, a tree
decorated for Christmas, you
want to reach out and feel
the chill suddenly warm your heart.

MONOLOGUE


I would like nothing more than
to have a long conversation with the birds,
that there is much they could tell me,
much they know that I should understand
but I am the interloper here, and they
have lost trust in my kind.

I watch them closely, trying 
to discern what I can of their thoughts,
but in a flash of wing, they erase
my efforts, their unique version
of giving me the bird, so to speak.

I speak to them, offer apologies,
atone for my presence, for the others
who have taken their space,
and they listen, but in the end,
turn away again, having, they say,
heard this too many times before.

ANGLE OF INCIDENCE

Dusk reflects dawn much as
dawn reflects dusk, and it is
our fear of night and deep need
for direction that sets them apart.

Imagine a photograph of the sun
hovering just over the horizon,
compass-less we do not know
what preceded, what will follow.

We prefer day and dawn, for
it is then we feel in control,
our thoughts leashed, our fears
locked away from sight and touch.

Dusk promises only night,
the darkness where our fears
find corners in which to hide,
only to spring out unwanted.

So we turn away from the sky,
unsinged by its flaming beauty,
hide ourselves from and in fear
as nature laughs at our foolishness.

BENEATH THE WAVES

She says she has always wanted
to swim like a dolphin, and she laughs
when others tell her that she can,
in the Florida Keys and in Hawaii.

She tells them that anyone, at least
anyone with money can swim
with the dolphins, but she wants
to swim like a dolphin as well.

She wants to see the sky appear
through the veil of water as she
breaches for a breath, the surface
a boundary easily stretched.

She wants to hear the songs
of whales, the conversations of her
peers, and the deep silence nature
occasionally affords in the world aquatic.

She sits on the shore, the waves
lapping at her feet, the sun
emblazoning the water, sees a fin
appear in the shallows and dreams.