ONE STEP TOO FAR

“As you get older,” he said,
“the body grows remarkably
adept at telling you when
you have done too much,
or done something you shouldn’t.”

What he didn’t say, the critical
piece of advice I wish I heard,
is that the body only speaks
well after the fact, a lecture
surely, but never a warning.

No one wants to go a step
short, to miss whatever mark
someone randomly established,
but the price of a step too far
is high and often long lasting.

My back sat me down this
morning , and with that smirk
told me the lifting yesterday
could be paid for over a week,
and my arthritic knees nodded.

FROM THERE

The middle, she said, is what
is all important, for everything
extends from that precise point.

It’s something we learned
as children, a lesson sitting
in every good playground.

Buddhists know it certainly,
it is the way we want to find,
the route to peace and compassion.

And let’s face it, when it comes
to everything, we all know
that’s the place you want to be.

TAIGEN FANS HIMSELF 正法眼蔵 三十二

When a leaf leaves the tree
it falls precisely where it should.
When a flower petal is carried
off on a strong wind it
comes to rest in the proper place.
When you smell the sweet aroma
of next summer’s roses
use the nose you had
before your parents were born.

A reflection on case 32 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo (The True Dharma Eye) Koans

NIGHT APPROACHES

The clouds this evening
are the deep gray that so long
to be black, but the retreated
sun just below the horizon
lingers long enough to deny them.

The space, shrinking, between
the clouds, is the gray of promise
that the night will soon deny,
and the birds who take over
the preserve, chant their vespers,
each in his or her own language,
uncommon tongues singing
their hymn punctured, punctuated
by the flapping of wings, as the night
encloses us in a cocoon that will
carry us into the coming morning.

KENSHO

Tonight, if all goes well, I will be
a monk in a good-sized Buddhist temple.
I am hoping it will be in Nara,
at Todai-ji perhaps, or Asakusa
at Senso-ji, or better still somewhere
in Kyoto, although it might well be
in the Myanmar jungle or somewhere
deep within the Laotian highlands.

One problem with that world is
that I have no control over it, which,
come to think of it, leaves it
like the waking world which
has never hewn to my direction.

I’ve had this desire for weeks
on end, and I suspect tonight
will be no different, and I will spend
eight hours sorting files, writing
cease and desist letters and trying
to convince myself that even that
is a form of mindful meditation
and abiding kensho will arrive
in the next rapid eye movement.

ERSE WHILE

Growing up, I never imagined
that I was Lithuanian, I mean I
might have as easily been from Mars.

And it was only in my dreams
that Gaelic was an ancestral tongue,
not one my ancestors spoke,
at least those who hadn’t yet
made the unthinkable move
to Norfolk and the frigid sea.

Now I am all of those, and I know
that blood is a bond that is strong
even if it lies dormant half
a lifetime, for when you find it
it ties you to a world which
you imagined only in your dreams.

FOOTHILLS

The clouds well up
over the foothills
casting a gray pall,
bearing the angry spirits
of the chindi who dance
amid the scrub juniper.
Brother Serra, was this
what you found, wandering
along the coast, tending
the odd sheep, Indian
and whatever else
crossed your path?

The blue bird
hopping across the dried grasses
puffing its grey breastplate and cape
sitting back, its long tail feathers
a perfect counterbalance.
It stares at the oppressing clouds
and senses the impending rain.
The horses wandering the hill
pausing to graze
on the sparse green grasses.
The roan mare
stares at the colt
dashing among the trees
then returns to her meal,
awaiting the onset of evening.

The chindi await
the fall of night
when they are free to roam
and steal other souls.
Was your water rite
more powerful
than the blessing chants?
Did you ward off their evil
and purify the breeze
of the mountains?

First published in Progenitor, Vol. 55, 2020

ETA

So many of the late arrivals tonight
are egrets, the Cattles long in
among the reeds and brush sharing
space, only reluctantly, with the ibis.

It is their snowy cousins who arrive
as the horizon is a fading band
of orange gold dissipating under the
faint, unyielding eye of Venus,
and seem shocked when they
are turned away with flap of wing
and cry, warned by the perching
anhinga that in this preserve
the inn fills quickly, and in January
there is no nearby manger
to be found, so you’d best
make avian friends, for morning
arrives all too quickly enough.

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.

ANGELS

He says he cannot believe in angels
because he has never seen one.
I do not believe in his sort of angels, but not
for lack of visual confirmation, rather
that I live in a world that now
is so deeply in need, that an angel
might be our last, best hope, but
the scope of angelic miracles is
not likely wide enough to encompass
the utter disaster which we have created.

I tell him that I do believe in angels,
that I have met several in my life,
and scowl when he laughs so that
he must consider that I am serious,
and then he asks what an angel
looks like, so he will recognize one
when and if he ever sees one.

I advise him that you don’t have
to search all that hard, that you merely
need to be aware, and watch the face
of the baby when you stop and coo
at him or her as they lie in their stroller,
staring up at the always welcoming sky.