FROM THE ASHES

I would like to go back
to the days when,
after a fire reduced
a commericial building
to charred rubble,
the onlookers and
the gawkers wondered
if it was an angry
customer or employee,
or sloppiness or
poor maintenance.

Now, we watch
as the fire marshals
comb through the ashes
and the rubble, looking
not only for the source
of the flames but also
the accelerant, always
wondering as we do
just how the business
was doing and if
not well, did the owner
at least pay up
on his fire insurance.

MASKING

The Air Force shaved our heads, was it
because of the heat of a San Antonio
summer or that we’ll all look equally like fools,
and easier for Sarge to maintain unit
cohesiveness in his rag tag band
of semi-successful Army avoiders.

Now we all wear masks and assume
we all look equally foolish, knowing
the virus cares nothing for cohesiveness,
and normal is insignia only to dreams
and at times life is shit on a shingle now.

We want our childhoods back, before
the war, before the barracks and bad
food, before expectations, and those few
imposed could be ignored at minimal
parental retribution, we want what
never really existed, it is our right.

We marched and sang “Suicide is Painless”,
never believed it for a moment, but now
we consider it in passing as we walk
down the shortening pier
into the ocean of darkness.

First published in Circumference, Issue 4, June 2021

THE LANGUAGE OF ZEN

The greatest problem
with our language
in the practice of zazen
can seem insurmountable.

We are lovers of tenses,
a dozen to choose from,
one spawning offspring,
time ever important to us.

In zen, on the cushion
there is no past, no future,
perfect or otherwise, nor
our friend the conditional.

We strive to always be
in the moment, there is now
and nothing else, and we
ought to strive to never be tense.

REGARDING HISTORY

We stand around
in the shadow
of the Coliseum
staring at
the Roman Forum
imagining life
in the time
of the emperor.

Fast forward
two or three
millennia,
and imagine
the faces
of those staring
at the ruins
of our civilization

if we have not
destroyed all
life by then.

TOSU’S HARMONIZING TEN BODIES 正法眼蔵 三十語

Standing in the ordinary
stare out across
the great gulf searching
for that which is sacred.
It seems to dance
just beyond the edge of vision.
Close your eyes and lift
your right foot,
place it down.
How does it feel
to stand amid
all that is sacred.

A reflection on Case 39 of the Shobogenzo (Dogen’s True Dharma Eye)

HUMPTY DUMPTY SAYS

He had long since decided that language was impossible, the English language in particular. He had acquired all manner of dictionaries, and had searched the web, using it as a reverse dictionary. But all too often the language came up short. Words at best approximated what he meant, what he saw, but to get even close, he needed to string adverbs and adjectives to his nouns and verbs until he had an ungodly mess. He knew the solution and set out to implement it. As time went on, he filled notebook after notebook, flash drive after flashdrive (redudency was a virtue in this case, he knew) with the new words. And he was finally satisfied, like Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty. For now when he used a word, it meant exactly what he wished it to because he created the word.

CONVERSATION

If you want a good conversation
birds should be your first choice,
wading birds at the top of the list,
although you still have to be quick
for if you meander they will lose interest.

Animals are to who you should turn
if you need advice on getting through
the omnipresent obstacles life raises
to impede your smooth passage through it,
but note cats tend to be pithy and easily bored.

Cows and horses in the fields
have almost infinite patience, and listen
when others would turn away, but note
that they are easily distracted so it is best
to keep a handful of hay at the ready always.

And, remember to bring your dictionaries
for birds and animals will speak to you
only in their own languages despite the fact
that they fully understand yours, but do not
deign or desire to be thought of as human.

DICTIONARY

I set out this morning
with my large dictionary
to find the perfect word
to describe the sky, the sun
just peering over the roof
of a distant house, the few
clouds aflame in a silent fire.

I knew there was a word
for what I saw in the dictionary,
for there is a word
for everything if you search
long and hard enough, but
after a while I gave up when
I realized I could no longer
recall what I had seen
that set me off on this search.

SONNET TO A PORTUGUESE

You came into my life last week, your name
forever locked away inside her mind.
My life, she felt, would never be the same
and therefore left all thought of you behind.
You loved her, I suppose, that summer night
then left her, bearing me, until she turned
me over for adoption, that she might
forget the love that you so quickly spurned.
A Jew, she said, but would say little more
a father, Portuguese, is all I know,
who cast his seed, then left and closed the door
and me, the son, he never would see grow.
You left her life long before I was born,
the father I won’t know but only mourn.

First published in Minison Project, Sonnet Collection Series, Vol. 2, Sept. 2021

ZOOM ZEN

In the middle of a rouund of zazen
I hear the bells of a nearby church,
although I am nearby no church.

Zen teaches you to be present
in each moment, to be immersed
in and not witnessing life around you.

The bells break my struggle
to not think, they introduce time
again where there should be none.

Just as soon, the bells are silent,
and the silence of 1300 miles away
pervades our small zendo,

so just perhaps Zoom, or the ability
to control its transmission, is
after all, a mindful Buddhist tool.