BY DECREES

As King, newly appointed,
he mulled over what to do
for his first official act.
The predecessor King was known
to be much a recluse, one
who tolerated people as
a necessity of a Kingdom,
and he would say, a good
source of revenue to the King.
That one didn’t last long, never
imagined the people could
rise up and overthrow a monarch.
He would be more benevolent,
but he did need to make
a strong initial statement.
It came to him – and he
issued a decree banning all
mirrors and shiny surfaces
in public, and he knew
it was a good idea when
everyone else grew ever older,
and he, he knew, never aged a day.


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RINZAI’S ENLIGHTENMENT 正法眼蔵 二十七

If you ask your question
you will find an answer
but ask another and the stick
will respond each time.
If you seek another teacher
will you change the question
or the answer, and does it matter.
Take up the stick, who
will you strike, your teacher
or yourself, and is there
any real difference?


A reflection on Case 27 of the Shobogenzo (Dogen’s True Dharma Eye)

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AN OLD FRIEND

More than a bit ratty, would be
mildly putting it, near bald
almost everywhere, fully so
in far too many spots to count.

Eyelashes are minimal, hard
to see for their fineness, one
eye a bit out of focus, a faint
cloud covering its internal horizon.

You might say it is sad looking,
and no one, not even I would
argue with you, but what did
you expect really, time is cruel,

so in the morning mirror, my
childhood stuffed cat in hand,
we agree we wear our 67 years
on our sleeves and faces.


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GOING DOWN

Hell is a place where what you
least desire becomes eternally yours,
or so we were told as children, well
not us, not the Jewish kids, for us
Hell was our mothers’ finding
that copy of Playboy we stole from
our father’s stash our mother
didn’t know about, and which he
would deny, throwing us under
the bus or any large vehicle she found

If we buy into Hell, and given that
ours is an aging population, many
of whom have landed in Florida
and Arizona to avoid the winters
that are hell on the ubiquitous
arthritis, and all those who have
joyously consumed the evangelical
Kool-Aid, when the final bell
rings, they may be surprised
to discover there is far, far more
of a chance of a snowball in Hell.


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My back bemoans its age,
knowing the alternative
is far worse, and as
we limp along, we await
the call to attend
the unveiling of the resonance
images which draw us in
and will, in short order
explain everything
if, even, there is no answer
no underlying truth
and certain it will not find
the simple alignment
that eludes us and
we will continue to share
our abiding pain.

HOLY VISIONS

Night has swallowed the city
and in the laundromat, dryer 42
decries her loose drive belt.
The young girl turns, “can you see it
the Virgin Mary, in the glass porthole”.
No, I think, only white cotton panties
and several pair of jeans
in endless rotation.
“She speaks to me, asking
for my forgiveness for the burden
she has delivered to us
and though I try to give her absolution
she will not listen. Talk to her,
maybe it is a male voice she needs
to ease her mourning.”
I stare fixedly at the washer
as the light for final rinse snaps on,
“she knows you, she is waiting,
so talk into the camera, that one
with the red light, and tell her
that you forgive, as your forgave
the other Mary, who you redeemed.”
The dryer slowly grinds to a halt
and the young girl grimaces,
“she is gone, so perhaps she heard
what I could not, and I thank you”.
She wanders out onto the street
and fades into the shadow
outside the penumbra of the streetlight.


First published in Prairie Winds (1999)

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STARE DOWN

I stand still, staring, as
you stand as still staring back,
neither of us yielding in what
will be a long played-out game
on a day of intense sunshine.

I am certain you will concede
will depart, and I am ready,
much as you assume I will tire
as my kind always do,
and turn to other things.

You have all day, this is
after all, your home, and I
have that camera around
my neck and arms growing
heavy keeping it poised

to watch your wings unfurl
as you take skyward, but
you are as close as I will
come to free flight and you
soon honor me with your departure.


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