REDUCTIO AD ABSURDUM

Gertrude Stein said
poetry is vocabulary,
or so Simic reported it,
but in that case
what do we make
of Haiku, where
a poem at maximum
can use only
seventeen words.

Perhaps, if we
follow Levi-Strauss
haiku is not poetry
but art, for all art
is reduction
and there is little
you can do
to reduce
a haiku further.

RETURNING

The Great Egrets swoop low,
make a slow banking turn
and alight in the leafless tree.

They sit imagining water,
the wetland they knew
a month or so ago, now
more a mud flat all waiting
for the rainy season’s arrival.

They leave as night approaches,
the once wetland suddenly
again silent, and we are
left to dream of the flocks
of ibis, herons and egrets
as they dream of again
soon returning to their home.

PHOTOGRAPHY

“Trying to explain photography and its art may be more difficult than explaining particle physics.” That was his opinion, and one he deeply held and shared freely to all who would listen or could not escape him. “After all,” he said, “you can draw pictures to illustrate particle physics, and far too many have done so, but the art of photography involves a mental process and only psychiatrists believe they can draw pictures to probe that. And,” he concluded, “one thing is certain, there is no art in the least in any Rorschach Blots I have ever been shown, and I have been shown many.”

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.