AUDIENS CAVE

I just want you to know
that the Old Man set me up,
and I’ll admit that, cagey as I am,
I never saw it coming.

I mean I knew he was capable
of anything, but he always adopted
this holier than thou persona so why
would I imagine He’d do this?

And it wasn’t like He clued
me in on it, how was I to know
that one was somehow different,
and weren’t they the smart ones?

So I take the fall, and you can bet it
will be an eternity of distrust, if not fear
or hatred, and I have to say, the damned
apple wasn’t all that tasty anyway.

HOJU TURNS HIS BACK 鐵笛倒吹 七十二

If a beggar approaches
do you turn away from him.
If a rich man calls to you,
do you receive him openly.
How do you tell them apart?

If a poor thief in fine, stolen silks
stands before you
what do you offer in welcome,
and what for his battered victim
now wearing the thief’s discards.
The fool finds an easy answer,
the wise man awaits the stick.


A reflection on case 72 of the Iron Flute Koans

GOD HAS COME, OR NOT

It is the wet season
when the rains wash the village
carrying off the detritus of poverty.
On the adobe wall
of the ancient town hall
some villagers say
a face appeared one morning.
To some it was
the face of Christ
to others that of an old man
a former mayor, perhaps,
to most of the tourists
from the nearby resort
no more than random discoloration
of the aging plaster
that clung to the beams
by the force of will.
They arrived by bus
and rusting pick ups,
bowed to the wall
and reached out gingerly
like children touching
the flame of a candle.
To the mason it was
a job that would feed
his family for another week.


First appeared in Erothanatos, Vol. 3, No. 3 July 2019, Pg. 40

RINZAI PLANTS A PINE 鐵笛倒吹 十八

If you have a seed
in your pocket
what will you do with it?
Even a small seed
planted carefully
in the middle of a forest
may take hold and grow.

Tamp the soil with your toe
three time, three times again
secure in knowing
this tree will never
provide you shade.


A reflection on Case 18 of the Iron Flute Koans

CULPA

We should stop blaming the snake. First, do we really want to admit the reptile was that much smarter than we were? More importantly, how long could we have survived wearing the leaves, if anything at all, and eating fruits and vegetables? Okay, I grant you that is all I eat, but by choice and after considerable thought. And, by the way, never tell a Jewish male he can’t eat something. We all know full well that even shrimp and pork are kosher in a Chinese restaurant. At least on Friday night.

WE HEAR YOU

He loves looking at the sky,
particularly at night for he knows
someday they will contact him,
and if not him, someone else
who, like him, loves looking at the sky.
He has no idea what the message will be
he isn’t sure he, or anyone, will
be able to understand it, but
he is certain he or that other someone
will know the message has been received,
and that will be enough; leave it
to others to decipher things.
That is something his kind has been doing
for millennia, though he fears if he receives
the message, or someone like him does,
understanding or not, it will mark
the moment of the death of God, or the birth
of a new, another, God, or just maybe
they will rewrite the ancient books
and hearing God’s voice will no longer
lead instantly to madness, which
he imagines to be madness itself.

BELLY OF THE BEAST

From within the belly of the beast
Sheol is a placid place, removed
from the waves rattling the timbers,

silent of the cries of the men
berating their fate, uncertain
as to the cause of their discomfort.

Let Nineveh burn, lets its people
scatter to the streets, let the King
stare out at the destruction and wonder.

He should need no prophet, no seer,
no interpreter of dreams to know
why all about him lies in ruin.

Inside the belly of the beast
it is warm, and comforting,
a womb from which one

should have no desire to be
cast out upon the land, or to drown
in the swirling waters of the angry sea.

There is only the hunger in the bowels,
and the blackness of a thousand nights,
a blackness darker than the shade

of the tree, which withers in the heat,
of the waters which disappear
before quenching the endless thirst.

Within the belly of the beast
there is no sound, no voice
to draw forth thoughts, no dreams

to disrupt the sleep that will not come,
only the void and the silence
and the cries that echo off baleen walls.

Nineveh lies in ruin, Sodom a pillar
of salt, the walls of Jerusalem lie
a jumble of stones, the oil of the lamp

seeps into the arid ground, and only
the weed springs forth to mark
the graves of the forgetting people.


First Appeared in A Writer’s Choice, Vol. 2, No. 1, Spring 1999