TODAI-JI

The snow capped mountain
stares at the December sky
shredding laughing clouds.
I sit by the fire dreaming
of the slow approach of spring.

There is a moment
when all is only silence
the zendo in stillness.
In that moment I can hear
the entirety of Dharma

The temple bell tolls,
the deer assume their posture,
afternoon zazen,
I walk around Todai-ji
in futile search of Buddha.

THEN, NOW

It was easier then, so let’s
go there, the spring of 1970,
the location is less important,
so long as it’s a coffee house
where those barely old enough
to drink, or barely short of that
age congregate, waiting for
something to happen or, I
seriously hoped, someone,
someone with little hair, but
who carried James Joyce in
his jeans pocket, Portrait of
the Artist the only Joyce to fit.

I had thought of Ginsberg or
Corso, a better fit, but too
intelligentsia for this audience,
and literature was not my purpose,
although I hoped they did
not know that, or if so, would
not hold it against me, at least
until after a first date and sight
of me in my Air Force uniform.

I did succeed that spring, so
my efforts did bear fruit, but
50 years, and a failed marriage later,
let’s instead go back twenty
years, to an Indian restaurant
where being a poet fit neatly
into the hip pocket of my jeans.

First appeared in the South Shore Review (Canada) Issue 2, Spring 2021

THE POND

Along the shore
of the pond wishing
it was a lake,
the anhinga proudly
shows off the small fish
that will be his
mid-morning snack.

The egret finds
this show of ostentation
abhorrent and returns
to her search
for bugs on the reeds
fringing the shore.

The alligator swims
lazily off shore
hoping we will
soon pass, and
considers whether
he wants only to sun,
or if an anhinga would
make a good meal.

MELODY

The melody arose from the most unexpected place.
They heard it deep within the woods
and even the birds fell silent
peering around, searching
for its unrevealed source.
It carried on for several verses
and then, as quickly as it came
it was gone, the final note
carried off by a spring wind.
No one entered, no one left
the woods that day
and though many searched
no instrument was found
and the trees of the woods
grew silent at the searchers’ approach.

The Japanese invented
haiku certain that a painting
of great beauty could
be completed with only
a few strokes of the brush.

The Japanese have no word
for what we claim is higher
order poetry, academic and
pedantic are two other English
words which easily apply.
And the Japanese are hard put
to comprehend so much of what
we deem experimental, the result,
a friend named Yoshi said,
of what seems the odd scraps
of a dictionary torn apart
by an unexpected tornado.

In Tokyo every tree knows
that at least four
poems lie within it, each
awaiting the appropriate
season.

UTEKI ASKS BUDDHA 鐵笛倒吹 四十語

While out for a walk
on a sun filled Spring day
if you happen across the Buddha
how will you recognize him?

If you offer gassho
to Buddha surely
it will be returned, but
is it he or merely
your reflection off
the surface of a still pond?
Does this matter to you?

A reflection on case 45 of the Iron Flute Koans

THE PROMISE

The moon has gone past full
and as waning as I write,
it’s slow retreat hopefully taking with it
the burden of winter, that we now
must measure in feet, the inches
having been heaved up, one upon another.
Spring will come soon
for a taste of it, for spring
is an inveterate tease, preferring
to appear only long enough
to let the melting snows
floor around, and to occasionally
into our homes, so that we,
maps and markets in hand,
pause to dream of the summer
which we now doubt will ever appear.