HEAVEN, UTAH

We would sit around the small park
as evening made a hasty retreat
to somewhere, anywhere more lively
than Salt Lake City in the heart of summer.

We’d pass a jug of whatever was
cheapest at the state package store,
usuall Gallo this or that, and roll joints
which made their way around our circle.

The cops would drive by every once
in a while, and wave, and we’d
politely wave back and yell thanks
which brought a smile as they drove off.

In Salt Lake City, in 1969, there was
no drug problem, and you only drank
in private, or smirked at those who did
in this boring little corner of Mormon heaven.

A CAPPING VERSE

Snow always seemed so right
capping the summit of Fujiyama,
not dulled by the windows
of the Shinkansen to Osaka.

You barely noticed the rice fields
fanning out from its base
wanted to reach out and touch it
for that is what you do with icons.

Mount Hood had the same effect
but the chill along the Willamette
urged you to retreat quickly back
to the wine bar for a Cabernet.

HAKUUN’S BLACK AND WHITE 鐵笛倒吹 十四

Like Hakuun
shun the city,
flee the towns
and find a home
in the forest only
in the deepest part
of winter, but
do not shun people
in your solitude.

Write verses
of total silence
and dig deeply into
newly fallen snow.
Let it drift over you
until you black hair
is all that appears
on an endless field of white.

A reflection on case 14 of the Iron Flute Koans

FOOTHILLS

The clouds well up
over the foothills
casting a gray pall,
bearing the angry spirits
of the chindi who dance
amid the scrub juniper.
Brother Serra, was this
what you found, wandering
along the coast, tending
the odd sheep, Indian
and whatever else
crossed your path?

The blue bird
hopping across the dried grasses
puffing its grey breastplate and cape
sitting back, its long tail feathers
a perfect counterbalance.
It stares at the oppressing clouds
and senses the impending rain.
The horses wandering the hill
pausing to graze
on the sparse green grasses.
The roan mare
stares at the colt
dashing among the trees
then returns to her meal,
awaiting the onset of evening.

The chindi await
the fall of night
when they are free to roam
and steal other souls.
Was your water rite
more powerful
than the blessing chants?
Did you ward off their evil
and purify the breeze
of the mountains?

First published in Progenitor, Vol. 55, 2020

BLUES

He is for it or he is
against it, and if you could
predict the vacillations you
could develop the means
of measuring the flux of sanity.

You could as easily grasp
the water flowing downriver
and by asking select questions
determine the next heavy rain,

but the odds are good
you will be outside when
the deluge begins, and
only its ultimate weight
and duration remain to be felt.

It all comes down to the same
thing, if you could paint the sky
blue, precisely which shade
of blue would you use and why
that one for heaven’s sake

THIRST

A man stands on the peak of a hill,
staring down into the valley below him,
but it is not clear what he is staring at.

Standing in the valley, by the bank
of a slowly flowing river, I stare
up the tall hill to its peak, and see

the clouds gather around the man
as if soon to swallow him, and I wonder
what it is like to be eaten by a cloud.

The river flows slowly by, ignoring
the hill, with the man standing atop
its peak, ignoring me standing

on its bank, and ignoring the man
atop the ignored hill, staring at
the clouds, awaiting a hearty meal.

NOTING WEATHER

The weather, he announced to no one in particular,
ought to be musical or at least
incorporate some jazz.

Spring is bebop, Trane and Parker,
the sudden clash of Blakey
the downpours of Dizzy

and the hint of what’s to come
on the fingers of Monk, and
Kenny and Milt.

Summer brings the slow easing
as early Miles slides in, and we
sink into Chet and Stan.

Bebop returns as summer fades
but turns harder, with Dexter
Sonny and Benny and we know

that winter approaches, with its
disconcert, the sun an ever
more infrequent visitor,

Ornertte and Pharaoh reminding us
that the dark cold was our share
until Sun Ra appears on the horizon.

NATURE REMINDS

Last night, all the romantic
comedies worth watching
on Amazon and Netflix having
already been seen, many twice

we had no choice but to opt
for a coming of age tale on Netflix
accompanied by the mellifluous
tones of Sir David Attenborough.

In my dreams last night there was
a debate between the Gentoo
and Emperor Penguins as to which
was the more enrapturing,

and a Greek chorus of krill suggested
neither was worth our time or effort,
but the pod of Right Whales ended
their incessant commentary.

As I awoke to the cry of the limpkin
he reminded me that the ice cap
is ever shrinking thanks to my
kind, so I had best learn a few dirges.

BLUE ON BLUE

The sun is shining brightly today,
and the sky, with only the odd
passing cloud, is that certain blue.

Do not ask me to describe that certain
blue, but be assured it is not exactly
the blue that you are imagining right now.

Even if I would describe it, in some
infinite detail, your vision of it
would at best be a near approximation.

The gull that swooped in and stole
the crust of bread I overtoasted
this morning knew exactly what the blue was.

Birds generally, and gulls in particular
have deep understanding of blue
that you, my friends, cannot even imagine.