DEAR ERASMUS, DIE

Today we welcome the rain, hope
that the wheaty winter lawn will
show some other color under its care.

The birds ignore the clouds,
accept the rain, care little how
our lawn looks, their next meal
of always greater importance.

I am losing the vision in one eye,
know I may soon be king
of the country of the blind,
and sadly curse Erasmus
for his gift of proverb, one
that slipped off the tongue
when my eye could still see it.

We will welcome the sun tomorrow
or the day after, for too much
rain or sun demands change
and nothing is really ever
wholly within our control.

JANUARY

It is an odd feeling, in the middle
of January, to no longer consider
becoming a bear, choosing
to hibernate until Spring arrives
demanding an awakening.

I did that for years, never
grew the heavy fur coat needed
and wasn’t much for digging dens
in the snow, so I sat inside
and dreamed of bearishness.

Living now among the birds
where we shiver when it is
in the 40’s, and I sweat and
complain when it is 90, I try
occasionally to remember

once wanting
to become
a bear.

SNOW

At first it was just odd
to think of snow as merely
a concept, a memory softer,
more pleasant than its reality.

You can grow accustomed
to concepts, they are generally
somewhat neat and tidy, easily
filed and brought forth on demand.

The concept of snow has
its great advantages, snowmen
of perfect shape, never melting
and no one must shovel a concept.

But there are moments, a tree
decorated for Christmas, you
want to reach out and feel
the chill suddenly warm your heart.

DEAR PAVLOV

We both know that having
a pet at our age is wise
for they provide a companionship
that can be difficult to find.
I’ve had both dogs and cats,
but the decision this time
was reasonably simple,
for dogs have an insatiable
need to walk their people,
weather is no impediment
and my arthritis is no longer
all that forgiving of damp and cold.

So we settled on a cat, and we
have been pleased with our
decision – she is joyous, playful
and reads our emotional needs,
but most importantly, other
than not needing to walk us,
she has been remarkably adept
at training us to live in her new home.

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