SEE COWS

The manatees hide just below
the surface sticking up their heads
every few minutes, for a breath
or to thrill the tourists who watch
intently, because it is a thing to do
in this part of Florida in winter.

The restaurants in the harbor
don’t mind, it draws a crowd and takes
pressure off the kitchen, for people
waiting for sea mammals do not
grow impatient like those waiting
for just burgers or an order
of fried clams with a side of fries.

The manatees will never understand
humans, why they queue up in the sun
to eat animals, when the sea
provides a free feast for herbivores
if you are only willing to immerse
yourself in the search for a meal.

BUDDHA NATURE

A singe egret sits calmly
on the lowest branch of a long

barren tree, where hours from now
a thousand birds will arrive
for still another evening and night.

He stares at me as I am mindfully
vacuuming, watching carefully.

I pause and ask if by chance he
is a Buddha and he lifts his long neck
and peers around in all directions.

I repeat my question, and he
lifts one wing, which I know
to be his way of saying, “I,
like you, am imbued with Buddha
nature, and I with mother
nature as well, and if you doubt me
ask one of the countless
Bodhisattva who will arrive
in hours to study the Dharma
well into what will be a wet night.

Joshu Sees the Hermits 無門關 十一

Joshu’s single question
asked twice the same

two answers, two
raised fists
each time the same

Joshu responds to each fist
each response different
each the same
a single light

both seen and unseen
both blessed curse
and cursed blessing.


A reflection on Case 11 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate)

APART-IAL EXPLANATION

It is all to often debated
what sets humans apart
the other species, and that
will not be agreed any time soon
(which a cynic would note
is one such thing itself).

Freud would claim it is only
our ego, our sense of self,
which may explain why people
are so capable of being self-
ish, and I suspect he was
certain he was wholly correct
but I would give him only partial credit.

It is far simpler than that: record
your voice, record a Sandhill
crane and play them back
and I assure you that you
will say you sound nothing
like what the recorder heard
while the crane will nervously
look all around for his unseen kin.

MONOCHROME

It is an admittedly odd sign
of my age that I recall clearly
when bathrooms were tiled mostly
in monochrome, black and white,
and it was a mark of quality when
each tile was hexagonal, a hive
of ceramic cells, impenetrable.

Now tiles are square or rectangular,
come in a rainbow of colors, often
intermixed to achieve looks
unimaginable back in my youth,
and walls a painted with any color
you can imagine, not the eighteen shades
of white from which my parents had
the choice for our new house.

But change can be for the better,
and in proof of that you need only
look around and see that bathroom
fixtures are mostly white, occasionally
black, not sickly green or peach,
and, thank the gods, no one has
avocado appliance these days.

A SMALL PAIL OF TRUTH

The Good news about rom-coms
is that Hollywood (and occasionally
Paris, Lisbon and Madrid, but never Berlin)
crank them out endlessly, and each
contains that grain or two of truth,
like salt rubbed in the wound
of a failed first marriage, and the balm
of the discovery of true and abiding love.
The small pail of rom-com truths
is easily carried, sometimes off
a too strong wind, but it is never enough
to build a dune to hold back
the waves of emotion that attend
the most fragile and passionate
of all human relationships.
Yet we sit, smile, and watch hoping
that this one’s grain is the one that tips
the scale ever so slowly in our favor.

ELEGY FOR A POET

(for Allen Ginsburg)
You died quietly in your bed
friends gathered around
the cars and buses of the city
clattering out a Kaddish
to a God you had long ago
dismissed as irrelevant.
We would have expected
your to howl, to decry
the unfairness of it all,
but you merely said
it is time, and slipped away.
Who gave you the right
to depart without leaving us
one last remonstration
against the insanity
that surrounds us, one last
censure of the fools
who we have so blindly chosen
to lead a generation
into a hell of our creation.
You had your peace
but what of us
left behind, what can we
look forward to
in your absence
save the words we know
so well, can recite by heart
that no longer beats
in your breast.


First appeared in Living Poets Vol. 2, No. 1, (U.K) 2001 and reprinted in Legal Studies Forum vol .30, Nos 1-2,  2006