In my next life I think
I want to come back
as a cat, and not just any
cat, but a domestic
shorthaired spotted tabby.

I have it on good authority
that there is nothing finer
in the animal world
than being a domestic
shorthaired spotted tabby.

There will be much work
involved in the early days,
right after adoption, for
people tend very much
to be slow learners.

But with enough time,
the occasional well placed
claw, and earned affection
you can bend them
finally to your will.

At least that is what
my cat tells me in
moments of abject honesty.


“You have to go all the way to Washington,”
he said, “to find decent statuary.”
“Oh, you can find one or two in almost every city.
Its founder, some general or admiral,
some animal that oddly represents
a metropolis that has cast out its animals,
or penned them up in zoos, put them on leashes.
New York has quite a few, Boston as well,
and Chicago, well it likes sculpture,
but spend half an hour in Vienna
and you are overwhelmed with statuary.
Maybe they have lower standards there,
or far more history, but I suspect it is
that they don’t rush about on the winds
of whim, despite our endless example to them.


Each morning, as he went out on his walk, he would check the street light pole just down his block. He would carefully read the missing cat and dog posters, pause to think whether he might have seen any of the missing animals. He often wondered how many had been found, the missing notices left to fade in the sun and peel away after enough rain. He knew that some had found new homes, wondered briefly what they might have been escaping, hiding out from their owners. And each morning he scanned the pole to see if anyone had reported him missing, but he was the sort of person no one missed, he knew, and so he continued on his walk.


Cats have more in common
with snakes that we care to recognize.
She said this with a straight face.
He wanted to laugh at her, but dared not.
She didn’t take laughter kindly
when she thought it was directed at her.
He calmly asked her to explain.
It’s simple, she said, with feigned
patience, both can slither around,
are expert at hiding when they wish,
and as you have now so clearly demonstrated,
much as Adam did, both of you the hard way,
both snakes and cats are smarter
by far than your average male human.


The dog wandered up to me. Dogs often did that. This time he dragged his person along, none too pleased at the extension of what the person hoped was a short walk. Both dog and person smiled, the dog meaning it, the person likely out of habit. The dog confirmed the person was impatient. The dog said the only way to teach patience was to wander about, have discussions with friends, old and new, and slowly, over time, the person will learn why the dog has him or her on the leash in the first place. The dog saw a squirrel at the base of a nearby tree, and with a quick “farewell, I see an old friend,” dragged the person down the sidewalk. I waved goodbye, said “come by any time, but leave the grump at home.” The dog smiled and nodded in agreement.


There is a logical reason
that zoos are not built
in the heart of cities
for it would be difficult
to ascertain which animals
were the exhibits and which
were the visitors, each
in their own sorts of cages.
In the end it would
not work out well
for lions and monkees
prefer to watch
intelligent life pass by
and they would clearly
very quickly grow bored.


If you see an animal
sitting neck-deep in the mud
do you wonder how lucky it is
that, having fallen in,
its head has not been swallowed?
Or do you consider that it
stuck its head out of the mud
to gaze into the sky?
When you are immersed in dharma
do you hold back your mind,
clinging to worldly thoughts?
Tell me, are you emerging from the dharma
or are you slowly allowing yourself
to sink into it fully in this moment.
Look carefully through the lattice
window of thought and decide
which is inside, which is out.

A reflection on Case 16 of the Shumon Kattoshu (“Entangling Vines”)


She wants to know
if I could be an animal
which would I choose.
Part of me wants to answer panther –
sleek, black, catlike eyes
glowing in the night –
but never coyote, crawling out
of the hills in search of rabbits
darting through the sage,
never the trickster.

I am an animal, I remind her,
we all are, just a bit smarter than most.
She laughs and says that
I really wanted to be a god
since I had the image part down.
I say I’d thought of that
but as a human animal
I get two days off a week
and God, according to Genesis
gets only one, and
he probably spends it
watching football in New Orleans.

She says she would rather be
a dragon or a fox, since Shinto gods
have far less work to do
and generally sit around
being simply venerated.
I close my book, listen
to the rain pelting the windows,
watch the bolt
across the face of the clouds
and listen for the peel of thunder –
Thor is not happy again.