The question of the day is
would you rather be a turtle
or a snail, not to be sung
to any melody by Paul Simon.
Think carefully, for one day
the question will have real impact
and you will get your answer
with a permanence that merits
the most careful consideration.
Today may or may not be that day.
And please note, your choice is snail
or turtle, not a land tortoise, so longevity
shouldn’t come into play at all.
So, yes, it all comes down to this,
some child may try and grab you
and put you in a glass terrarium
and try to make a vegetarian of you
or people will moan, seeing your tail
and imagine you served with shallots
In a small pond of melted butter.

METASTASIS

She could barely move her head
the cancer climbed her spine
reaching upward, clutching vertebrae
reaching out, tendrils grasping
tearing fragile organs.
She would cry, but that would be
an admission of defeat,
a welcome to death.

I cried out for her,
entreated our God
for compassion
that she might stand by her sons
when they uttered the ancient words,
by her daughter, adjusting
the white lace veil,
but he would not answer,
drawn into catatonia, seeing
severed limbs of children
littering the streets of Sarajevo.

She clings tenuously to life
as I cling tenuously to faith.


First appeared in Community of Poets Magazine Vol. 21,, 1999 and later in 
Legal Studies Forum 30:1-2, 2006

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)

SANSHU’S BLINDNESS 正法眼蔵 四十

If you come forward
and ask no question
the master will
give you an answer,
but if you approach
with a question,
the master will
strike you with the stick.
It is only when
your eyes are blinded
that you can take up
the master’s staff
and all is clearly seen.

THE QUESTION

If my mother was here
she would ask me what
I have to say for myself.
Just this once, I
would remain silent,
for there is nothing
that needs saying
and she would be certain
that if there were
she should be the one
to say it, but silence
would drive her mad.
So perhaps it is good
that she is not here,
that she did not ask,
though if there is a heaven
and hell, God or the devil
will need to tell her what
they have to say for themselves,
or they will never, ever
hope to hear the end of it.

NO REPLY

You must be home now,
or somewhere you can answer
my call, and the busy signal
or disembodied voice, purporting
to be you can only mean that this
very moment if you are calling me
the busy signal or disembodied voice
purporting to be me is giving you
a momentary frustration rivaling my own.
This must be the state of the world
for otherwise you failure to answer
could mean but one thing, and I
can no more accept the preposterous idea
that you might actually be speaking
to someone else rather than awaiting
my call with bated breath, and
certainly not that you are sleeping,
your phone switched off, never mind
that where you are, it is well past midnight.

SOUTHERN MOUNTAIN

When you visit the Southern Mountain
what will you say
of its Northern brother?
Returning northward what words
will best describe the Southern peak?

Answer carefully after much thought
or remain silent, both choices
are yours to select, as both
mountains caress the passing clouds
and reach out for the sun
which neither may grasp.


A reflection on case 42 of the Iron Flute Koans