MELODY

The melody arose from the most unexpected place.
They heard it deep within the woods
and even the birds fell silent
peering around, searching
for its unrevealed source.
It carried on for several verses
and then, as quickly as it came
it was gone, the final note
carried off by a spring wind.
No one entered, no one left
the woods that day
and though many searched
no instrument was found
and the trees of the woods
grew silent at the searchers’ approach.

ABIDING NATURE

The abiding Buddha nature
of birds is demonstrated
by their calm ability to carry
on conversations in the presence
of interacting humans, who
are too often deaf to the sounds
in which nature immerses them.

But when we speak to the birds
in a crude facsimile of their
native chirp, caw and trill,
they pause to listen, strain
to understand us, wishing
only to let us know their thoughts,
their love of nature, and just
how shocked and disappointed
they are at our inability
to exercise our stewardship.

NIGHTLY PRAYERS

My mother always told me to say
my prayers before bed, which was odd
given that she never prayed, and didn’t
as far as we could tell, believe in a deity.

I knew, as my Rabbi taught, that you do not
seek something for yourself in prayer,
and world peace and harmony did not
seem on the horizon despite my entreaties.

Now I kneel, and face the wall before bed,
and listen to the prayers of the birds
in the wetlands, although it is not clear
if it is a deity or the moon to which they pray.

My mother is long buried now, I will join
her eventually, and there is still no peace
in the world, merely violence and poverty,
but the birds have greater faith than I ever did.

HEART OF DHARMA

A single snowy egret sits
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
Bodhisattvas who will arrive
in hours to study the Dharma
well into what will be a wet night.

EVEN HERE

As winter closes in around us,
even here, the Great Blue Herons
go about building a nest,
inviting us to watch as they
make a home of gathered
branches and twigs, oblivious
to the state of our world,
of the pandemic gripping us.

We watch respectfully, knowing
that in this darkest of seasons,
we are about to witness
our own little miracle and will
soon bear witness to
the simple joy of birth.

ARE YOU CRAZY?

The birds look at us as though we had two heads. They cannot, they say, comprehend how we can stand to live in boxes, to travel in metal containers, to be stuck forever to the ground. They say that food should be picked then eaten instantly, not packaged and half thrown away. They say they cannot see how we are supposedly more evolved than they, for they have the sort of freedom about which we only talk endlessly. But most of all, and saddest of all, we know they pity us as we pity ourselves.

NATURAL LOGIC

Nature has a way of applying
a perfect logic that eludes
its most complex creatures,
we claiming to be first among them.

Nature grants the housefly
a quite short life, but allows it
to see a thousand images at once,
a lifetime of vision in mere days.

The tortoise is consigned to crawl
along at a laggard’s pace, outrun
by other animals, who will be in
their graves in a tortoise’s middle age.

Birds must muck in the soil
for sustenance, or hunt small
creatures aground, but they have
the ample sky for a home.

Humans, well we have no such
luck, blind to all around us, rushing
always headlong into death, and only
dreaming of being free from earth’s grip.

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.

PELICAN

The pelican hasn’t been around
for a couple of days, and we miss
his akimbo dives into the pond,
surfacing and throwing his head back
to show he’s swallowing his catch
even though we suspect some of the time
he caught nothing at all, but knowing
we’re as gullible an audience
as he is likely to find any time soon.
We hope he is off breeding somewhere,
making little pelicans that will
be able to entertain us next fall
when we return, birds of our own sort,
not snowy egrets but snow birds nonetheless.
We don’t want to know any more
about the mating ritual, some
things ought to be private.
We learned that painful a few years
ago, when my brother thought it
was important we see thoroughbreds bred.
We prefer our breedings like
good French films, suggestive
but ultimately leaving it
to our memory, like so much of our youth.

3 TANKA

Antphonal songs
Mockingbirds greet the morning
Great Blue Herons stare
imagining their voices
night sweetly welcome the dawn
The great temple bell
awaits the morning, the monk,
its daily purpose
cast deep within the metal
always verging on release

Smoke of incense too
prostrates itself to Buddha
soon a morning breeze
promises enlightenment
or the freedom of the sky