GRAMMATICALLY APART

What sets us apart
from other species
has little or nothing
to do with self-awareness
and everything to do
with parts of speech.

The birds outside
my window shun labels,
think only of eating,
mating, flight, of going
and arriving, of being.

They know nothing of birth,
do not fear death, for it
is merely a label they cannot
accept or understand.

It is left to our kind
to need to label, to define
every small and large thing
for we sense our existence
and must rely on two things,
for we knew that we live
a world of pronoun and noun.

INVASION

The light has faded
and the wetland lies under
its mantle of faint starlight.

The birds are there, we
can hear them, but our eyes
do not allow us to see them,
despite our desire to have
more time with them.

They can see us, in our 
well lit homes, staring out,
but they do not want 
particularly to see us.

To us they are a fascination,
to them we are an invader
and the victim does not care
to see his conqueror, but
the invader always wants
to see his victims yet again.

IN CHORUS

Deep in a small forest,
a murmuring brook reflects
the shards of sun sliding
through the crown of pines,
its whispered wisdom
infinitely more clear
than the babbling of men
holding the reins firmly
in distant cities of power.

The birds know this well,
sing of it in chorus, nature’s
music, jazz scatting that
the graying clouds absorb,
an always willing audience,
and the wind rushing by
cries through the trees
in the voice of long dead 
poets whose words offer
a truth to which cloistered
talking heads have grown deaf.

First published in Pages Penned in Pandemic , 2021

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.