THE NATURAL KEY TO HEAVEN

The hawk sits on a branch
looking up at the sky, knowing
this is perfection, lifting up
chasing a cloud, floating lazily.

The butterfly flits from plant
to plant, tasting the fruits
that nature has given her,
perfection in a single moment.

The cat sleeps on a rocker
the breeze rustling her coat,
until waking for dinner
which appears at her request.

We spend hours searching
for the keys to heaven, hoping
to insure what comes after this
life, but so often not living it.

REAR VIEW MIND

I spent too much time looking
backward, looking into the past,
looking into the mirror
to frame a dream history
of my desires and fears.
He called one morning, left
a message, “Mother died,
more details will follow.”
A mother his by birth,
mine by legal act.
I should have felt stunned
anger, I said quietly to myself
he’s cocky, has issues, and went
about momentary mourning.
That is the psyche of the adoptee who
was never family, always an adjunct.
Later my antediluvian dreams
gave way under a torrent
of deoxyribonucleic acid rain.
She who I imagined in the mirror
took name, took shape from
and old yearbook, offered
a history, a family, a heritage.
When I knelt at her grave
she told me her story
in hushed tones, or was it
the breeze in the pines on the hill
overlooking the Kanawha?
I bid her farewell that day,
placed a pebble on her headstone,
stroked the cold marble
and mourned an untouched mother.

CATHARTIDAE

They circle slowly
each in its own tier
of a near cloudless sky,
their wings still
as if frozen, riding
the breeze, dipping
and rising, going nowhere,
needing nowhere,
riding, riding, looking
down at the wetland,
and circling, until
with a shift in the breeze
the vulture vortex
shifts east, and you
watch them shrink,
thankful that they
are simply out
for a flight, and not
finding a meal
in the reeds
and trees
where all
the other
birds live.

EDGE OF THE ABYSS

He sits on the edge
peering down, shaking
in the breeze, knowing
the abyss below waits
for a misstep, a slip.

He stares up, waiting
for her return, hoping
she will soon arrive
bringing the meal, never
enough always wanting more.

He knows he will
someday soon have
to leave, but for now
all he can do is spread
his wings, flap them,

until it will seem natural
and then, only then
when he is strong, can
he lift up and become
one with an infinite sky.

THE WORLD-HONORED ONE POINTS TO THE EARTH

As you wander around
looking for a place
to build a temple,
looking for eden,
looking for nirvana,
stop and simply sit,
listen to the breeze
teaching you the Dharma,
the clouds chanting
the sutras in a harmony
beyond your hearing.
Look down for you
are in your temple,
sitting in eden
nirvana at your feet.

A reflection on case 4 of the Book of Equanimity Koans

EFFECT

The morning was indistinguishable from so many others. Lorenz was taking his morning walk around the pond or lake, it was of that intermediate size that could be either or neither, when in a break with his habit, he sat down on one of the four benches, and stared out over the water. He hadn’t seen the usual egrets or herons or ibis, which did strike him as a bit odd since they were as regular in attendance as he was. As he pondered their absence he was startled by what felt like a tickling on his arm. He looked down to find a Painted Lady butterfly perched on his forearm sitting placidly. He stared at what seemed to be the eyes on its wing staring at him. Neither moved, he for fear of dislodging his visitor, the butterfly for its own, undisclosed, unfathomable reasons. This mutual staring continued until time lost its shape, its defintion, and puddled at his feet, no longer mattering at all. But evenutally a breeze came up and it lifted from his arm, flitted about as if in some farewell and was off. He had no idea that moments later the tsunami warning sirens began up and down Fukushima Prefecture in Japan.

OF THE SEASONS

In the heart of winter, then,
which seemed unending
I would stare out at the maples
barren branches piled
in ever tottering snow
and dream of palm trees
and a warm ocean breeze.

In heart of winter now,
such as it is, all I see
are endless palms and
many Southern Live Oaks,
their branches piled
under a heavy burden
of sagging Spanish Moss
and I dream of the simple
beauty of the maple leaf
shifting from its deep green
to its endless shades
of autumn beauty.

FATHER AND SON

We sat in the small boat,
the motor still, drifting downstream,
our lines in the water, the bobbers
dancing in the morning breeze.

He smiled, proud that we were
doing this together, he who knew
less about fishing than I, his son,
and I knowing next to nothing.

I kept casting into the weeds,
hoping they would tangle my
line, free the worm from the hook,
so I couild deplete our supply,

and we could return home
proud to have tried, successful
in not harming the fish, but
able to say we were fishermen.

WE COULD

We could, if you want,
sit in the park on our folding
chairs or better a folded blanket
and stare out over the pond,
its silver surface shirred
by a midday breeze.

We could picnic, sandwiches
of brie and apples, or for us
hummous with tahini and
a bottle of chardonnay, carefully
poured into plastic glasses
imagining themseles crystal.

The dragonflies would ignore us,
busy doing what we cannot see,
though we might draw the eye
of a great egret, for they like
nothing more than to stare
at the strangeness around them.

FOOTHILLS

The clouds well up
over the foothills
casting a gray pall,
bearing the angry spirits
of the chindi who dance
amid the scrub juniper.
Brother Serra, was this
what you found, wandering
along the coast, tending
the odd sheep, Indian
and whatever else
crossed your path?

The blue bird
hopping across the dried grasses
puffing its grey breastplate and cape
sitting back, its long tail feathers
a perfect counterbalance.
It stares at the oppressing clouds
and senses the impending rain.
The horses wandering the hill
pausing to graze
on the sparse green grasses.
The roan mare
stares at the colt
dashing among the trees
then returns to her meal,
awaiting the onset of evening.

The chindi await
the fall of night
when they are free to roam
and steal other souls.
Was your water rite
more powerful
than the blessing chants?
Did you ward off their evil
and purify the breeze
of the mountains?

First published in Progenitor, Vol. 55, 2020