POLISH

Mother made a point of reminding
me to polish my shoes, she said
untidy shoes are the mark
of a poor man, one to be avoided.

I noticed she never wore shoes
that needed polish, never had wax
and brush in hand, and when her shoes
showed wear they were replaced.

I learned early not to talk back
to her, the penalty too stiff so I
never asked why any reasonable
person would be staring at my shoes.

RETIRED

God sits at his easel, brush in hand
and thinks about the butterfly
alighting on the oak.
This man would rather paint
the nightmare of hell, but
he has been cast out and
his memory has grown dim.
He remembers being a small child
amused by the worm peering
from soil in a fresh rain and how
when he split it, both halves
would slither away
in opposite directions.
Now he rocks in the chair
and watches night fall
and shatter on the winter ground.

First Appeared in Medicinal Purposes: A Literary Review, Vol. 1, No. 6,
Spring 1997.

ENSO WHAT

Today I again took up the brush,
carefully mixed the sumi-e ink
and with hand poised over a sheet
of anticipating rice paper waited,

knowing that the moment for a stroke
was imminent but not yet at hand,
and I dare not force it for brush
painting is a practice that cannot

be compelled, a gentle merger
of idea, brush, ink and paper,
and if any are missing, a sadness
that can only be irreversible.

Today the brush considered the ink
and decided it was not a good day
and so I cleaned it carefully, set it
aside with the block of ink,

and rolling the rice paper, promised
it, myself, that we would repeat
this exercise until the moment was
right and the image was ready to appear.

TOZAN’S THREE BASKETS 鐵笛倒吹 四十一

Tozan said
the whole of knowledge
can be expressed
in a single letter.
Hakuun, the great Master
set to writing verse.

You, who hold the brush
with shaking hand,
what will you write
in answer to Tozan.
Think carefully
of each stroke
and imagine
Joshu’s endless smile.


A reflection on case 41 of the Iron Flute Koans

ART

As you walk through
this particular space
will you see a small
child perched on a stool,
crayons in hand, a small
rectangle of paper
on the top of the desk
laughing, creating
a world you could
never hope to understand,
or an older woman, leaning
on her walker, staring
into the canvas, struggling
to see each brush stroke
and three workmen
white hard hats, retractable
rules and laser levels,
measuring the gallery
against the blueprint
which are artists —
which is art —
does it matter?

AROUND IT

It is remarkably simple, really,
a single circular brush stroke
in a monochrome black on rice paper,
always nearly perfectly round,
never is the circle complete,
always some small thing left wanting.
You stare at it, more
at the small gap, imagining
it filled, hoping it cannot be
for it holds out the promise
that this moment is all
that matters, that you are,
at any moment, where you
ought to be on your path,
that thoughts of tomorrow
is no more than an illusion ,
nothing other than 
the enso’s blank space.