UMMON’S MOUNT SUMERU

When you ask your teacher
what happens when you
stop thinking, allow
no new thoughts
what you expect him
to tell you?

The dead have no thoughts
but that is not the door
to Nirvana.

But if thoughts abandon you
without your effort, without
being asked to do so,
then the door you seek
will open before you.

A reflection on Case 19 of the Book of Equanimity (従容錄, Shōyōroku)

THE CAT

Pause and consider, if only
for a moment, this question,
which you need not answer
as you will be right and
you will be wrong regardless
of what you say in response.

What if we are the cat in
some Godly thought experiment
and our degradation of the planet
is the bit of radioactive material,
of which we have in profusion.

Are we alive, or are we dead,
or both, until God again
checks in on us, so we must
hope He is too busy creating
other worlds and correcting
the errors he made in this one.

TREASURES

I keep in my pocket
all the treasures of my family,
all of the keepsakes from my mother,
and those from my father
given to me when they died.

I would share them with you,
but they are highly personal
and would not mean much to one
who never knew my parents
or my step brother, the one

with whom I have not spoken
since the text announcing
our father’s death, so I cherish
what I have in my pocket for
nothing was all I hoped for.

ORIGIN

I am told that I should write
about my origins, that is the stuff
that long poems are made of, or
rather the soil from which they bloom.

I have written about my birth mother
and visited her grave in West Virginia
seen those of my grandparents, met
a cousin, I’ve written all of that.

So its time to write about
my birth father, about the places
he was as a child, a young man,
where he is buried, dead long before

I discovered his existence, our link,
but I know nothing of Burlington,
or Camden and my passing knowledge
of New Jersey is limited
to Newark and its airport.

That is hardly the stuff of great poetry
or even mediocre memoir, so he
will be nothing more than a picture
of a gravestone in a national cemetery.

AFGHAN, ANYONE

Symbols have deep meaning
even to those so blind they
cannot see them, and our politics
have become wholly retail.

Any good retailer will tell you
that $19.95 is significantly
less than $20.00, a nickel
that swallows the dollars.

So we got out, and nineteen
years and 354 days
is considerably shorter
than twenty years we are told,

but everything blew up around us,
but I’m sure the politicians will note
that a dozen dead, while tragic
is far less than a baker’s dozen.

JUSTICE

The Rabbi always said that
the highest form of justice
would be to teach a man to fish,
rather than to donate fish to him.

The Rabbi in question is now
long dead, and in so many places
teaching a man to fish will only
enable him to poison his family.

We have laid waste to ouir world
assuming someone will clean it up
for us, and we do throw money
as our attempt at atonement.

So perhaps we should give
out brooms, and hope for the best.

REALITY, OF A SORT

The single greatest problem
with dreams is that they
are utterly real when you
are dreaming, the absurd
is not only permitted
but expected, and in that
moment it is hardly absurd.

The dead and living come
and go with impunity,
and you welcome them
as real people because
for that period of time
they are as real as you are.

But awakening, you realize
it was all a dream, and
your life is remarkably
absurd, and it all seems
so utterly frustrating
and wholly unreal.

PANDEMIC

How many today? Fewer
that is a good sign
but don’t get overly excited,
we’ve been down this road
before and we got lost
each time we did.

And while you are out there,
don’t be sure that you
can see where you are going,
for vision is iffy, and like
side view mirrors, things
appear closer than they are.

Don’t be despondent, you
are better off than many,
but better is a comparative
and that can turn to sheer
ice when you least expect it.

So go on, but go carefully,
your next fall might,
just might, kill you.

FOSSIL FUEL

It should give you pause
to consider that, in the midst
of boundless greed, enmeshed
in the near cult of self, rushing
always to go nowhere quickly,
certain the problems of the world,
can be solved tomorrow, using
resources that may never be
replenished or substituted for,

when we are dead and buried,
we will be the fossil fuels
that future generations
rightfully shun in horror.

PENNED IN

He stares at the collection
of pens crammed tightly into
a coffee mug whose handle
had long since broken away.

He knows some are dead,
awaiting a proper burial,
following a brief memorial
service paying homage
to their illustrious past.

He is certain that one
or more is secretly harboring
the poem or story that he
has been meaning to write,
the one that the journal
on the desk has been waiting
its entire lifetime to receive.