WHAT DID YOU DO

When they asked him
what did you do during the war
he said “I just stood guard.”
When they asked him where
he said “A station, just
a station, like most others,
I just stood guard.”
When they asked him
did you see the trains
carrying the bodies crammed
into cattle cars
he said “I saw many trains,
it was just a station, but mostly
I looked at the sky, wishing
for the sun, but mostly it was gray
and there was smoke
from the chimneys.”
When they asked him
why did you wear
the lightening bolts
he said “I was a ski instructor
but I broke my leg
so I stood at the station,
just a station like most others.”
When they asked him
did he know of the ovens
he said “They made bread
which we ate each night
when there were no potatoes.”
When they asked him
about the Jews
he said “I knew no Jews;
there were none in the town
where I stood guard
at a station, just
a station like most others.”
When they asked him
what he did after the war
he said “I prayed, just
prayed for my sins,
sins like those
of so many others.”

ARLINGTON NATIONAL

As the plane slowly descends
the cemetery appears
through a break in the clouds.
The headstones are arrayed
in neatly ordered geometries,
unknown to those who lie beneath,
and those who water
the always verdant lawns.
Mausoleums cluster

in a small village,
from which no one ever moves,
and rest comes easily
to those who lie within.

UNKO SENDS CLOTHES 鐵笛倒吹 七十八

If I receive warm under robes
to ease my winter meditation
I will refuse them.
If you ask me why, I will say
I was born with such robes as I need.
If you ask what I wore before birth
I shall remain silent.

In the deepest winter
there is no chill
that can reach
the empty mind
for it is full of a warmth
that cannot be replaced
and one needs no shelter,
for ashes know no temperature.


A reflection on Case 78 of the Iron Flute Koans

WHAT DO YOU SAY

What do you say
to those who turn their backs
on those broken in battle,
or broken at the sight of battle,
who were left to clean up the collateral damage,
or who were collateral damage,
were pierced by IED’s,
or shaped charges,
who had inadequate armor,
or no armor at all,
who were left in moldy rooms,
were dropped on the street,
who don’t want to go back again, and still again,
who see clearly with their eyes closed,
who cannot find shelter in a maelstrom of thoughts,
who did what was asked
and wish they hadn’t,
who asked for leaders and found only followers,
who asked why and were told “just because,”
who never came back, or
who were left here.


Previously appeared in SNReview, Vol. 9, No. 2, 2007 and in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press (2008).

EARLY MORNING

Early this morning
as I drove through the mist
that clings to Portland in March
like a child’s yellow slicker,
I thought of you, home,
asleep on our bed, my side
tidy, no faint indentation
of life, and I thought of
the thousands who have died to date
in Iraq, who never again will leave
a faint indentation in any bed.
It is far easier thinking of you,
of regretting the miles between us
at this moment, but knowing
that I will shortly bridge
those miles and we will tonight indent
our bed, that two thousand miles
is little more than an inconvenience,
while many of them are no more
that a dozen miles outside of
countless towns; but the effect
of that short distance is infinite
and they can only indent the thawing
earth beneath the granite stones.


For a while, I will be using Thursday’s posts to feature poems I previously had published. Today’s, Early Morning previously appeared in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press, (2008).