Osho holds up a staff
and cradles a small
long haired dog. What
do you call these, he asks
the gathered assembly
in both fact and reality?
A chattering din brings
the hall to silence,
until the ghost of Joshu
unfolds himself, strides
to the zendo door, and
while bowing, shouts
A reflection on Case43 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate)
Yesterday a small dog, walking its master down the block stopped and stared
at you, as you stood on your porch. You stared back at the dog, eyes locked
on each other, while the master fidgeted on the sidewalk, afraid or too bored
to look at either of you. You realized this was just the dog’s way of teaching
his master patience, or perhaps of simply delaying you from what it was
that brought you to your porch that you forgot in engaging the dog. Eventually
the dog dragged its master on, and you returned to the house, having done
nothing but stare at a dog. It was clear in that moment that a dog must
have Buddha nature but yours was deeply in question.
The radio is suddenly blaring
and the clock of the stove says
seven o’clock but the window retorts
it is winter when there is no time.
You pull up your collar
as you prepare to leave.
At the store, pick up
a baguette, it will go well
with a pork tenderloin
with a sauce of Portabello mushrooms
and haricots, if you can find them
or green beans, if not.
The old dog stares at the door
debating the frigid tongue of the wind
or a burdened bladder.
She barely sets paw on the lawn,
squats and returns to her mat
in the front foyer.
Shake the snow from your collar
and leave your boots on the mat
while I warm the coffee left
from this morning and then
we will unpack the groceries.
First published in Potato Eyes Vol. 14, 1997
I’ve been searching for a teacher
for such a long time but despite
every effort, the goal eludes me
They say that when the student is ready
the teacher appears, but i know
in my heart I am truly ready.
I looked in all of the likely
and a number of unlikely places,
to the point i now look everywhere.
I saw man stoop to pet a random dog
this morning and wondered, hoped, he
could be the teacher i am seeking
but then he attached the leash
and pulled the reluctant dog
into the waiting van, inpatient.
I thought that the barista
in my favorite coffee shop
might be the one, her smile
always gentle, inviting, and
clearly a yogini, but she had
too much goth skin art for my needs.
I’ll continue the search for I know
the teacher is there if only I wouldn’t run
into mirrors whenever I was getting close.
He walks slowly, with a stoop, born of time or knowledge of a world that has seeped away. He smiles, but you cannot tell if it is at the worm slowly crossing the sidewalk, or the young woman pulling on the leash of her far too large dog. He could walk this route with his eyes closed, has done so to prove a point, but he knows he might hit someone. That happens when his eyes are open, given his stoop. He has become a student of shoes, and in summer, of feet. He can tell a great deal about a person by her feet. He prefers women’s feet. They care and it shows. He’s amazed how calloused and dirty men’s feet often are, as if washing them was always going to be an afterthought. He knows the day is coming when he will no longer be able to walk. When that day comes, he hopes they will just put him in a pine box and not wrap him in a blanket and wheel him around, swabbing the drool from his chin. He was a baby once, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience that time either.
Growing up my family always had dogs,
only one at a time, of course, since we
were a modern suburban family,
which may be why we had a dog.
It clearly wasn’t because they loved dogs,
they tolerated them on good days,
ignored them the rest of the time
and the good days were few if any.
I never asked for a dog, knew
the daily care would fall to me, for
my sort of brother and sister would
never lift a finger if they didn’t want
and they rarely wanted for other than
themselves, but I didn’t mind, for each
dog became my true family, we all
shared a common blood with them
which is to say none, and we all
in our own languages, which we all
understood while no one else did, that
we were orphans who beat the system.
Sitting on the fourth shelf
from the top, in the second rank
of bookcases in my office
is a somewhat worn copy
Dylan Thomas is “Portrait
of the Artist as a Young Dog.”
I can’t admit to ever having read it,
or an ability to now recall if I did,
but I know I’ve had several young dogs
in my 66 years, but none
were particularly artistic;
but perhaps I set too high a standard
as they did seem to treat
the white tiles in the foyer
of my parents suburban home
as a canvas on rainy spring days,
very much to my mother’s dismay.
In the sunlit park
the small dog watches the man
go fetch the thrown ball
Maple leaves emerge
almost certain that winter
is now history
A rain of petals
cherry snow covers the ground
we await the fruit.
If you ask me whether
a dog has buddha nature
I will stare back at you
in total silence.
If you ask again,
or implore an answer
I will smile at you,
offer gassho and a bow.
If you ask yet again,
I will turn away
and you will be left
with a box into which
you dare not look
lest you find
Musing on Case 1 of the Mumonkan
Each morning, as he went out on his walk, he would check the street light pole just down his block. He would carefully read the missing cat and dog posters, pause to think whether he might have seen any of the missing animals. He often wondered how many had been found, the missing notices left to fade in the sun and peel away after enough rain. He knew that some had found new homes, wondered briefly what they might have been escaping, hiding out from their owners. And each morning he scanned the pole to see if anyone had reported him missing, but he was the sort of person no one missed, he knew, and so he continued on his walk.