She sat us down this morning for a heart to heart conversation. We had mentioned the neighbors’ new dog, their second, this one little smaller than a pony. She smiled at us, but we could tell it was a false smile, something was hiding about to be set free. “That is the problem with dogs,” she said, “they come in all sizes and temperaments. You never know what to expect, except that in any weather, but mostly the kind you hate, you have to walk them, or they walk you. And loud, they all seem to come without volume controls. So be thankful you have me. Now excuse me, my litter pan beckons.”
The Buddha said that any task you do
if done mindfully is a sort of meditation.
We assume he said it, we’ve been told
he did, but no one I know was anywhere
near that bodhi tree, so we take it on faith.
When it comes to things like chopping
large quantities of onions, or roasting
coffee beans I totally get it, it does
seem like meditation, and deep at that.
Walking the dog makes the list, and
perhaps convincing the cat to do anything
she didn’t think of by out waiting her.
I can even accept washing the car
or the dishes, but washing the dog
is only so on rare occasions and only
if I medicate her first, and the cat, forget it.
But even Buddha would have to concede
that no matter how totally mindful
you are, driving anywhere in either
Broward or Miami-Dade counties is
as far from meditative as opting
to commit sepuku with a butter knife.
He would arrive as I was still struggling
to convince the dog that he didn’t need
to drag me around the neighborhood,
that he knew the backyard well enough.
I’d lose the argument in the end, that
was a given, but he’d concede me
enough time to wolf down breakfast,
and I’d hear the small door in the wall
open and then the clatter of bottles
that the milkman deposited there.
Now it’s paper cartons from the grocery,
the dog and several successors are now
in whatever Valhalla is set aside for canines,
and I suspect I may be getting
lactose intolerant, which has nothing
at all to do with how I now spend
my mornings, with toast and a cortado
on the patio, deep into my New York Times,
trying to remember my long-gone youth.
As a child, I could never
understand why, when I knew
that it ws time to go, my parents
were never ready, always needed
one or two more things; and why
en route, we were never quite there
even though I had waited the ten
minutes more they said it would take.
But I had nothing on my beloved
dog Mindy, who would stand
by the back door, leash in moth
and growl, wondering, no doubt
why I always need more time,
it wasn’t, she was certain,
because shoes were necessary,
or a rain jacket, she got by
just fine without them, and
why my last bathroom stop had
to take precedence over hers would
always be beyond comprehension.
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 among us,
which is to say none, and we all said
in our own languages, which we all
understood while no one else did, that
we were orphans who beat the system.
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.