JOSHU’S DOG

My teacher once asked me
“what do you have
to say for yourself,” and I
answered “absolutely nothing,”
or did I smile and remain silent?

You assume the teacher would
be upset with the silent student
and in most cases you would
be perfectly correct.

But if this occurred
in a zendo, having nothing
to say is a step toward no-self
and you can be
in that moment,
Joshu’s dog.

A reflection on Case 18 of the Book of Equanimity (従容錄, Shōyōroku)

CLOSE ENOUGH TO HEAR

We sit around the small tables
glad to be out of the sun
whose midday glare seems
to blind the drivers slowly
approaching the Jetty Park lot.

A family chatters, the children
laughing at nothing, at everything,
and nearby a dog lays out
dreaming of a good walk
and dinner, hoping for scraps.

We can hear the water
of the inlet, the waves breaking
onto the beach, visuals left
to our imaginations, but we
are satisfied with that, and
the fact that our tacos here
are far more reasonable with the
“without the view” discount.

PECULIAR?

I grant you cats can be peculiar
but they have one significant
advantage over all other pets,
except maybe hamsters
and gerbils, for when you
need someone to talk to,
to unload your problems on,
to try and wrestle with
a thorny issue of public policy
or geopolitical intrigue
and that night has swallowed
everyone you know, anyone
you might dare disturb
in the hours after midnight,
you may rest assured that
a dog would be sleeping
somewhere and will not be
roused for heaven and earth,
but a cat will be wide awake,
willing to let you go on and on
in exchange for a bit of play,
but there is the risk that she
or he will disagree with you
using a claw for emphasis.

CANINE

The dog refuses to walk
around the house and check
the driveway, and so
the shells will rain on the village
as they do each time she senses fear.

She has a sight beyond that
I can fathom, curled under
the heat vent, as though
the cries of children carry
in her dreams, her tail
dances against the grate.

On most nights when she makes
her final trip, the automatic light
over the garage flips on
and we can all sleep peacefully
until we realize
that God has chosen
a furry surrogate, lives
resting between her paws.

First Published in AGON Journal, Issue 0, 2021

PATIENCE

Even a cat knows when the screen is on Zoom, you sit and wait. Or stick your head in the picture so all can acknowledge your presence. Either works, and you know patience is not a virtue, but at times a necessity. You are a cat, after all. Patience is for dogs, poor beasts, having to be walked regularly. There is no freedom being a dog, and when they call you bad, that day is shot for you and you slink off. But cats must sometimes be patient when they are on Zoom, but it gives you time to plot your revenge, which the humans will never expect, but always soon enough forgive.

WE ARE IN KANSAS, TOTO

In my dream, the world
was at peace, and I was riding
across Kansas on a unicycle, towing
my car, packed to the windows,
my dog walking alongside urging
me to speed up because she
wanted to visit South Dakota.
I am due for a tricycle, I
remind the dog, “the grave
more likely,” she responds
with a sneer that teeters between
love and spite, always precariously
balanced, as is her food bowl
on the roof of the car. 
I could tell it was a dream
which is not often easy
from its midst, by the utter
lack of churches, synagogues
and mosques, none to be seen
and the Great Blue Heron
nesting in a scrub pine
on the shreds of Holy Books. 

First published in EKL Review, Issue 3, 2021
https://eklreview.com/issue_3/

DEAR PAVLOV

We both know that having
a pet at our age is wise
for they provide a companionship
that can be difficult to find.
I’ve had both dogs and cats,
but the decision this time
was reasonably simple,
for dogs have an insatiable
need to walk their people,
weather is no impediment
and my arthritis is no longer
all that forgiving of damp and cold.

So we settled on a cat, and we
have been pleased with our
decision – she is joyous, playful
and reads our emotional needs,
but most importantly, other
than not needing to walk us,
she has been remarkably adept
at training us to live in her new home.

HOUSING CRISIS

I laid it out
with great care, insured
that it comported both
with my idea and sound engineering.

I drew it with
a draftsman’s pencil,
measured each dimension
at least twice, visually
tested every joint.

It ws the culmination
of a lifetime of trying,
my final success, after
which I would stop,
there being no need
to improve on almost perfection.

Building it took time,
but I completed it,
finished it, and readied
it for display to the world.

The dog walked over,
looked in, looked quizically
at me, and raised his leg
at the neatly arched entrance.