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.
Sitting cross-legged on the floor
staring into the pristine moon
I hear the wailing
of the dog next door,
his mantra engulfs mine
and I slide away
braying at the moon.