HUANG PO’S GOBBLERS OF DREGS

You have heard that when
the student is ready the teacher appears,
and you believe you are ready,
but no teacher has appeared.
I can tell you that you are ready,
that you will never be ready,
that I am not the teacher,
that the teacher is here,
and that the teacher will never appear.
But the path you seek to find
with a teacher is all around you,
that there is not path to find.
If I give you a small bowl and you
stand by a lake of fresh water
just how much water can you hope to drink?

A reflection on Case 11 of the Hekiganroku (Blue Cliff Record)

THEN, NOW

It was easier then, so let’s
go there, the spring of 1970,
the location is less important,
so long as it’s a coffee house
where those barely old enough
to drink, or barely short of that
age congregate, waiting for
something to happen or, I
seriously hoped, someone,
someone with little hair, but
who carried James Joyce in
his jeans pocket, Portrait of
the Artist the only Joyce to fit.

I had thought of Ginsberg or
Corso, a better fit, but too
intelligentsia for this audience,
and literature was not my purpose,
although I hoped they did
not know that, or if so, would
not hold it against me, at least
until after a first date and sight
of me in my Air Force uniform.

I did succeed that spring, so
my efforts did bear fruit, but
50 years, and a failed marriage later,
let’s instead go back twenty
years, to an Indian restaurant
where being a poet fit neatly
into the hip pocket of my jeans.

First appeared in the South Shore Review (Canada) Issue 2, Spring 2021

AN AWAKENING

Take one part
Grand Marnier, one
Frangelico, a short cup
of coffee, whipped cream
only if you wish,
curl on the sofa
with your life’s
greatest love
and your first
real, truly your
first Christmas Eve
makes you wonder
why you waited
so long.

First published in The Poet: Christmas (2020 United Kingdom)

NEATNESS COUNTS

Ice, he said, is clearly an invention
of Satan, the ice cube a scaled down
version of that corner of hell of which
no one ever speaks, so little known.

And stop and think, we got by well
for eons without a cube of ice, unless
with blade we chipped it from
a nearby glacier or left water out
in the dead of winter, which never
worked all that well in much of the world.

Whiskey, that was one of our best
innovations, one of which we are
rightfully proud, one which we
have practiced for untold generations.
We’ve been sipping it and drinking it
from the word go, and each culture
has come up with its own version,
and it is only recently that the devil
gave us the means of denigrating
one of God’s greatest gifts to us.

God, mother told us, prefers things
neat, as they were intended, so clearly
ice is the Devil’s work. Turn away!

ONE OF US? NEVER!

I now live among birds, and they
accept me, listen to me endless complaints,
and never demand I cease kvetching.

I know they speak about me behind
my back, but they are kind, and generally
do not remind me of my shortcomings,

no doubt certain I am all too well aware
of my failings, and they remind me they have
their own problems, a shrinking

environment, water and air that only
we might drink or breathe willingly,
and when I object to their complaints,

when I say that I am not the one
to blame, they seem to laugh, and say
perhaps so, for we birds have much

in common with you, no one wants
to listen to us complain, and you do
all look pretty much alike to us.

YEATS IF ONLY

Cheever was having a bad day,
that much was immediately obvious.
Perhaps it was the two martini’s in town
before lunch, but he says it only made him giddy.
We all know better and by late afternoon
his mood has soured completely, his emotions
have slipped back into turmoil.
He says a few cocktails will cure him,
or at least make him bearable.
He will soon consider AA again,
drinking dry the liquor cabinet in the consideration.
Elsewhere and in another time, Borges reminds us,
an Irish poet, held prisoner in the last days
of the Irish civil war, knows he will be executed
in the morning, and so slips out of the house
that serves as his prison, and into the water
icy, frigid, now hating the Barrow river.
He swims as best he can, promising
that if the river god allows him to live
he will present her with two swans.
He does live, he does place two swans
onto the river the following spring,
and he dreams one day of visiting Coole.

SUSHI

We sit around the Tatami table
thankful for the leg well
redemption for aging knees,
and socks without holes.
We drink the sake warm
and cold, and the Sapporo
from the oversized bottles
each pouring for the other
as a proper host must.
Several recall nights
on Roppongi, or earlier
on the Ginza, moments
lucid in drunken clarity.
One remembers a hostess
with endless legs
but little more,
although it still brings
a childlike smile.
Empty bottles
are quickly replaced
each at increased decibels
until the final uni
ends up on my plate
alongside the quail egg.
The night air
is unsteady
or is it merely
the sea urchin
exacting his revenge.

HUANG PO’S GOBBLERS OF DREGS

You have heard that when
the student is ready the teacher appears,
and you believe you are ready,
but no teacher has appeared.
I can tell you
that you are ready,
that you will never be ready,
that I am not the teacher,
that the teacher is here,
that the teacher will never appear.
The path you seek to find
with a teacher
is all around you,
there is no path to find.
If I give you a small bowl and you
stand by a lake of fresh water
just how much water
can you hope to drink?


A reflection on case 11 of the Hekiganroku