SHOWERS

We sat on our lanai last night
in our twin rockers, the cat
curled close by but carefully
removed from the rockers
and stared into the sky hoping
meteors would grace us
with their fleeting presence.

The moon did appear, shrouded
in thin clouds, spectral ghost
waxing slowly in hiding, but
the stars had fled this night,
fearing the rain that
the cloud mantle promised.

We never did see a meteor
but we know they will return
next year and the cat says
it is hardly worth interrupting
a good nap for a momentary
flash of light, and we just
touched hands and
retreated to bed.

PERSPECTIVE

It will soon enough be time again,
I am an old clockface on a tower
at which no one but the truly bored
bother to look, tucked in a corner
of a village half empty, its life
moved away to places cooler,
less stormy. So I sit and watch
what life remains around me,
the few children wishing they
could be elsewhere, some parents
wishing they had used birth control.
No one looks, no one really cares
but I have little choice, it is my fate
to mark passages, entrances,
but my hands are growing tired
and at some not far off point
they will stop moving, and I
wonder if anyone will care.

THE WALL

The wall is black granite,

highly polished be an unseen hand

and the fingers of countless thousands

present but each unseen by the others.

At first glance you want to count

the names, but you lack fingers

enough for the task and others

are quickly withdrawn as are their eyes.

You know where the names are,

Willy, who they now call William,

Little Joey, who was so large in your

memory, climbing into the cockpit.

You wonder if things had been different,

if you hadn’t enlisted, chosen

the Air Force, if the Draft Board

anointed you cannon fodder, who

would trace their fingers along

the cold unfeeling stone that has

been washed by untold tears bidding

you farewell or thanks, rarely both.

We have grown so good at wars

we no longer need etched walls,

bronze statues, for before a design

is complete, the next must be begun.

First published in The Parliament Literary Magazine – Issue 5- Masks and Manes 

Chu Gives Three Calls 無門關 十七

Three times the master’s question

three times the student’s response

each time, the same answer

each time the master shrinks

as answer surpasses question.

There is no master

there is no student

there is only the lamp

in two sets of hands.

A reflection on case 11 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate) koans.

YAKUSAN’S DISCOURSE

When the master takes his seat
what do you expect of him?
Do you watch his posture
or how his hands are set.
Do you stare at his lips
and what do you hear
when they move, but no sound
comes from his throat.
Listen carefully, for here
the dharma unfolds
like the first chrysanthemum.

A reflection on Case 79 of the Shobogenzo (Dogen’s True Dharma Eye)

TOO MANY COOKS

I can still recall
the day my mother
was ecstatic on learning
that everything grew
out of a primordial soup.
It was proof, she
was certain, of a Jewish
God, even if he didn’t
do it all with his own hands.
And, with a broad smile
she said, I’m fairly certain
at the soup
was chicken, maybe
with kreplach on the side.

TAKING

You can take my sight,
but my mind will still see what it must,
and my fingers will become eyes.
You can take my hearing,
I will imagine what I must,
and my eyes will become ears.
You can take my tongue,
but my body will shout what I must,
and my hands will speak volumes.
The only thing you cannot take
is my words, for without them
my prison would be complete
and I would be rendered mute,
deaf and blind, and that is a fate
from which I could never hope to emerge.

Reprised from March 28, 2016

TIMELESS

The wonder of clocks in old towns and cities
is that few actually care if the time
they portend is accurate or an approximation.

The importance often seems inversely
proportional to the size of the place in which
it is called upon to render a temporal verdict.

Best of all are the clocks whose hands
have ground to a halt, or gone missing,
for they are the philosophical seers,

sent to remind us that time is our construct
and in the grand scheme of things
exists only because we demand it to do so,

and long before the clock we got along
sufficiently well by being always
and forever in the present moment.

GANTO’S MEAL 鐵笛倒吹 語十四

When you visit a teacher
inquire what he needs
and freely offer him a meal,
but ask nothing in return,
if you pester him
he will greet you
with a blow of the stick.

Come to him silently
with an open heart
and with empty hands
and the Dharma
will be transmitted.

A reflection on case 54 of the Iron Flute Koans