STRING QUARTET

The violinists’ laughter and tears
are flung from her flying bow,
drip from his elbow,
and wash over the stilled audience –
we can taste the sea
as we threaten to capsize.

The viola is the older brother
now steadying, now caught
in the wave, riding
its dizzying course,
dragging us in its wake.

The cello is a torso, the cellist
a surgeon, her hands
plucking small miracles
from stretched gut,
shouting for, then at,
the still stunned gods.

Somewhere, Brahms
must be smiling.

First Published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press, 2008.

RINZAI’S BLIND DONKEY

When your teacher
hands you the dharma
what do you find in your hands?

What will you do
with the dharma you are given,
where will you keep it,
or will you give it away
in silence, and in such
giving have it with you
at all times and places.

A reflection on Case 13 of the Book of Equanimity (従容錄, Shōyōroku)

MORNING

In that moment
when the gentle chirping
of a small bird
resounds as a pounding
spring deluge, washes away
the creak and thrum
of passing cars, when she sings
only to you, her small voice
drawn in to your ears, your
mind, until it fades
slowly like the bell
and you wait for it
to strike again, to feel
it seep down your spine,
ooze into your fingers
and toes, pool in bent
knees and elbows, folded hands.
In that moment
the gentle chirping
is your voice, and you
are perched in the weeping
cherry tree in the garden
preening in the morning sun.


First published in Creatopia, Issue 5, Spring 2022
https://creatopia.studio/creatopia-collection-magazine/spring-2022-renewal-magazine/

ANCESTRY

Children have an innate sense
of their ancestry.
I was a child of the city
it’s streets my paths, always
under the watchful eye
of my warden – mother.

Dirt was to be avoided
at all possible cost,
so I never dug my hands
into the fertile soil of my
village in the heart of Lithuania,
or tasted the readying harvest
that dirt would remember.

I never stole a nip of poitin
only the Manischewitz which,
in our home, masqueraded
as wine fit for drinking. It is only
now in my second childhood
that the ancestry very deep
in my DNA has finally found
purchase in my mind and soul.

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)