THE HOUSE ON PEABODY

It was brick, red I am told.
on a quiet street not far
from 16th Street and its traffic.
It was small, but a good home
for a couple with a child or two
in the heart of the District.

I have no recollection of it,
save the tile, black and white
in the bathroom, the radiator
on which I hit my head,
and the front stoop, and that
only in the picture of me
in his arms, my father,
the man who adopted me
and later a baby girl, then
dropped dead one morning
of a massive coronary.
I have no recollection
of him, of the sister taken away,
or the house, but I mourn then all.

A BUFFALO PASSES 無門關 三十八

Staring out, watch the bull
walk slowly past
along the old road.
Marvel at his horns,
the flare of his nostrils
in his massive head,
his breath hanging
in the early morning chill.

Mark each leg, its
muscles rippling, as it passes.
You feel you know the beast
but only if you close your eyes
can you grasp its tail.

A reflection on Case 38 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate Koans)

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.

BEARDED

It is growing more common for men
of a certain age, one I have attained,
to grow beards, and that was before
the pandemic made them ubiquitous
among those of the male gender.

I noted this aloud and a young child
smiled at me and said, “of course,
you have to have a beard because
the hair inside your head has to go
somewhere other than your bald head.”

IBIS SEEING YOU

They pause
in their foraging in the lawn
to peer up at us,
strange looking interlopers,
but they are used 
to us by now
and return 
to the task at hand.

We no longer 
find them strange
though we never quite
get used to the curved
salmon colored beaks,
and we do wonder
why the ancient 
Egyptians held 
them sacred.

It seems that they
have never forgiven
their Egyptian ancestors
from affixing
their head 
to a man, god
or no god, he
couldn’t find
a grub if his life
depended on it.

INSIDE THE PAGE

She asks innocently,
listening to the wind whispering
through the bare branches of the oak,
“How long have you lived
in this poem,” pointing
to the page of marked
and remarked typescript.
He looks at her as if discovering
she’d grown another head,
peeking out from between
her well-polished teeth.
“I have no idea what you mean,”
he says, “I write the poems—
it is up to you to furnish them.”
She grimaces, “That’s so wrong,”
a third head appeared, grinning,
“if you build poems on spec
they are sterile little boxes
that you foist off on the unwary.
Plant all the flowers you want
around it, it will still
have the antiseptic smell
should we dare step into it.
That’s just the difference
between us,” she adds, “I can see
the song of the wind
played by the trees, but you,
you see only the blankness
of the unadorned walls.”

Published in These Lines, Fall 2020
https://theselines.org/these-lines-1.1-fall-2020.pdf

ACT IV

He knew he should not have brought the gun. He hated guns,
they served no purpose in his world of words. He wanted to
look at it, to stare at it, really. He thought that if he did so
he might be better able to write about the senselessness
of the world in which he lived, a world he so very much wanted to
change. He had the gun. He knew what he had to do. He
shot a hole in the forehead of the picture of Anton Chekhov
that hung on the wall over his desk.

GENSHA’S IRON BOAT 鐵笛倒吹 八十語

Do not suggest
you can only be enlightened
on a cold day in hell
unless you are prepared
to carry the air conditioner
across the River Styx.

Even Cerberus
has Buddha nature
although none
of the heads will say so.


A reflection on Case 85 of the Iron Flute koans. And if you haven’t guessed, Monday for a while, will be reflection on koan’s day.