OF THE SEASONS

In the heart of winter, then,
which seemed unending
I would stare out at the maples
barren branches piled
in ever tottering snow
and dream of palm trees
and a warm ocean breeze.

In heart of winter now,
such as it is, all I see
are endless palms and
many Southern Live Oaks,
their branches piled
under a heavy burden
of sagging Spanish Moss
and I dream of the simple
beauty of the maple leaf
shifting from its deep green
to its endless shades
of autumn beauty.

SNOW

At first it was just odd
to think of snow as merely
a concept, a memory softer,
more pleasant than its reality.

You can grow accustomed
to concepts, they are generally
somewhat neat and tidy, easily
filed and brought forth on demand.

The concept of snow has
its great advantages, snowmen
of perfect shape, never melting
and no one must shovel a concept.

But there are moments, a tree
decorated for Christmas, you
want to reach out and feel
the chill suddenly warm your heart.

RUSHING IN

Step right up, don’t hang back,
come and watch the fool perform for you.
You know me, bedecked in motley emotions
worn like so many colorful rags,
a suit of too many shades and hues,
all displayed for your entertainment.
See if you can find ten shades of anger
as I prance around in front of you.
Count the five flavors of tears
that start and stop like a passing storm.
Laugh at me as I pirouette, a dervish
who loved blindly long after
the love of my patron had died.
See me in my fool’s cap, the bells
of rage and guilt dangling from its points.
If that isn’t enough to bring out a laugh,
watch as I rip out my heart
and lay it at your feet, still beating
to the rhythm of the song
to which she grew deaf so long ago.
Rain your scorn on me as I stumble
across the stage, for though they ring hollow,
it is them that I most crave, a redemption
that no monarch could hope to offer.
Step right up, don’t hang back,
come and watch the fool perform for you
and do not pause to think
that you could as easily be here,
on this stage, and I out there marveling
at you, wondering what you did
to ever deserve such a fate.

First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008)

FINDING PEACE

It wasn’t lost on me, mother, that this year
on the anniversary of death, you had been gone
eighteen years, Chai in your beloved Hebrew,
a lifetime for me, having never met you
save in the half of my genes you implanted
in me when I was implanted in you.

As you aged, alone, did you wonder what
became of the closest family you had after
your parents were interred in the soil of Charleston?
Did you ever regret not knowing, or were you
comfortable that the Jewish Family Service Agency
would make a selection of which you would
have approved had your approval been sought.

You have grandsons and greatgrandchildren
who will mourn me, carry my memory forward,
but know that I do the same for you, and you
never aged a day from that one when the photographer
took your college yearbook photo, a grainy
copy of which is tucked in my wallet and heart.

EYES HAVE IT

It is the eyes that fall in love,
the heart that follows like
an always faithful shadow,
and the mind and reason that
are bound to darkness and silence.

That is what I learned in my dream
last night, or my recollection of it, for dreams
may fade in the sharp light of morning.

But dreams have a potent magic, a holiness
really, for there I can resurrect the dead
and if the mood is right, bend back
the arrow of time, render it dimensionless,
all the while I remain constant, but certain
with any luck, in someone else’s dream, I
may be a child, a young man, or any
of a thousand other roles I cannot imagine.

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

UNANSWERED

As strange as it seems, I can
spend hours in a used bookstore
lost in the marginalia, and textbooks,

particularly those in psych and sociology
are generally the most fertile,
for those students, though they would

never admit it, pursued those fields
hoping to find answers to their own
problems without having to ask.

Yesterday’s visit was particularly fertile,
but it was a college introductory text
in biology that grabbed and held me.

In the margin of a short chapter mentioning
thoracic anatomy was a question
for which I have no possible answer:

Does the diseased heart in the metal
operating room basin curse the body
on the gurney who was supposed

to join it in the ground, and what of the
donor who goes back to the soil
heartless and utterly and eternally alone?

CAT (PSYCH)OLOGY

It wasn’t until I hit
middle age, which on my scale
will allow me to live past 100,
that I discovered that cats
are Celtic deep in their hearts.
Our cat, she who adopted me
and forced her then owner
to marry me, like it or not,
was in love with the tin whistle
and the uilleann pipes playing
had her in my lap, unmoving.
But she had her Buddhist side
as well, sitting zazen for hours,
longer if accompanied by
shakuhachi flutes. She said
that cats were discerning,
were connoisseurs of music
loved cello, viola and violin
but barely tolerated the bass.
It was why, she said, all
the great composers wrote
for the higher strings.
And, she would add,
as for dogs, well they
loved country music most,
reason enough for pity.

0 OR +1?

The real question,
the true heart of the matter,
is whether this is the first
day of a new year,
as she believes, or merely
the day after the last day
of the year,
as he would have it.
They have this discussion
once each year,
and they never resolve it
for eventually they grow tired,
and the day is gone
before they do.
They promise to conclude
the next time around,
but by then they will
have forgotten most
of their history
and will grasp
the novelty
of the old argument anew.

BODHIDHARMA’S VAST EMPTINESS

If you go walking one day
and meet a person you think
may be the Buddha, ask him
what is the heart of all of the sutras.
If he answers you with Dharma
will you be certain this person
is not the Buddha?
If, on the other hand,
he says nothing at all,
and merely holds up a mirror,
will you be certain you
are seeing the Buddha?
Decide before he crosses
the river and is gone from sight.


A reflection on Case 1 of Bring Me the Rhinoceros (Koans)