During the Presidential debate the other night the inevitable question was eventually asked. I have to say the answers were much as expected, exactly as scripted, and while “correct,” each candidate missed a golden opportunity. “On January 21, what will be the first thing you will do as President?” Most of the world’s problems made the list, immigration, climate change, wealth inequality, you get the picture. It was never mind that almost none of the things listed could be solved by an executive order, their hearts were in the right place. But no one hit the real mark. Ask me and the answer’s simple. My first act as President is to appoint the official White House herpetologist. It is a two for one appointment, after all. I get someone who can help me deal with Congress, members of both the Senate and House. But better still, when it hits the fan, and we all know it will, repeatedly, I have an expert who can explain that yet again, it is all the snake’s fault. That one has worked since Adam, and even the evangelicals and Catholics must agree on that one.
If you will mark your gate
what word will you use,
what for the door, what
for the window?
The gate knows quite well
what it is, as to door and window
and need no marking.
Even the fool knows
through each you
may enter the house,
but even the wise man
cannot tell you
how the house may enter you.
A reflection on case 46 of the Iron Flute Koans
Yesterday a small dog, walking its master down the block stopped and stared
at you, as you stood on your porch. You stared back at the dog, eyes locked
on each other, while the master fidgeted on the sidewalk, afraid or too bored
to look at either of you. You realized this was just the dog’s way of teaching
his master patience, or perhaps of simply delaying you from what it was
that brought you to your porch that you forgot in engaging the dog. Eventually
the dog dragged its master on, and you returned to the house, having done
nothing but stare at a dog. It was clear in that moment that a dog must
have Buddha nature but yours was deeply in question.
You want to yell at him, tell him
to stop, that it is too soon, that he
is not ready, cannot be, won’t be
for months to come, but you know
he will not listen to you
standing, gesticulating, imagining
a stone in your hand, shattering
the glass walls, the crackling,
gaining his full attention
causing him to realize what is
so very obvious to us.
But you cannot do so, wishes aside,
there are no stones to be found
within the house in which you stand
and if there were, there still are
very clear rules against your throwing one.
The house is suddenly empty
standing alone on a stark barren lot.
The old drapes are drawn tight
and little light enters, but
there is no one there to see it.
Every once in a while there is a rattle,
a creaking, and you expect someone to appear
in one of the now dark windows,
the door to be thrown open, an invitation
to enter or at least a wave, life
asserting itself within, but it will not happen.
You know the house cannot stand long
unattended, that it will, too soon, fall away
leaving only a hole to mark its presence.
The dolphin knows
precisely when to feed
when to bless the day
when to swim south
feels the pull of the tides.
Each day at noon
he walks across the factory floor
shavings, and up
the metal staircase
into the small office
its windows overlooking
the shop floor and pushes
the red button
mounted on the wall.
The whistle peals over town
as people glance reflexively
at their watches.
When asked, he says
it is always precisely noon
never sooner, never later
he is certain, for he checks
the clock on the steeple
of the ancient church
set each Friday by the parson
to insure God’s work
is promptly done.
Each day at ten before six
the parson climbs the ancient
wooden steps into the bell tower
and staring at his watch, waits
until the hands align
then leans into the rope
as the bell rings out six times
then he climbs down and walks
across the neatly trimmed lawn
to the small white clapboard
house that sits on the edge
of the cemetery behind the church.
It is precisely six he says
for each day at noon
he sets his watch
to the factory whistle.
First appeared in PKA Advocate, No. 9, December 1996
In the night
what I am perched
on the edge of sleep
you appear, just
out of the dream shadows,
avoiding the light,
you are featureless.
I call to you and I think
you must be smiling
but your voice is the wind
through the Austrian pines
and the drip from the ever
that slowly abandoned
the eaves of the house.
We are in the season of stasis
where nothing wants to move and nothing
should shed the mantle of snow
that has announced winter’s arrival
in terms we full understand, as do
the finches clinging to the feeder
casting nervous glances skyward.
The neighbor’s cat has decided
that the remote chance of catching
a bird or squirrel is easily outweighed
by the warmth of the house, and even
the dogs down the block have found
their own lawns much more to their liking.
We know our feet will thaw
after our morning walks, but suspect
this may happen only with the Spring
that seems impossibly far away, and so
we imagine ourselves bulbs, clinging
to what warmth the earth offers
knowing the bloom has infinite patience.
Yesterday the cat
explained at great length
that we occupy
her house because
she loves us, but that we
dare not take
this status for granted.
I scratched her behind her ears
to signify my agreement
and so she took my simple
act of kindness.
You get another week
she said, purring.