LADDER

You have to stop and wonder,
the child said, why people
can take joy in killing, why
people can scheme each other,
why people can cheat if they can.

Birds, the child added, only
try and scheme people for food,
why they cheat for the sake
of cheating, kill for pleasure,
yet we say we are the higher species.

Perhaps, the child concludes,
it is we who are standing
on our heads, looking up
the species ladder, and we
are actually on the bottom.

DEAR PAVLOV

We both know that having
a pet at our age is wise
for they provide a companionship
that can be difficult to find.
I’ve had both dogs and cats,
but the decision this time
was reasonably simple,
for dogs have an insatiable
need to walk their people,
weather is no impediment
and my arthritis is no longer
all that forgiving of damp and cold.

So we settled on a cat, and we
have been pleased with our
decision – she is joyous, playful
and reads our emotional needs,
but most importantly, other
than not needing to walk us,
she has been remarkably adept
at training us to live in her new home.

SATURDAY, OF COURSE

On a quiet Sunday morning, my cappuccino
in equal measures gone and cooling, I
paused to consider the mug on the table
adjacent to mine, alone, uncared about.

It stared back at me, from its perch
on the coaster pedestal on which it
had been placed so carefully, a bevy
of faces holding my eye trying to tell me what?

It was hard to read their moods, each
much the same as the others, a calm
perhaps, a hint of simple joy, almost
a childishness that begged my attention.

I wanted to ask why the red bows
in their hair, but I knew I’d get no answer,
for they were inscrutable, and that was
how they liked it, lost in a perpetual tease.

They did cause me to muse on why this day
they appeared in an unlikely place, and I
paused to wonder what Ode Keats might
have written in 1819 on this Hello Kitty mug

WRITING MEMORY

It is well past time
I wrote a poem about
the great joys of my childhood,
for memory should bubble up
like lava through the crust of time,
they should rain in flashes
as so much matter dropping
into the atmosphere
in their ultimate light show.
This isn’t going to happen, of course,
whether because memory has
grown dim over time’s distance
or for lack of subject matter.
At 68, the difference hardly matters
for a blank page hardly cares
which pen chooses not to write it.

KEYS

He sits, suited in black, with 88
keys at his command,
and we fall silent.
He opens the lock of joy,
the lock of sadness,
the lock of elation,
the lock of tears,
the lock of laughter,
the lock of darkness,
the lock of light,
the lock of surprise,
the lock of compassion,
the lock of love,
and we peer through each door,
unable to enter fully
unable to turn away.
As we walk out, we know
we have tasted Buddha’s promise truth
and we go off in search
of the 63,999 remaining Dharma doors.

RISHO’S POEM 鐵笛倒吹 三十語

Have you been here –
who will know?
The sun and moon
record your journey.

What you release
gathers joyously around you,
what you cling to
flies off on the slightest breeze,
mountain and cloud
enfold each other.
Will you join them?


A reflection on case 35 of the Iron Flute Koans

BETWEEN

Between now and then,
between yesterday to and today,
between night and day,
between birth and death,
between good and evil,
between heaven and hell,
between light and dark,
between joy and sadness,
our lives occur
and we are so
seldom there
to see it happen,
lost in dreams
of what never will be,
never was.

DHARMA GATE

He sits, suited in black, with 88
keys at his command, and we fall silent.
He opens the lock of joy,
the lock of sadness,
the lock of elation,
the lock of tears,
the lock of laughter,
the lock of darkness,
the lock of light,
the lock of surprise,
the lock of compassion,
the lock of love,
and we peer through each door,
unable to enter fairly
unable to turn away.
As we walk out, we know
we have tasted Buddha’s promised truth
and we go off in search
63,999 remaining Dharma doors.

THE GATHERING

They gather this time every week,
they would feel lost if they did otherwise.
The don’t do it out of any sense of duty
or higher calling, and they expect
nothing in return for having done so.
They aren’t even following directions
or obeying some unwritten rule.
They object to most rules,
demand logic before even pausing
to consider requests for action.
Holidays do throw off their schedule
but they work around them as best they can.
Theirs is a joyous group
and only the swings groan
under their laughter as their feet
reach up to kick the clouds,
before night falls on the playground.