HUANG PO’S GOBBLERS OF DREGS

You have heard that when
the student is ready the teacher appears,
and you believe you are ready,
but no teacher has appeared.
I can tell you that you are ready,
that you will never be ready,
that I am not the teacher,
that the teacher is here,
and that the teacher will never appear.
But the path you seek to find
with a teacher is all around you,
that there is not path to find.
If I give you a small bowl and you
stand by a lake of fresh water
just how much water can you hope to drink?

A reflection on Case 11 of the Hekiganroku (Blue Cliff Record)

THE POND

Along the shore
of the pond wishing
it was a lake,
the anhinga proudly
shows off the small fish
that will be his
mid-morning snack.

The egret finds
this show of ostentation
abhorrent and returns
to her search
for bugs on the reeds
fringing the shore.

The alligator swims
lazily off shore
hoping we will
soon pass, and
considers whether
he wants only to sun,
or if an anhinga would
make a good meal.

STEPPING

I know I should find a river
and just sit on its banks
and stare at the water flowing

I don’t have to step in it once
to know I couldn’t step in twice
if I wanted, so that problem’s solved.

And with dry feet, I can walk
along its banks with a bit more
jaunt in my step, which should

please the river, for I know that
it has long been watching me
as I frequently visit, and I would

like to think we are old friends,
at least that is what the lake
said during my last visit there.

TRICKSTER

Coyote no longer inhabits the hill south of our city. Yet we know he is there, staring down at the lake, watching the grape clusters fatten on the vines. We cannot see the orange-red orbs of his eyes on a still winter night. We know he sees us. Coyote cannot be found, no carcasses attest to his presence. Coyote is everywhere, walking among us, living in parks, living in plain sight, knowing he is invisible. We see his tricks, know we were once again outsmarted, know we can outsmart him. Coyote no longer inhabits the hills here, for he has morphed, and we are coyote.

RIVER

I know I should find a river
and just sit on its banks
and stare at the water flowing

I don’t have to step in it once
to know I couldn’t step in twice
if I wanted, so that problem’s solved.

And with dry feet, I can walk
along its banks with a bit more
jaunt in my step, which should

please the river, for I know that
it has long been watching me
as I frequently visit, and I would

like to think we are old friends,
at least that is what the lake
said during my last visit there.

REFLECTIONS

An elk stands at the edge
of a placid mountain lake
and sees only the clouds
of an approaching winter.

A black bear leans over
the mirrored surface of the lake
and sees only the fish
that will soon be his repast.

The young man draped
in saffron robes looks
calmly into the water and sees
a pebble, the spirit of his ancestors.

I look carefully into the water
looking for an answer to a question
always lurking out of reach
and see only my ever thinning hair.


First appeared in Greens Magazine (Can) 29:1 2000

ENVELOPING

The night wraps us
in the faint light
of the glowing moon.
The snow falls, reflected
in the street light’s glow,
and settles on the snow fields
of recent days that obscure
the earth that suffers beneath.
We will flee tomorrow
and leave the snow in our wake,
hoping that on our return
a week hence, some if not all
of it will have washed
into the lake, and we,
having borne the brunt of the sun,
will remember what summer
will eventually offer us.