YAKUSAN’S DISCOURSE

When the master takes his seat
what do you expect of him?
Do you watch his posture
or how his hands are set.
Do you stare at his lips
and what do you hear
when they move, but no sound
comes from his throat.
Listen carefully, for here
the dharma unfolds
like the first chrysanthemum.

A reflection on Case 79 of the Shobogenzo (Dogen’s True Dharma Eye)

QUESTION POSED, AWAITING A RESPONSE

I stooped and spoke
to a stone, asking the question.
I was here before you arrived
and I will be her long after you leave.
I held the sand in my hand
warm from the sun, asking the question.
I came after your arrived
and I will leave long before you are gone.
I held the winter wind on the tip
of a finger, asking the question.
I am not here now
and I have never been here.
I touched the waters
to my lips, asking the question.
I was above you when you came
and I will be below you when you go.
I saw the flames dance
before me, asking the question.
You were ashes once
and you shall be ashes again.
I stood mired in the clay
clinging to my legs, asking the question.
It is of me you were formed
and it is to me you will return.
I sat at the foot of God
blinding light, asking the question.
You cried to me at birth
and you will cry to me at death.

First Published in The Poet: Faith Vol. 1, Spring 2021
https://www.thepoetmagazine.org/spring-2021—faith

FIRST KISS

You ask me if I remember
when we first kissed, and then add
and what was it really like for me.

I know the answer you expect,
and I am reluctant to tell you
otherwise, but I have to be honest.

It was moments after I left you
at your door on our first date,
having found my car finally
in the parking garage near
the coffee house downtown.

I had just gotten in the car
to drive to my apartment
in the distant suburbs, and
turning on the ignition, I
kissed you passionately
on the lips, all eyes closed.

And, it was wonderful, though
the kiss we shared in reality
later that month put it to shame.

A SONG FOR A LOVER

It is hard, looking back, to recall
just how many hours I spent searching
with a fair amount of diligence for just
the right song to express my love.
Most often I would find it,
but only after that love had been
replaced by another, demanding
a new song — you cannot use
the same song for two different loves,
that crosses well over into tacky.
I have to admit I’ve given up
totally on that quest, even as
the number of available songs
has grown exponentially, or so
the various streaming services suggest.
I have only a single lover now,
have for twenty years, and
as her hearing has slipped away
it is her lips that read mine,
and that is all the song we need.

ENGLISH CLASS

He had planned
the exercise for weeks,
certain this one
would allow them
to break through the wall
that had imprisoned
the metaphors within them.
It was simple, and that
was its beauty, too many
attempts had become
bogged down, mired in
the fear that words
could do the greatest harm.
The exercise is simple,
he said, and they
put pens to paper.
Later, toward the end
of class, “would one of you
be kind enough
to read to the class
your description
of a young woman’s lips?”
One boy meekly rose
and through half clenched
teeth said, “Her lips
were precisely shaped
to barely cover her teeth.”


First appeared in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press, (2008).

EXPECTATIONS

You say you appreciate occasional
gifts of symbols of love.
You expect me to bring you a rose
it’s satin petals gently curling
back at the edges, always
threatening to suddenly unfold,
alluring, drawing in the eye
promising warmth and release.
I bring you an onion, wrapped tightly,
it’s papered skin, the luminescence
threatening to break out but always
just one more layer down.
I help you peel back a layer,
it comes off reluctantly, as if
letting go of this secret
could be painful or exposing.
We, both of us, shed tears
and I wipe yours with the edge
of my thumb, you watch mine
roll down my cheek and hang
perilously on the edge of my jaw.
I bring you an onion and peel it
slowly, I lift the bit to your lips.
It is sweeter than you anticipated
but still it has a fierceness
that borders on passion,
and it will cling to your lips
long after this moment
has faded into memory.

ROAD TRIP

Two nights gone
and sleep has come fitfully,
and I stir each time
I reach across the bed
and you aren’t there,
and there is only the faintest
smell of bleach
and cleaning solvent.
I want very much
to dream of you,
to trace your cheek
with dream fingers,
to taste your lips on mine,
to hear the placid rhythm
of your breath,
but there is only
a stack of unused pillows
and the sound of the heater
battling to life.
I dream of you by day,
by night your absence
pulls me from the precipice
of deep sleep and dreams.