POP-UP BUFFET

The cranes walk together
as a pair, announcing
themselves loudly,
strolling across the lawn
headed for the one yard
where the sod has been
torn out to allow regrading.

The equipment has paused
and they take this
as an invitation, stopping
for a large meal
at the new buffet,
certain that this
was done just for them
and perhaps a few ibis,
should they happen along.

Tomorrow this will be
once again a lawn
and the cranes will
express their displeasure
before looking for a new
place to dine.

CATHARTIDAE

They circle slowly
each in its own tier
of a near cloudless sky,
their wings still
as if frozen, riding
the breeze, dipping
and rising, going nowhere,
needing nowhere,
riding, riding, looking
down at the wetland,
and circling, until
with a shift in the breeze
the vulture vortex
shifts east, and you
watch them shrink,
thankful that they
are simply out
for a flight, and not
finding a meal
in the reeds
and trees
where all
the other
birds live.

EDGE OF THE ABYSS

He sits on the edge
peering down, shaking
in the breeze, knowing
the abyss below waits
for a misstep, a slip.

He stares up, waiting
for her return, hoping
she will soon arrive
bringing the meal, never
enough always wanting more.

He knows he will
someday soon have
to leave, but for now
all he can do is spread
his wings, flap them,

until it will seem natural
and then, only then
when he is strong, can
he lift up and become
one with an infinite sky.

SENSO-JI

By hour six, the plane was just a lumbering beast dividing the sky, halfway from God knows where to nowhere special. His body cried for sleep but he knew he had to deny it. That much he had learned from prior trips. For when he landed, made his way painfully slowly into the city, it would be early evening when he arrived at his hotel. He knew he needed to be on the edge of exhaustion. Only that way could he grab a meal from the 7 Eleven down the block, and finally get to sleep, reasonably fresh in the morning. It would be a long day. Each day in Tokyo was a long day of endless meetings and negotiations. It was mind numbing, but he was paid well to suffer it. And he knew that on his last day in the city he would have time to board the subway for Asakusa. There he would wander slowly down the line of stalls, to the great gate of Senso-ji Temple, its giant lantern shedding no light, and peer at the Buddha Hall in the distance. There would be school children in neat uniforms, always hand in hand, and pigeonss, flocking around them and anyone who looked gaijin, easy marks for photos and handouts. And the orange tiger cat would huddle at the base of the nearby Buddha seeking enlightenment. For that hour or so he was in a different world. The giant city melted away. His thoughts grew placid as he placed his incense into to giant earthenware jokoro then washed its smoke over his face and shoulders. He bowed to the young monk carefully writing the prayer sticks. He stood silent at the foot of the Buddha Hall, a conversation no one could hear, one that everyone here was having simultaneously. Time does not yield, and as it ran thin, he headed back to the subway knowing his fortune without purchasing it for 100 yen. A simple fortune really, a return visit on his next trip to Tokyo and maybe a side trip to Kyoto, and as the icing on his taiyaki, a trip to Nara, to again wander the grounds of Todai-ji and commune with the deer at first light, in the shadow of the Daibutsu. On the flight home he thought of the moments in Buddha’s shadow, the resounding of the great bell. He smiled recalling the red bibbed jizo, knowing they gave up Buddhahood to help those like him, still lost on the path. He is saddened knowing he will soon be back in his world, the daily grind, this trip shortened, as all return trips are. And when he lands, goes through Immigration and customs, when they ask if he has anything to declare, he may say “just a moment of kensho.”

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.

FirstAppeared in Green’s Magazine (Canada), Vol. 29, No.1, Autumn
2000.

DEAR ERASMUS, DIE

Today we welcome the rain, hope
that the wheaty winter lawn will
show some other color under its care.

The birds ignore the clouds,
accept the rain, care little how
our lawn looks, their next meal
of always greater importance.

I am losing the vision in one eye,
know I may soon be king
of the country of the blind,
and sadly curse Erasmus
for his gift of proverb, one
that slipped off the tongue
when my eye could still see it.

We will welcome the sun tomorrow
or the day after, for too much
rain or sun demands change
and nothing is really ever
wholly within our control.

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.

WOODEN PILLOW 鐵笛倒吹 六十

If, sitting at your meal
you hear the song of a bird,
what do you do?
You may tap your chopstick rest,
and perhaps he will answer
and repeat his sweet song.
If you tap a second time
and there is only silence
is the bird rejecting you
or offering his song to another,
flown from your window.

Perhaps you should tap again
and hear the sweeter song
of silence that echoes
over the garden and zendo.
On a distant limb
the small songbird smiles.

A reflection on Case 60 of the Iron Flute Koans.