Tomorrow this poem will
most assuredly no lnger be here,
though when during the night
it will slip away, never again
to be seen, I don’t know or perhaps it
will return in a form I would not recognize,
re-crafted by the hand of an unseen editor.
It may take on a meaning unfamiliar,
or translate itself into a tongue
that I can neither speak nor read,
or perhaps, most dreadedly, assume
the shape of prose, accreting words
until the embedded thought is bloated
and wholly unrecognizable.
Even if I tried to stop it, watched
carefully, it would no doubt
remind me that poems have a life
of their own once cast to paper
or pixels, and I am at best only
another editor or reader, and it
takes kindly on most days to neither.
Words have geographic homes
and here old favorites seem
ill at ease, fitting poorly into thoughts
that demand their presence.
I use them regardless, but we both
know that they will hide their shadings,
but in a world where words
are the last option, we both know
that I have no alternative
but to turn to them, to wheedle,
to cajole, and ultimately to submit
to whatever they will allow me.
After all, the alternative
his silence, and for a writer,
that is death by a single cut.
Baso knows well
only the ox truly
understands the yoke
but if you offer it
the ox will not accept.
Why would you seek
to become the ox
as it would be better
to burn the yoke.
A reflection on case 33 of the Mumonkan (The Gateless Gate)
no Carrollean wishes
below the tide line
Durer or trivial
seen or ignored
or salt pillar
eroded by rain
cast to ash.
First appeared in Eureka Literary Magazine Vol. 5, No. 2 (1997)
He takes a first step
the path, the field
for the ox.
Much time passes
in the soft mud
of spring a print
of hoof, deep
in the distance
faint in morning fog
at the very edge
the ox stands
for a moment
he freezes for
with his foot
he gently places
a loop of rope
around the neck
of the waiting ox.
The ox stands
staring past the horizon
to the beast
and it steps
seeking his next
to ease his dismount.
“Every once in a while,” he says
and the screeching in my head
drowns out what follows. I know
what he means of course, that is
the easy part, but the gulf between
meaning and saying is so broad
I can stop and count the traffic
of ideas floating by, each seeking
its own purchase, each finding none.
It could be worse, I know, he
could have said “each and every
once in a while, and he does that
as well, though not in a while,”
but even the once was enough.
I notice he is gone, and I wonder
how much life flowed by
while I was otherwise engaged.
He said to her, “you know
it really irritates me how you
always seem to repeat yourself.
Say it once and that’s enough.”
She paused, thought about his comment,
then said, “You know, despite
what you say, I don’t, I
don’t really, but nuance
is something that always seems
just beyond your comprehension.”
He bristled, “You could be more
subtle, you know, perhaps
it is always on the thin edge
of my comprehension, but gets
pushed way by the repetitive
battering you feel the need
to impart, over and over.”
She smiled, “I doubt it,
I truly and sincerely doubt it.”