OR CUT BAIT

They sit or stand patiently
on the jetty, a concrete path
jutting out into the ocean.

The old timers have two
lines out, bait bucket
sitting in the bicycle-wheeled
cart parked on the edge
of the jetty’s bouldered margin.

You don’t ask what they’ve
caught, that would be obvious,
and you know they are here for
the act of fishing, and the catch
is that there never is
the expectation of one.

OF THE SEASONS

In the heart of winter, then,
which seemed unending
I would stare out at the maples
barren branches piled
in ever tottering snow
and dream of palm trees
and a warm ocean breeze.

In heart of winter now,
such as it is, all I see
are endless palms and
many Southern Live Oaks,
their branches piled
under a heavy burden
of sagging Spanish Moss
and I dream of the simple
beauty of the maple leaf
shifting from its deep green
to its endless shades
of autumn beauty.

MASKING

The Air Force shaved our heads, was it
because of the heat of a San Antonio
summer or that we’ll all look equally like fools,
and easier for Sarge to maintain unit
cohesiveness in his rag tag band
of semi-successful Army avoiders.

Now we all wear masks and assume
we all look equally foolish, knowing
the virus cares nothing for cohesiveness,
and normal is insignia only to dreams
and at times life is shit on a shingle now.

We want our childhoods back, before
the war, before the barracks and bad
food, before expectations, and those few
imposed could be ignored at minimal
parental retribution, we want what
never really existed, it is our right.

We marched and sang “Suicide is Painless”,
never believed it for a moment, but now
we consider it in passing as we walk
down the shortening pier
into the ocean of darkness.

First published in Circumference, Issue 4, June 2021

WASH YOUR BOWL 無門關 七

There is no stick, no shout
we go uninstructed
on a full stomach.

We do not see water
in the midst of an ocean.

We are given a sink
full of breakfast bowls, plates,
cups and spoons.

Handlessly we perform
our task and sit
to lunch with Joshu.

A reflection on Case 4 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate Koans)

FORGETTING

What they don’t want to see, or are
perhaps blind to, is that it always
came down to boats, and fear was
always overcome, the ocean tamed.

Today, it is trucks, trailers, and still
boats, and fear is still overcome
for the promise of better, for
the hope for life without terror.

None of the arrivals came invited
many were turned away repeatedly,
but if they still breathed they
would continue the attempts for

such was the value of freedom,
from tyrants, oppressors and fear,
but we have forgotten them, those
who are why we are here today,

we so willing to build walls, to turn
others away for they have no
invitations, for we offer none,
the country being ours alone

ARIZONA IS A STATE OF MIND

Looking out the window, I
am reasonably certain this is
not Arizona and it is not just
the palm trees that suggest it.

Well, in part it is the palm trees,
although they have some there,
but here it is the variety of palms
and the limited number of lizards.

We have the occasional gecko,
and the iguanas have begun
to arrive, though they don’t
particularly like the morning chill,

but ours is a desert of strip plazas
half empty, abandoned,gas stations,
and fast food joints, and our sand
is carried off by the ocean, daily.

A STONES TOSS

If you toss a stone
into a placid pond
the ripples will wash
away from the landing spot
as so many small waves,
and unseen, the area
of the pond’s surface
will grow imperceptibly.

If you toss a stone
into an vast ocean,
the ripples will wash
away from the landing spot
small unnoticed waves
and unseen, the area
of the ocean’s surface
will grow imperceptibly.

Ask  yourself now,
whether you would want
to enter the pond or ocean
for you are a stone 
arcing through life.

ASK OF THE SEA

When you ask me of the sea,
living, as I do, fifteen miles
from the nearest ocean, it
is not the sandy beaches
of Hutchinson Island I recall,
nor the crowded sandbox
that is Fort Lauderdale’s beach.

If you ask me of the sea,
it is perched on the horizon,
far in the distance, looking
out of the kitchen window,
or perhaps that of the library,
over the yard, with its
deflated soccer ball,
the fence, and finally
to the Irish Sea, cloud
shrouded at the horizon.

This is what Lloyd George
saw each day, so it is
little wonder eschewed
burial in London or even England
for this hidden estate in his
beloved Ty Newydd in Wales.

First published in Dreich, Issue 10, Autumn 2020 (Scotland)

DOGO’S GREATEST DEPTH 鐵笛倒吹 六十六

If you walk into the room
and many are meditating
how will you know which
is the teacher, which the students?

If one sits on a higher platform
will you assume him teacher
and ask the depth of his Zen.
If he comes down to you
and says he has no depth to offer
do not think him a fool.
When you sit at the bottom
of the ocean and look down
the water beneath you is shallow
but the surface of the sea
cannot be seen.

A reflection on Case 66 of the Iron Flute Koans

GYOZAN SITS

To a parched man
sitting along the roadside
a picture of the ocean
will provide him nothing
to quench his thirst
and even if he jumps in
the salt will lead
to his imminent death.

But give him
the idea of a pond
fed by a pure stream
and he will be
a content salmon
swimming upstream.


A reflection on Case 86 of the Iron Flute Koans.