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.

MESSAGE RECEIVED

There was nothing he liked more
than wandering along the shore
early in the morning, before the rakes
and people arrived, just to see
what the night had washed in
on the now departed high tide.
There would be shells of course,
but rarely one he didn’t have
already in profusion, and the occasional
jellyfish which he would flag
for the lifeguards to remove later.
He always hoped for a bottle
with a message in it, from some
far off place, or containing a cry
for help, but all he had found
were plastic soda bottles, a few
he was surprised to see, with labels
in Portuguese, from Brazil, he
imagined, until it became clear
from the other trash, that they
were from a ship jettisoning garbage
into the ocean he called mother.

ISLAND

He feels like a rock
cast into a river
partially rising above
the water now forced
to flow around him.
It pulls at him, seems
to say you belong
in the sea, let us
carry you there, but he
can no longer move
and knows he will meet
the ocean in bits pulled off
by the jetsam of other
people’s lives as it flows
past him on this leg
of its endless journey.