INTO THE BRUSH

I have carefully peeled
back the skin of a hundred snakes
and left their twisted forms
curled around mesquite
as so many skirts. Canadia geese
follow carefully worn paths
across an October sky
undeterred by storm clouds
giving chase from the west.
A wolf wanders down
from the tree line to the edge
of the highway. She can taste
the approach of winter,
bitter on her tongue, her coat
grown thick, watching
for a buck to be thrown
to the gravel shoulder
by a passing truck.
In my closet I have
a pair of boots, nothing more
than simple cowhide.

First Appeared in Amethyst Review (Canada), Vol. 8, No. 2, Winter 2000

ETERNAL SPRING

Spring has arrived, however begrudgingly,
and the young woman pushes
the older woman’s wheelchair
along the paths of the great park.
Neither speaks, but each knows
this could be the last time they do this.
That shared knowledge paints
each flower in a more vibrant hue,
each fallen petal is quickly
but individually mourned for,
its beauty draining back into the soil.
The older woman struggles hard
to fully capture each view for she
knows that it is possible
that it will have to last her an eternity.

First Published in Beautiful in the Eye of the Beholder, Sweetycat Press, 2022

FUKE’S BELL SONG 正法眼蔵 二十二

Follow the old fellow
walking over there, he
who cannot see
because it is too bright,
who cannot see
because it is too dark
who cannot see
above himself, below
behind or beside,
but traverses the path
with an unerring foot.

A reflection on Case 22 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo Koans (True Dharma Eye)

Atop the Pole 無門關 四十六

Sitting atop a hundred foot pole
you are convinced there are
only two directions: pole and down.
Old Osho asks, how will you proceed
and you stare back at this lunatic.
How will you proceed, he repeats?

You release the pole
step slowly away, looking
at ten directions before you,
you move your feet, each one
touches the path of each
of the three worlds and Osho
gently touching your elbow
walks a bit by your side.

A reflection on case 46 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate) Koans.

DARE I SAY

Few will dare say it, but I
have always imagined myself
among the few at most things
so I suppose it falls to me.

The lifecycle of the poet
incises an arc and there are
recognizable nodes along its path
from beginning to end.

The first poem published in a
journal, no matter how small,
then one in a publication others
have heard of, if never read.

Next you are in good company in
the Review you could find
on the shelves of your bookstore
in the deep past when bookstores existed,

then onward to the self-published
book or chapbook, and maybe one
by a noted press, the apex
for almost any poetic career.

But gravity takes hold, the descent
will be sharp and often ugly, marked
by the poet believing the blurbs
on the back cover of his book.

THE CLIMB

Life should be a like a mountain
although truth be told, we
prefer it more like a prairie
or at best a gentle, rolling hill.

There is a challenge to climbing,
hell maintaining a grip halfway
up most mountains, and
there are no maps, no
well worn paths, you just
go up until you cannot
go up higher then you
figure out how to come down.

Down is the hard part,
and you don’t want it to go
quickly for that is a prescription
for the undertaker, and when
you do finally get down, you
want to say I did it all,
there is nothig left
that I still need to do.

HUANG PO’S GOBBLERS OF DREGS

You have heard that when
the student is ready the teacher appears,
and you believe you are ready,
but no teacher has appeared.
I can tell you that you are ready,
that you will never be ready,
that I am not the teacher,
that the teacher is here,
and that the teacher will never appear.
But the path you seek to find
with a teacher is all around you,
that there is not path to find.
If I give you a small bowl and you
stand by a lake of fresh water
just how much water can you hope to drink?

A reflection on Case 11 of the Hekiganroku (Blue Cliff Record)

TE SHAN CARRYING HIS BUNDLE

Enter the room slowly and look carefully,
since you are here to find something.
There is much within this room, but you
can see nothing save the old man,
sitting calmly, staring at nothing, staring
through you at nothing in particular.
You know he is the teacher, the one
for whom you have been searching,
Still, he ignores you, staring at nothing.
You walk around the room, from end
to end to end to end and he does
not move or speak, and so you leave.

He has given a great lesson, do you
appreciate what he has taught you?
You walk away angrily, say that he
is no teacher at all, that you are no
closer to enlightenment leaving
than when you entered, for you
found nothing but yourself.
As you leave the old man bows
as teachers do to Buddhas.

A reflection on Case 4 of the Hekiganroku {BLue Cliff Record)

WRITERS

I was born the same day, in
a much later year as Thornton Wilder,
a fact that had no impact at all
on my life, since I discovered our
common birthday long after
my life’s path was half tread.

I read him in my youth, and must
admit I can recall nothing of what
I read, which I attribute to all
that I have read since, and not
as any criticism of Wilder’s writing,
for his talent is beyond question.

But what was disconcerting
was to learn that Nick Hornby
was born five years to the day after me
and has penned works that I love
but cannot hope to equal
despite my having lived longer
if not more fully than he has.