LADDER

You have to stop and wonder,
the child said, why people
can take joy in killing, why
people can scheme each other,
why people can cheat if they can.

Birds, the child added, only
try and scheme people for food,
why they cheat for the sake
of cheating, kill for pleasure,
yet we say we are the higher species.

Perhaps, the child concludes,
it is we who are standing
on our heads, looking up
the species ladder, and we
are actually on the bottom.

CAT PEOPLE

We spent one morning
of our visit to Key West wandering
around Hemingway’s home.

The six-toed cats seemed to realize
that we were cat people, came
over to us, took us aside
for a petting and conversation.

He was a tough old goat,
they said, or so our ancestors
told itm and we cannot begin
to understand why you,
cat people, so obviously intelligent
would pay to see the old
typewriter he hated, because
the S and D keys always stuck

We scratched them behind
the ears, sat by the empty pool,
and waited for a literary
inspiration we knew was
never included in the ticket.

ABOVE IT ALL

The cat likes nothing better
than to sit atop the kitchen cabinets
within easy reach of the ceiling.

We thought at first it was
a place of safety, less to fear
in a new home, new people.

We know better now, for she
goes to high places, cabinets
bookcases, when the meditation bell rings.,

She’ll climb down after
the ending bell rings, when we
emerge from our home Zendo, look

at us to see how our sitting went,
toss her head to indicate that she
came this close to kensho

or perhaps, she notes quickly
it was merely a brief nap, for we
cats are given to both in equal measure.

DON’T MIND

Both the great ape and the chimpanzee
say they have been horribly maligned
by Buddhist teachers of all people.

They point out that they have been
meditating since the Buddha sat
beneath the bodhi tree and was enlightened.

They are capable of deep thought,
are clearly as sentient as people, 
they claim with some evidence in support.

Why is it, they ask, that we refer 
to the unsettled state of the mind 
when sitting in zazen as monkey mind

when it is plainly apparent to all, 
human and simian that the obstacle
in zazen is actually a case of human mind.

A LESSON TO TEACH

This is what 
I would tell my sons:
“You came from 
an ancient people,
a heritage of poets
and tailors, or thieves
and blasphemers,
of callous men
and slaughtered children.
I would give you these books,
written by God, some have said,
although I am doubtful
but driven by Erato, without doubt.”

This is what 
I would tell my sons:
“I didn’t go to war —
there were so many options
and I chose one where
my feet would touch
only Texas mud,
where the only bullets
were quickly fired
on the rifle range.
I wasn’t one of the 56,000.
I didn’t come home
in a body bag.
But I do stop at the Wall
each time I visit D.C.
and say farewell
to those who did.”

This is what
I would tell my sons:
“You have never known
the hunger for a scrap of bread
pulled from a dumpster,
you have never
spent a night on a steam grate
hiding under yesterday’s
newspapers from
the rapidly falling snow.
You never stood
nervously at the waiting room
of a dingy clinic
waiting for a young,
uncaring doctor to announce
that antibiotics would likely
clear up the infection
but you should avoid
any form of sex
for a couple of weeks.”

This is what
I would tell my sons:
“You come from 
a heritage of poets.”

First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press 2008

HAKUUN’S BLACK AND WHITE 鐵笛倒吹 十四

Like Hakuun
shun the city,
flee the towns
and find a home
in the forest only
in the deepest part
of winter, but
do not shun people
in your solitude.

Write verses
of total silence
and dig deeply into
newly fallen snow.
Let it drift over you
until you black hair
is all that appears
on an endless field of white.

A reflection on case 14 of the Iron Flute Koans

THE MIND’S BLIND EYE

He imagined the end was coming,
but that was his problem, imagining
for it was about all he was capable of doing.

He started small, near visualization
more than imaginings, but he grew more
proficient with practice, his ideas

his conceptions of an increasingly
grander scale, until from a single thread
he could weave a tapestry that

boggled even his mind, and lent
a reality to his fantasies that he could
never hope to deny, they were palpable.

As his interior world grew larger
infinitely more complex, the exterior
world shrank away until it was little

more than a sensual black hole
swallowing people and places with
an abandon he would have found

fascinating were he not so taken up
with his latest idea, universal in scope
until it subsumed, digested all, including him.

PERSONIFICATION

The black cat walked by
the patio again today.
He won’t stop and engage
no matter how hard
I try to talk to him.
Some cats are haughty
and this one
clearly isn’t deaf.
Some say it is feral,
but it’s too well
groomed for that.
More likely it has spent
too much time with people.
The sort of arrogance
it shows has only one
source and, though we
hate to admit it, we
know that source all too well.


For Something Different, a new bird photo each day, visit my other blog:
Bird-of-the-day.com 

BY DECREES

As King, newly appointed,
he mulled over what to do
for his first official act.
The predecessor King was known
to be much a recluse, one
who tolerated people as
a necessity of a Kingdom,
and he would say, a good
source of revenue to the King.
That one didn’t last long, never
imagined the people could
rise up and overthrow a monarch.
He would be more benevolent,
but he did need to make
a strong initial statement.
It came to him – and he
issued a decree banning all
mirrors and shiny surfaces
in public, and he knew
it was a good idea when
everyone else grew ever older,
and he, he knew, never aged a day.


For Something Different, a new bird photo each day, visit my other blog:
Bird-of-the-day.com 

ABRIDGED STORY

On our first visit to Prague
it was almost hard to imagine that this bridge
was built to ferry people and traffic across the River.
Now it is jammed with tourists and those
for whom tourists are a ubiquitous market,
and anyone needing to expeditiously cross
the cranky water that every now and again must
indulge the bridge, or use the less interesting bridges adjacent.
There is a veneer of age about this ancient
the statuary darkened by time and weather
replaced when the waters get truly petulant
and carry off statues they deem an affront.
Motion on the bridge is slow and can tend
toward gridlock, to the joy of those
selling art and tchotchkes, and tchotchke arts
that won’t be truly regretted by the buyer until
it is hung on the wall next to the waterglobe
miniatures of St. Matthias church and
the parliament buildings Budapest.