THE QUESTION

Even long after he had left
his childhood behind, or such
of it as he had actually had,
he could still stare up into
the night sky, at ceiling of stars
with more than a little awe.

And even though he had left
childhood behind, no one
had yet answered the one
question his parents ducked
time and time again, one
so simple a child knew
its answer, but asked anyway,
for validation or irritation.

If God created the heavens
why did He or She arrange
the stars so that people
could see in their order
other people, lesser gods
and all manner of animals?

LINKAGE

Linking things is a human need,
tenuous forces barely holding
across synapses easily broken
or lost, never to be replaced.

Ithaca is forever joined with
Galway City, and I still have not
figured out how to get the two
people together as together is
obviously what they should be.

She sits at a small table
in the Commons, staring, waiting
perhaps for a writer or lover
who may be both, to come down
from Cornell and join her,
while Oscar waits patiently
on a marble bench, hat by his side,
telling Eduard of the woman
he expects to arrive, trying
to determine how to tell her
that her friendship means
everything, but it can be
nothing more than platonic.

In my world they meet, she
listens, fights back tears
and promises always to be there,
friends frozen in time and bronze.

“Geography”

People of the mountain
are quiet, some say taciturn
preferring to listen for the cry
of the eagle, wind whistling
its familiar tune through a pass
snow rent from the face
tearing down in a crystalline cloud.

People of the shore
merge with the song
of the waves, feel its tempo
punctuated by the bark
of the whale, the horn
anchored in the harbor,
the tavern disgorging
its nightly catch into the streets.

People of the city
stare at the bleakness
of the stone monolith
torn from the earth
white tipped peaks barren,
and the endless wash
of the sea, licking
at land and retreating
an ill-trained pup
but mostly at the ground
lest it slide from beneath them.

First publshed in Lighthouse Weekly, January 17, 2022
https://www.lighthouseweekly.com/post/geography-and-santa-cruz-wharf-september

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.