The Hawaiian language has 12 letters
which is important to understand
particularly if you consider writing
an apostrophic poem, not to a person
or thing, but to a letter of the alphabet.
It might help to explain why Hawaiian
poets never write about zoology or
the role that zygotes play in life, and
leave zymurgy to the haoles, for
native Hawaiians prefer a linear
life, free of endless zigs and zags
I don’t imagine I will try and learn
Hawaiian any time soon, although
with twelve letters, I’d have an easier
time of it than Russian, say, but nor
will I write an apostrophic poem
to the letter Z although I will open
a bottle of zinfandel to honor it.
On the razor edge of dreams
the periphery of consciousness
a face appears, and I am left to wonder
who this person is, who he might be.
At first he is a child
with a pixie cut, a bowl placed
over the head, the bangs cut
without considering the face peering out
and others peering in.
But, as sleep washing the last
sands of consciousness out
to the sea of Morpheus,
the face morphs and
it is Science Officer Spock
who is peering back at me,
his ears pointed to the heavens
reminding me, as I slip
into Morpheus’ orbit
that I can yet
live long and prosper.
This time when we move
the question could be asked,
are we moving to somewhere
or away from somewhere
or, you fear asking, away from someone.
That may be a truth left
unsaid, saying requires
an explanation, a ripping open
of a wound just scabbed over
or still raw around the edges.
And there is a hidden risk
in the question, for an honest
response might hold up a mirror,
one you never imagined might
show the world your face.
It may be that it is the right
time and the right place,
nothing more, so we offer that
and you may grasp it if you wish,
it might even be the truth,
but you’ll never know, will you?
It was a short questionnaire,
and he wasn’t sure why they
had chosen him to answer, or
for that matter, who they were.
He was one to follow rules, so
he sat down to complete it,
they, whoever they were, said
it would only take fifteen minutes.
“Who is the one poet you would
want to be forced to spend
an entire day with, and why
did you select that person?
In true High School fashion
I skipped it, went on to the next:
“who is the real person you would
gladly spend a day with and why?”
As a poet myself, it was easy now,
and I filled out the answer
and wondered why I paused, then
froze: did I know any real people?
The young man says, “I cannot comprehend
how karma can be balanced.”
The woman laughs, says, “you remember
but I was once a stripper, that I
took off my clothes, and being naked
in the presence of men was nothing,
since to them I wasn’t a person, just
an object of momentary desire, but
that life is behind me, as you know.
But as a healer, my therapies take
me to the strangest places,
like the swingers’ club which
hired me to do massages, and there I
was the only one dressed, they were naked
and I am certain at that moment
karma found almost perfect balance.”
“Now,” he laughed, “I have two
images I will carry in my head forever.”
I’ve always been a bird person,
perhaps it is just jealousy
their ability to fly unencumbered,
encased, to lift up by will alone.
Here it is all about water,
the Muscovy ducks waddling
up to me each morning, pleading
for the handout they should now know
will not be forthcoming, at least
when anyone else is around
to cast disapproving glances or worse,
and the coots, pairs swimming
in the fountain ponds are not ducks
they claim, we of the lobed toes
and flashes of white
between the deeply set eyes.
But above all it is the Egyptian goose
his old Jewish man clearing throat honk
that catches my ear and not
just any old Jewish man, but Billy
Crystal as Miracle Max, and I half
hope his partner warbles like Carol Kane.
Seen from a great distance
the rowboat is a speck
on a lake which appears far more
like an oversized pond.
You are so far off you cannot
see if there is a person in the boat
or it is merely floating about
free of its mooring,
imagining itself a water-lily
basking in the midday sun.
Your reverie is broken by the coo
of the dove flying over the fountain
in the garden, ever so careful
to have the water just caress her breast
before landing on the edge.
Seeing you, she preens,
dips her head in thanks
or simple acknowledgement of your presence
and lifts gracefully into the walnut
to join her impatient mate.
One thousand cranes take flight
and there is a sudden silence
as the cat stares up, bidding them farewell.
We barely stop to notice,
despite the rainbow of colors
replacing the clouds, even the sun
seeming to pause in wonder.
Two thousand hands made this
happen, one person, unrelenting,
knowing anything less
would be nothing at all.
Each crane dips its head
in appreciation for its freedom,
no longer trapped
in a two-dimensional prison.
The dog wandered up to me. Dogs often did that. This time he dragged his person along, none too pleased at the extension of what the person hoped was a short walk. Both dog and person smiled, the dog meaning it, the person likely out of habit. The dog confirmed the person was impatient. The dog said the only way to teach patience was to wander about, have discussions with friends, old and new, and slowly, over time, the person will learn why the dog has him or her on the leash in the first place. The dog saw a squirrel at the base of a nearby tree, and with a quick “farewell, I see an old friend,” dragged the person down the sidewalk. I waved goodbye, said “come by any time, but leave the grump at home.” The dog smiled and nodded in agreement.
If you ask me who I am,
I will have you close your eyes
and walk behind you,
or I may step to your left
and take your right hand.
If you are perplexed,
I will ask you: do the four
gates open into the city
or out to the world beyond,
and if I stand still under a gate
in which direction
am I headed?
A reflection on Case 46 of the Shobogenzo (Dogen’s True Dharma Eye)