A man stands on the peak of a hill,
staring down into the valley below him,
but it is not clear what he is staring at.
Standing in the valley, by the bank
of a slowly flowing river, I stare
up the tall hill to its peak, and see
the clouds gather around the man
as if soon to swallow him, and I wonder
what it is like to be eaten by a cloud.
The river flows slowly by, ignoring
the hill, with the man standing atop
its peak, ignoring me standing
on its bank, and ignoring the man
atop the ignored hill, staring at
the clouds, awaiting a hearty meal.
In entering, do you arrive
or are you leaving.
In departing do you leave
or are you arriving.
Can the gate answer
or does it choose
to remain silent.
The mountain shouts
the answer but only
the river can hear it.
A reflection on case 30 of the Dogen’s Shobogenzo (The True Dharma Eye)
If you find the answer
and rush to tell your teacher
why are you surprised
when he turns away from you,
saying that is yesterday’s answer.
If you want to impress your teacher
paint the answer
on the surface
of the raging river
or accept scorn
A reflection on case 73 of the Iron Flute Koans
Consider them very carefully
for you will have only this chance
and you don’t want to add
those which ought not be included
or be forever burdened by those
you overlooked or misassumed
you wanted to retain.
When you are quite certain
you are finished, that your list
is exactly as you wish it,
that all your dislikes and regrets
are properly delineated, then
walk slowly to the river,
pen at the ready, and write them
with a precise hand upon the water.
It should be the stories
behind the stories that get told.
We have to blame the songwriters
I suppose, telling only the part
of the story they choose, leaving us
to sit and wonder, no answers, forthcoming.
We all know what happened to Billie Joe
and the damned Talahatchee Bridge, but how
did Becky Thompson snare the brother
and for that matter, why Tupelo?
And Mr. Jones, how does he know
what’s happening and not know what it is,
and why in the hell is he so thin?
But Suzanne, she was a real piece of work,
always with the river, but ask
all you want and she won’t say
what river it is and Jesus says, simply,
come back later, you’re not a sailor yet.
Fourth floor, Antwerp Hilton,
night encasing the Schelde,
ragout of boar and claret
slowly regurgitating, I pause
ancient words, stutteringly said,
hand on my head a shoddy cover
two parts of eight fully remembered
one section only in part,
turning East or a best guess.
I ask nothing, or perhaps too much
it is hard to know, CNN International
offers no clue, no guidance,
head bowed, knees bent
the carpet has a burn hole,
Ani, I am, I do hear
I always hear, now rest
and share my peace.
First Appeared in Oasis: A Literary Magazine, Vol. 6, No. 2, October-December 1997.
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.
I was honored to have this recently published in Arena Magazine: A Magazine of Critical Thinking, Issue 162 from Victoria, Australia
This river has
for endless time flowed
from the distant hills
on its winding path
to the waiting sea.
The river has
no need of clocks,
cares little whether
the Sun, Moon or clouds
shimmers on its surface.
The river counts seasons
as passing moments
ever new, ever shifting,
and our lives,
and our dams
are minor diversions.
I sit along the banks
and watch the clouds
flow gently down stream
seeking the solitude
only the ocean will afford.
I know I should find a river
and just sit on its banks
and stare at the water flowing
I don’t have to step in it once
to know I couldn’t step in twice
if I wanted, so that problem’s solved.
And with dry feet, I can walk
along its banks with a bit more
jaunt in my step, which should
please the river, for I know that
it has long been watching me
as I frequently visit, and I would
like to think we are old friends,
at least that is what the lake
said during my last visit there.
They walk slowly, each step
measured as to both length and cadence.
The need not speak, they have
long been synchronous, now cannot
avoid being so without great effort.
They say nothing, words
have grown superfluous,
and would only interrupt
the slow procession
of the clouds, the ducks swimming
against the river’s flow, the birds
playing tag, each
claiming to be it in turn.
Each day they turn together,
at different spots
along the river walk, and
return home, amazed
at all that is different
on the journey back.