I AM ODOBENUS ROSMARUS, WHO ARE YOU?

From time to time it sneaks back
into my mind, and once there
is so hard to ignore or dislodge.
It begins softly, “I am he,
as you are he, as you are me.”
It grows ever more present, foreground,
“I am the eggman, they are the eggmen,”
and all to soon, I become the walrus,
but only one chorus and then my egg man
is Humpty Dumpty, not he
of the nursery rhyme, but
the wise one who said “when
I use a word it means just
what I wish it to mean,
neither more nor less,”
and I, like Humpty, in that moment
am the master of words,
and the song fades, but now
what is that song you can’t
get out of your own mind?
Oh, well, goo goo g’joob.

A MISTAKE IN SPEAKING 無門關 三十九

When you speak the words
of the Buddha you are lost.
Light is everywhere in silence
but the tongue must hide
in the dark of the mouth.

Buddha’s words are flowers
unfolding in the dawn
by the side of the still pond,
the eyes hear the song
and respond in silent chorus.


A reflection on case 39 of the Mumonkan (The Gateless Gate)

DISTANT SONG

I thought I heard
a woman singing
somewhere in the distance,
an ethereal song whose melody
floated over me, dropping
momentarily into my consciousness
then as quickly flitting away.
I walked off
the carefully tended path
stepped into the clutching brush,
the smell of Juniper
filled the air.
Pushing through a thicket
I thought I saw a woman
retreating into the trees
but the melody lingered
and I sat and listened
never seeing the singer
only hearing the song.

CHORUS

The man sits, waiting patiently
for the wolf to arrive. It has
been far too long, this wait,
as the Wolf has his lair in
the distant mountain, and
has little use for the people
in the city, in the place
where the man sits waiting.
The man is sure they met once,
although he is now beginning to
wonder if it was simply coyote
assuming the shape
of his lupine imagination.
The man cannot or will not say
why he wishes to see the Wolf,
it is enough for him
to have the desire, and he knows
that once wolf arrives,
he and the Wolf together
will sing a piercing
song to the moon.

THE MUSIC OF SPRING

The music hides, just out of sight,
beyond the edge of hearing.
We assume it must be something by Mozart
or at least Bach, a tocatta and fugue,
swallowed by the trees, the cardinal singing
faintly, mirroring the tune,
but there is only the wind
meandering throught the pines
which have cast off the weight
of winter and patiently await
the fullness of spring, swaying
and singing a song to the night.

AS THE CROW FLIES

Leaving the fields
of the countryside
for the city, it is the birds
that tell you when
the invisible boundary
has been crossed.
There are usually signs
along the roads
bolted to steel poles
but the birds know better.
In the country, birds
sing long arias to the day,
to cornstalks making
the slow green to gold transition,
of a cat chasing a field mouse
among the fruit burdened trees
of the late-summer orchard.
Crossing to the urban world
their songs grow shorter
a kirtan with a squirrel
cut off by a car horn,
the briefest prayer
to the morning sun
a tentative greeting
to a dog or cat sleeping
on a sidewalk.
We would do well
to listen to birds.

BIG ISLAND

It is his hands you notice first –
dark fingers bent and gnarled,
several banded in silver,
knuckles scratched by the cat
curled at his feet, the tip
of his index finger sacrificed
to a distraction and the saw,
untrimmed nails, rough, ragged
a torn cuticle, liver spot rubbed raw.
The fingers curl gently around the worn
maple handle of the knife,
which flicks away shards of wood.
He leans into each down stroke
pulling gently back, the other hand
wrapped tightly around
the debarked Koa wood.
Over his shoulder, Mauna Loa
rises, a peacock feathered rainbow
from the lava shore, and still
he flicks the knife across the wood
rocking gently in the old bentwood
chair, its caning torn, split.
I ask him quietly, “Do the shavings
that leave your knife know why
they have been sacrificed?”
He stares at the wood, at the pile
of shavings around his feet.
He looks up slowly his bronzed skin
burnished in sweat, glowing
in the Kona sun, “Bruddah, da whale
sings the whole ocean in a single song.”