TODAI-JI

The snow capped mountain
stares at the December sky
shredding laughing clouds.
I sit by the fire dreaming
of the slow approach of spring.

There is a moment
when all is only silence
the zendo in stillness.
In that moment I can hear
the entirety of Dharma

The temple bell tolls,
the deer assume their posture,
afternoon zazen,
I walk around Todai-ji
in futile search of Buddha.

JANUARY

It is an odd feeling, in the middle
of January, to no longer consider
becoming a bear, choosing
to hibernate until Spring arrives
demanding an awakening.

I did that for years, never
grew the heavy fur coat needed
and wasn’t much for digging dens
in the snow, so I sat inside
and dreamed of bearishness.

Living now among the birds
where we shiver when it is
in the 40’s, and I sweat and
complain when it is 90, I try
occasionally to remember

once wanting
to become
a bear.

THEN, NOW

It was easier then, so let’s
go there, the spring of 1970,
the location is less important,
so long as it’s a coffee house
where those barely old enough
to drink, or barely short of that
age congregate, waiting for
something to happen or, I
seriously hoped, someone,
someone with little hair, but
who carried James Joyce in
his jeans pocket, Portrait of
the Artist the only Joyce to fit.

I had thought of Ginsberg or
Corso, a better fit, but too
intelligentsia for this audience,
and literature was not my purpose,
although I hoped they did
not know that, or if so, would
not hold it against me, at least
until after a first date and sight
of me in my Air Force uniform.

I did succeed that spring, so
my efforts did bear fruit, but
50 years, and a failed marriage later,
let’s instead go back twenty
years, to an Indian restaurant
where being a poet fit neatly
into the hip pocket of my jeans.

First appeared in the South Shore Review (Canada) Issue 2, Spring 2021

MELODY

The melody arose from the most unexpected place.
They heard it deep within the woods
and even the birds fell silent
peering around, searching
for its unrevealed source.
It carried on for several verses
and then, as quickly as it came
it was gone, the final note
carried off by a spring wind.
No one entered, no one left
the woods that day
and though many searched
no instrument was found
and the trees of the woods
grew silent at the searchers’ approach.

NOTING WEATHER

The weather, he announced to no one in particular,
ought to be musical or at least
incorporate some jazz.

Spring is bebop, Trane and Parker,
the sudden clash of Blakey
the downpours of Dizzy

and the hint of what’s to come
on the fingers of Monk, and
Kenny and Milt.

Summer brings the slow easing
as early Miles slides in, and we
sink into Chet and Stan.

Bebop returns as summer fades
but turns harder, with Dexter
Sonny and Benny and we know

that winter approaches, with its
disconcert, the sun an ever
more infrequent visitor,

Ornertte and Pharaoh reminding us
that the dark cold was our share
until Sun Ra appears on the horizon.

UTEKI ASKS BUDDHA 鐵笛倒吹 四十語

While out for a walk
on a sun filled Spring day
if you happen across the Buddha
how will you recognize him?

If you offer gassho
to Buddha surely
it will be returned, but
is it he or merely
your reflection off
the surface of a still pond?
Does this matter to you?

A reflection on case 45 of the Iron Flute Koans

I WANT

I want the sky to be that certain crimson
tinged with burnt sienna and cinnabar,
but today winter is holding sway
and the sun sneaks off behind
the gray wall from which it only peeked,
and left the day one of grayscale
where intensity replaced beauty
and even the cardinal opted to stay
high in the spruce, offering
only an occasional glint of red.
We come to expect this, it is a season
of colorlessness, and the only question
is whether we can hold out
until spring returns the full pallette
and nature takes up brush again.

THE PROMISE

The moon has gone past full
and as waning as I write,
it’s slow retreat hopefully taking with it
the burden of winter, that we now
must measure in feet, the inches
having been heaved up, one upon another.
Spring will come soon
for a taste of it, for spring
is an inveterate tease, preferring
to appear only long enough
to let the melting snows
floor around, and to occasionally
into our homes, so that we,
maps and markets in hand,
pause to dream of the summer
which we now doubt will ever appear.

NAME THAT CLOUD

The weather, he announced
to no one in particular,
ought to be musical or at least
incorporate some jazz.

Spring is bebop, Trane and Parker,
the sudden clash of Blakey
the downpours of Dizzy

and the hint of what’s to come
on the fingers of Monk, and
Kenny and Milt.

Summer brings the slow easing
as early Miles slides in, and we
sink nto Chet and Stan.

Bebop returns as summer fades
but turns harder, with Dexter
Sonny and Benny and we know

that winter approaches, with its
disconcert, the sun an ever
more infrequent visitor,

Ornertte and Pharoah reminding us
that the dark cold was our share
until Sun Ra apears on the horizon.

TRIANGULATION

He says that foremost
Mao Zedong was a poet,
and knew that all poetry
must at some level
be political, must
incite the reader to rebel
against complacency.
I say that Zhao Zhenkai
wrote as Bei Dao
as the ultimate act
of rebellion, sacrificing
his very identity.
He says that I
am anchored by
the weight of realism,
and I say that he
needs reeducation.
She says that neither
of us will ever write
the just open bloom
of spring’s first rose.


First appeared in the May 2019 Issue of The Broadkill Reivew