THE RITE

It is coming, a little
over a week now and it
will arrive, always too soon,
never ready despite knowing
its precise arrival day and time.

We will be ready, but
only after a scramble, for that
is how it must be, how
it has always been.

And again this year we
will be thankful, as all claim
on this day, but why do so many
forget the giving part of things,
giving to those without,
to those within who lack,
to those who only want
to come within to escape
a without we dare not imagine
for the nightmares and terror
we would suddenly have to feel.

SAY CHEESE

The meeting drags on. Time is frozen. The space between a smile and a grimace is the edge of a fine blade and the width of a canyon. And you maintain the smile hoping it is not seen as the rictus you feel. Politeness requires a smile, your heart requires a fast escape. So you stay and tweak all of the little facial muscles to maintain the semblance of a smile. You don’t watch the clock on the wall, for it is only a source of frustration. When you leave for home, your face feels almost sore around the lips.

ASHES TO ASHES

He says he wants to know
what I want done with my ashes
knowing I want to be cremated.

I tell him I need to think
about that for a while, knowing
that “while” could be an ever
shortening lifespan, but I
dare not tell him that, it
simply wouldn’t be acceptable
he would respond, setting off
another endless discussion.

I don’t say that time, in this
rare instance, is on my side
for truth be told I don’t care
what he does with my ashes,
I am gone and that’s that ,
bit a nice spot in the center
of the mantle in the formal
living room would be nice.

CALLING

In the dark heart of night
time is suddenly frozen,
the clock’s hands stalactites
and stalagmites, unyielding
denying the approach of morning,
leaving the sun imprisoned
under the watchful gaze
of its celestial wardens.

It is then you appear,
call out to me, beg me
be silent, not asking
the lifetime of questions
I have accreted, providing
my own hopes and
imagination for answers,
but you have faces, not
those of that weekend
but of other days, she
younger, in college, he
in a college yearbook
at a school he never attended
save as part of the ROTC
contingent of the Air Force.

I bid you farewell, finally,
and time again takes motion
and morning welcomes the sun.

YOU, REALLY

Would it surprise you to learn
that like most writers, I
have spent more than a little
guilty time trying to imagine
what you look like, what you know
you should be doing
while you are reading this poem.

And I do wish I couild see
your face as you read it, knowing
it is a conversation where
you want to speak, to tell me
that you like my work, that
reading me is a complete
and utter waste of time,
but you cannot, so I will
conclude that you do like
my work or else you would
not be reading this in the first place.

SEPPO’S TURNING THE WHEEL 正法眼蔵 三十八

The wisest of men,
when asked at what time
it is best to pursue the Way,
will answer when a thousand stars
have made their presence known.
The wisest student will say
when cleaning myself
by bathing in the mud.
This will become clear
when the frog
consumes the dragon.

A reflection on Case 35 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo Koans (True Dharma Eye)

DREAMS

It starts quickly and unexpectedly. You do not know when it will start, why, or what it will bring. There are times when even after it is done, you cannot be certain what it was, what it did, what it meant. Often, though, you forget it before you have time to capture it. It is evanescent, an intense glimmer that can quickly fade to a void, as though it was never there. You wish you could capture it, but you know well that dreams act under their own rules.

AWAITING ORDERS

I am waiting patiently for her to tell me what I need to do next today. I’m sure she’ll be along shortly with a list. Hopefully, today it will be a short list. And I know that no matter how quickly I get to whatever task it is she assigns, she will, watching me like a hawk, point out my shortcomings in its completion. And I am never done on time. Still, she is largely forgiving of my errors, she says, because that is just the way cats are taught.

HAUNTING

The ghosts of my birth parents
blow into my dreams as
so many white sheets torn
from the clothesline
by gale winds, fly over me,
at once angels and vultures
carrying off memories
created from the clay
of surmise and wishful thinking.

I invite their visits, frail
branches to which to cling
in the storms of growing age,
beginnings tenuous anchors
to hold against time, knowing
the battle cannot be won,
but take joy in skirmishes
not to be diminished
by an ultimate failure I
have long come to accept.

ENDGAME

He knew it was time
to call it a career when
they handed him the list
of what he could not say,
what terms were verbotten,
what topics were off limits.

Once upon a time he watched
the fight over textbooks,
how they approached sensitive
subjects like race, war, equality,
but he could teach around
whatever strictures they
would ignorantly impose.

But now whole topics,
entire aspects of history
were off limits, and he knew
he would not be an educator
but merely an indoctrinator and he
wanted no part of that.