FOR THE BIRDS

She wants to know why the oriole
we sometimes see in the park
never visits our backyard feeder.
I remind her that she isn’t usually here,
only visits occasionally, but she says
that I would have told her if I saw one.
She says I got excited when I saw the one
in the park during our walk. She is
right, of course, I would have told her
but all I see at the feeders are finches
of several sorts, doves and wrens, and
when he wants particularly to be seen
as he often does, one cardinal
who is far less interested in the seed
than in having a perch in plain sight, and
when he knows were watching, upthrusts
his fiery crest and spreads his wings.
I tell her cardinals are such show offs.
She is seven, laughs and says yes they are,
just like grandfathers, don’t you think.

SOZAN’S FOUR DON’TS 鐵笛倒吹 九十二

You may seek to follow
the path of the dove
a fool know many roads.
You may wrap yourself
in fine linen, an infant
wears only his skin
and knows this moment
is already gone.

Think long before you speak
of how to walk
along the path, of where it leads.
The baby says nothing,
will not speak of where
he has been,
where he is going, for to him
there is only here,
and silence
is descriptive enough.


A reflection on case 92 of the Iron Flute Koans

A TURN

He is never certain what to do on days
like this one, when the winter takes
a particularly nasty turn, the temperature
hovers at utter emptiness, and the wind
elects to try to enfold everything it can reach
in a coat of frost, that bleaches life away.
He walks each day, through the nearby park
if the weather is the least bit cooperative,
through the neighborhood when not, where
at least he can take a small shelter from the wind
in the shadow of houses closed up tightly,
life walled away within, smarter, he imagines
than he is, his fingers ill-gloved, slowly losing
all feeling, but this is his practice, something
he does because it requires doing, heeding
an edict from an unspoken voice. And later
emerging from a hot shower, feeling limbs
restored, he glances at the weather in hopes
the next day will be kinder, and slow in coming.

WALKING

Today was downright exhausting,
and my hour long walk along the river
left me dripping and drooping.
It wasn’t different than most days,
same time, same place, and
the usual 756 miles, according
to my old friend Orion, who
was watching from his usual perch,
unseen, as he prefers it by day.
When I was done, I started to complain
about how I felt, when Orion interjected,
“Just be thankful you’re not
in Florida today, its hotter by far,
and your usual walk would
have covered a full 930 miles today,
and there you’d have reason
perhaps to complain just a bit.”
Heading home to shower, I
called out to Orion, “You know
you are one heavenly pain in the ass.”
“Yeah,” he replied, “that’s what Artemis said.”

JOSHU’S FOUR GATES 正法眼蔵 四十六

If you ask 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 sideways
under a gate
in which direction
am I headed?


A reflection on case 46 of Dogen’s True Dharma Eye (Shobogenzo).

WALKING

He has been walking
for hours, or, perhaps
for days, it doesn’t matter
since he is precisely
where he should be
at this moment.
He is tired, so he
sits in seiza and watches
a colony of ants
working away in a crack
in the path, each
doing his assigned task.
He knows ants have
Buddha nature for when
they walk, they just walk,
like he does, and when
they eat they just eat
and he has never seen
a solitary ant wobble.