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.
They are arrayed like so much stacked
cord wood, pressed against walls
indifferent to their presence.
They watch the double doors leading
to the examining rooms with trepidation,
wanting to be next, wanting more
not to be here at all, knowing the options are none.
He isn’t bothered by it all, this is
old hat to him, he knows them, several
of them know him by name.
He will no doubt be here again
and that doesn’t worry him, for here
he knows he will walk in and walk out,
the alternatives are far less pleasant, some
involved simple pine boxes or urns
suitable for a mantle, but none
of his family have fireplaces and he
would hate to be lost for eternity amid
the toys and tchotchkes that so
define their lives and homes.
While others stare nervously, he hears
his long dead grandmother whisper
“Remember, boychik, pain is God’s way
reminding you that you’re alive.”
When you enter the hall
which seat will you take?
Your seat is determined
by how long you
have walked the Way,
how long has it been.
If you can measure the time
that marks your entry
sit at the far end
for the honored seat
is reserved for the ancients
who enter the Way again
at each passing moment.
A reflection on case 24 of the Iron Flute Koans
He is bent over, walks with a shuffling stumble. He follows the path, inscribing it center or as close to it as he can get. He wants to say hello to those who would acknowledge him. He doesn’t understand why his mouth refuses to smile, refuses to form even the simplest of words. All he sees is her face, he sees it clearly when he walks each morning as they used to, and he will follow it until he sees it again the loamy soil they will share soon enough.
The white crested duck
waddles from the pond
headed for the path
on which we take
our morning walks.
He is accompanied
by wives or girlfriends,
we prefer to think
one of each for propriety’s sake.
Want to tell him
that Liberace tried
that hairstyle years ago,
and it never worked
on bad hair days,
and in any event
he always sashayed
and never waddled.
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.
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,
is descriptive enough.
A reflection on case 92 of the Iron Flute Koans