BODHIDHARMA’S VAST AND VOID

You want holy teachings
boiled down, synthesized
digestible in bites

so dine on the holes
nothing, emptiness
is sustenance
enough

look at me, at a window
as you do a mirror
no knowing,
a familiar face
but whose

the face will depart
yours or his
you will awaken
to endless absence

learn no
thingness
overflowing void

A reflection on Case 1 of the Hekiganroku (Blue Cliff Record)

ARIZONA IS A STATE OF MIND

Looking out the window, I
am reasonably certain this is
not Arizona and it is not just
the palm trees that suggest it.

Well, in part it is the palm trees,
although they have some there,
but here it is the variety of palms
and the limited number of lizards.

We have the occasional gecko,
and the iguanas have begun
to arrive, though they don’t
particularly like the morning chill,

but ours is a desert of strip plazas
half empty, abandoned,gas stations,
and fast food joints, and our sand
is carried off by the ocean, daily.

WOODEN PILLOW 鐵笛倒吹 六十

If, sitting at your meal
you hear the song of a bird,
what do you do?
You may tap your chopstick rest,
and perhaps he will answer
and repeat his sweet song.
If you tap a second time
and there is only silence
is the bird rejecting you
or offering his song to another,
flown from your window.

Perhaps you should tap again
and hear the sweeter song
of silence that echoes
over the garden and zendo.
On a distant limb
the small songbird smiles.

A reflection on Case 60 of the Iron Flute Koans.

GRAMMATICALLY APART

What sets us apart
from other species
has little or nothing
to do with self-awareness
and everything to do
with parts of speech.

The birds outside
my window shun labels,
think only of eating,
mating, flight, of going
and arriving, of being.

They know nothing of birth,
do not fear death, for it
is merely a label they cannot
accept or understand.

It is left to our kind
to need to label, to define
every small and large thing
for we sense our existence
and must rely on two things,
for we knew that we live
a world of pronoun and noun.

THE ROOM

It was a strange room,
that much I recall, with heavy
velvet curtains covering
what should have been a window, 
and might once have been, but no longer. 

The only light was a bare bulb
in the ceiling, casting 
a soft amber wash across 
the time worn oak floor,
and once white walls.

There was a chair, nondescript
and now long forgotten
and a small metal table, once
gray its paint flaking, its surface
mottled and uneven.

Still, I sat in that room
for an hour each day, staring
at the walls, and looking deeply
within, and finding both empty,
have never returned there.

ON THE TENTH PLAGUE

Mark your doorpost with the blood
of the lamb for this may be the night
when God’s emissary arrives for the killing
of the first born. Will he be a night bird
half raven, half vulture or an aged man
concealing his weapon in shabby robes.

Mark your doorpost and check it
often for if your neighbor wipes
the blood away, you will be visited
and no amount of pleading will
deter him from his task. There
are no interim plagues remaining to buy
you time, if he chooses to come tonight.

Put your ear against the window
and listen for him. Will he come
on cat’s paws or the rasp of lungs
slowly drowning?. Will coins jangle
in his pocket, to pay your fare
to the ferryman?

But if you do not believe,
perhaps he will forget to come.

First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008)

ASK OF THE SEA

When you ask me of the sea,
living, as I do, fifteen miles
from the nearest ocean, it
is not the sandy beaches
of Hutchinson Island I recall,
nor the crowded sandbox
that is Fort Lauderdale’s beach.

If you ask me of the sea,
it is perched on the horizon,
far in the distance, looking
out of the kitchen window,
or perhaps that of the library,
over the yard, with its
deflated soccer ball,
the fence, and finally
to the Irish Sea, cloud
shrouded at the horizon.

This is what Lloyd George
saw each day, so it is
little wonder eschewed
burial in London or even England
for this hidden estate in his
beloved Ty Newydd in Wales.

First published in Dreich, Issue 10, Autumn 2020 (Scotland)

ABIDING

The dawning sun brings forth the birds’
morning chorus, their song glides
through the windows, no words
are needed, their meaning heard
and through it all, morning simply abides.

We are left to shelter within, to gird
ourselves against the unseen tide
that has washed over us undeterred,
rendered all once normal absurd
and through it all, morning simply abides.

We cannot change what has occurred,
our faith has ebbed, been cast aside
in this battle, our lives deferred
yet certain we will get the last word,
and through it all, morning simply abides.

So we turn to you, dream ourselves birds,
with the freedom of flight, to glide
above it all and sing, move forward,
and pray for a blessing to be conferred
and through it all, morning simply abides.

First Published in Dreich, Issue 10, Autumn 2020 (Scotland)

WINDOW VIEW

He knew she had a special
meaning for him the first time
he saw her, from his usual seat
by the window in the diner, waiting
for his bagel and cream cheese,

and she at the table along
the window of the Starbucks across
the street, which might as well
have been an ocean, so unlikely
was either to make a crossing.

By the third time she had noticed
him, and offered a polite wave,
which he gladly returned, each
assuming it was an act of civility,
each, at least he, hoping it could be more.

He thought, briefly, about dashing
across the street and meeting her,
but he was no fan of coffee, less
by far of what Starbucks served,
and their bagels, well enough said.

So they went on with waves and nods,
until the day he looked and she
wasn’t there, and he knew she had
moved on without him, left him behind
or found a place with good coffee.

Publsihed in Mehfil, #8 August 2020
https://medium.com/mehfil/two-poems-2f60ad081ee7