SCHMUTZ

Looking out the window
I quickly realize that the window
needs cleaning, and then
that the red-shouldered hawk
in the nearby tree is carefully
staring back at me.

I want to know what
the hawk is thinking, perhaps
that I am possible prey, or
more likely wondering why
I am so foolish as to live
in a strangely large box.

The hawk, of course, is
wondering what I am thinking,
how beautiful he is, what
strange flightless beasts
we humans are, or just
perhaps that my window
very badly needs cleaning

THE LOBBY BAR AT MIDNIGHT

Ann Arbor a certain diffidence
Butte born of three rum Collins
Carmel the Gucci show windows
Duluth darkened, foreboding
Erie escalator rattle
Fairbanks a sound coffin
Grapevine grand piano
Hilo the restaurant empty
Ithaca seeking diners
Jacksonville by the exit signs
Kalamazoo conventioneers drool
Lincoln and slobber
Memphis over the ankh necklace
Natchez girl cross legged
Oakland engulfed in smoke
Providence the ficus droops
Rehoboth in the shade of the bar
Salem laughter turning
Toledo into controlled sobs
Urbana highball glass slips
Vidalia off the table edge
Wausau and falls
Xenia dropping slowly
Yuma through the night
Zanesville into sleep.

CITY OF (TRAFFIC) LIGHTS

It is incredibly sad
when all you have seen
is Paris from a taxi hurtling toward
the center of the city, because
you are late for a meeting, and then
your view out of the conference room
window is another glass building
which, if you lean your head
far enough right gives you
the reflection of the Eiffel Tower.

As the meeting drags on
you realize you must pay attention
as another taxi speeds you
to the Charles DeGaulle airport
Hilton for a dinner meeting
and sleep before your 6 A.M.
flight to Zurich, and you begin to think
that Paris and New York
arent all that different
from the back seat of a taxi.

ENFORCED SILENCE

The city is a ghost town,
the ghosts peering warily
from windows they now
wish they had taken
the time to have cleaned,
and now there is time
and no one to clean.

They fear the silence,
cannot fathom the smell
of the air, something
faintly like a cool morning
from their suburban childhoods.

They have found pots,
pans cast aside or used
for any purpose other
than cooking, and food
created by their hands,
from mother’s recipes recalled
has now appeared.

They want the noise,
the odors, the cheap
take-out places and fine
restaurants back, their
lives, but pause and are
thankful they are still
here and able to want.

First Published in Adversity, Vol. 1, The Poet, 2021

SHARED VISION, ONCE REMOVED

Stevie and I were probably eight
sitting on the front stoop of our flat,
he the only one in third grade smaller than me.
There was no snow to be seen,
none in the sky, none on the frozen
and still patchy lawn, just the wind
of an always cold December day.
Christmas is coming, I said
aren’t you excited, with all the gifts.
Stevie smiled, they’re always great
but maybe this year I’ll finally meet Santa.
I laughed, lacking the heart
to shatter an infantile dream.
Do you buy into the sled
and reindeer thing, or does he come
more by way of magic.
Of course it’s the sled, but
I wouldn’t be surprised
if it had some pretty good jet engines.
And you think he comes
down the chimney I asked.
We don’t have one, you know that
so he must use a back window,
the one where I broke the lock
last summer when we were spies.
He looked momentarily sad,
you don’t have anything like Santa,
although you get lots of neat gifts,
just not all at once.
At least eight, most years more
but you’re right we have no Santa,
but we have something even better.
Better how, what could be better?
Each year at Passover, Elijah
comes in during our Seder
I don’t see him but we have
to open the door for him during dinner.
Does he bring you anything?
He’s not like that, he just comes
all old and bearded, and
before you can even see him
he’s gone again, probably next door
at the Goldstein’s or maybe
with Larry Finkel, though his mom
can’t cook very well.
So what’s he do, this Elijah?
Not much, I admitted,
but he does have a drinking problem.

First Published in Friends & Friendship Vol. 1, The Poet, 2021

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.