DICTIONARY

I set out this morning
with my large dictionary
to find the perfect word
to describe the sky, the sun
just peering over the roof
of a distant house, the few
clouds aflame in a silent fire.

I knew there was a word
for what I saw in the dictionary,
for there is a word
for everything if you search
long and hard enough, but
after a while I gave up when
I realized I could no longer
recall what I had seen
that set me off on this search.

HYAKUJO’S SECOND VISIT 正法眼蔵 語十四

You may come asking questions,
and perhaps the teacher
will answer you with a discourse.
If you go deaf and hear nothing,
if the words flit
like so many mayflies
just as soon gone,
if no word finds purchase
you will have a grasp
the heart of the Dharma.

A reflection on Case 54 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo (The True Dharma Eye)

WHAT’S IN A WORD

It is said that
a picture is worth a thousand words,
a pictograph usually
five or fewer, and
a word, but a single one
by definition, while
a word, with two exceptions,
has at least two letters,
and with the same
two exceptions, a letter
is always wordless
but can be symbolic.
The Hawaiian language
has only fourteen letters
which may explain why
native Hawaiians are
rarely wordy, but
fails utterly to account
for their deep love
of symbols.

WORD

archetypes
symbols arrayed
arranged
precise
meanings elusive
multiplicative
hearer dependent
no Carrollean wishes
fortresses erected
below the tide line
await waves
minor etchings
Durer or trivial
seen or ignored
Lot cast
either diamond
or salt pillar
eroded by rain
adrift torn
by tongues
cast to ash.


First appeared in Eureka Literary Magazine Vol. 5, No. 2 (1997)

LEGACY

We often believe that the best way
to honor the dead is to praise them.
When my time is gone, do not praise me
for your praise will fall on deadened ears.
If you believe in the power of the word
speak aloud in my name,
if you dare, commit the deed
as you believe I might have done,
if you can, lift up someone else
even though my arms may have been
too weak for the task in my own day.
As I am leaving you a world,
you will soon enough leave one as well,
and if that world is better than mine
for the sake of your efforts
that is all the honor I could hope to imagine.

WORD

If I asked you for one word
how would you answer?
In your dreams, do you have
both arms, can you write
your thoughts on a scrap
of paper and tuck it away?
You had a lover, once,
and he would trace
his finger along your thigh.
Do you miss that touch
as you rub the jagged scar?
Can you taste the lamb
simmered slowly, fragrant,
the sauce dredged
by the crusty bread,
or do you only taste
the hard tack tossed
from the truck?
If they gave you
back your tongue
and I asked you for one word
how would you answer?


First published in “Eureka Literary Magazine, Vol. 5, No. 2,(c) 1997, Eureka College