TOO SOON

The leaves will soon begin
their descent from the small tree,
already brown, their beauty
departing before they do so.

They are bilobular, an odd word,
but one that belongs in a poem,
even this one it seems, and it is
their shape that you first notice.

The tree will all to soon be naked,
branches sticking into the air
as if searching for a breath
that refuses to arrive.

But we know that soon after
the small buds will open
and orchid-like flowers will appear
to our all too temporary joy.

GENSHA’S THREE VEHICLES 正法眼蔵 四十語

Describe this moment
without use of word or sound –
see where you are
with eyes pressed tightly closed,
hear a song with utter silence,
taste the pure mountain air
reach out and touch
that which has no shape
or form, no essence
and you sit
in the middle
of reality.

A reflection on case 45 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo Koans (True Dharma Eye)

THE GRADUATE

You really ought to pause
and wonder just how different
the world might be today
if in that crucial moment
things had gone in
a wholly different direction.

A single moment can
set the course for all
of the moments that follow,
a definite future plucked
from an infinite array
of possibilities.

I mean, of course,
that moment when
Mr. McGuire, in the guise
of Walter Brooke turns
to Benjamin Braddock,
for what if he had said
“I want to say just one
word to you: Ecology”
and when asked what
he meant, he would add
“There’s a great future
in ecology. Think about it.”

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.