MY REFUGE

This poem appeared in the March, 2019 edition of Bluestem Magazine.  You can find this and other great writing here:  http://bluestemmagazine.com/

For many years, L was my refuge,
when I grew tired of being the butt
of an endless stream of fatty jokes.

I could find some solace in H or F,
but L was a special place, where
so many things could be found

that I had never, ever considered,
much less paused to carefully view
from every possible known angle.

My L was older, born in 1903, and
it sat comfortably in the midst
Of its peers, hiding in plain sight.

L and all its cousins are now
long gone, donated or hauled away,
I wasn’t consulted, one day

it was simply gone, and nothing more
was said, and with it went my 14,989 friends
that lived in that volume of our OED.

OBITS

You read the obituaries every day
not only for the confirmation that you
are not listed among them.
The key five words there are
not only for the affirmation, particularly
upon hearing the gentle man you liked,
but you also valued as a friend and craftsman
is gone, and you didn’t say goodbye,
that you thought “better him than me,”
that you hated that thought,
that you hated yourself for thinking it,
that nonetheless you are glad
it wasn’t you, was someone else,
just not him, just not someone you knew.
You weren’t in the obituaries today
and when you are gone, you won’t
be there to read it anyway, and you want
think “better him than you,”
and you promise you
will forgive those that think it.

A PEELING

She says if you could only
peel back the photograph, you could
read the entire story that lies beneath.
Is deeper than the image below which
it lies trapped, and the wider, imbued with a meeting
the image could not capture, just as,
she says frowning, there are no words
for parts of the picture, a symbiosis
that we of unitary senses cannot unite.
This one, pointing to a crucifix, shows him
where he ought to be, the pain, his pain
apparent, but so much deeper than
any image or sculptors hand can fashion.
Undeserved pain, not by sacrileges, by rebellion
but he would understand it, he would
revel in it, for he was the greatest rebel
and he would easily peel back the picture
in step wholly into the story beneath.

PLATFORM

They said it was essential
for a writer to have a substantial platform,
one built high enough to be easily seen
by those passersby who might just give
a passing glance, even if it was a typo
landed them here, updated, regularly
changing with time, tide, and fashion
always ready, always accommodating.
It must be a composite, the better
to handle storms, ill winds lacking
the ennui of winter, curse of summer.
It was no small task to build,
everyone offered plans, templates,
none ever quite right, but he built it,
and when the time came, like most
writers he knew, it would suffice
where they put the noose around his neck
and hung him by his words, his
truth that they came to hate.

MISTAKE IN SPEAKING 無門關 三十九

When you speak the words
of the Buddha you are lost.
Light is everywhere in silence
but the tongue must hide
in the dark of the mouth.

Buddha’s words are flowers
unfolding in the dawn
by the side of the still pond,
the eyes hear the song
and respond in silent chorus.


A reflection on case 39 of the Mumonkan (The Gateless Gate)

SLOW STREAM

The river that I imagined,
a torrent of words and images
is little more than a dry trickle,
construction cranes along one shore
hauling away half- and ill-formed thoughts,
leaving only desire and frustration
as a marker of what might have been.
I looked at each bend, hidden from sight
as harboring that epiphany
that I promised myself, and not
further evidence of my own delusion.
We will make port this afternoon
Where I can, at last, offload
my frustration and these shards
of a fantasy now gone to dust.

SOUTHERN MOUNTAIN 鐵笛倒吹 四十二

When you visit the Southern Mountain
what will you say
of its Northern brother?
Returning northward what words
will best describe the Southern peak?

Answer carefully after much thought
or remain silent, both choices
are yours to select, as both
mountains caress the passing clouds
and reach out for the sun
which neither may grasp.


A reflection on case 42 of the Iron Flute Koans.