2017-11-23

Raven Verses, II

Responses to Robert Aitken, Zen Master Raven.

Enlightenment
The boundless inhabits, accepts bounds --
Seeps out, becomes boundless.
Love takes to the containment of a heart
So as to beat out its uncontainability.
Thus the thingness of things arrives already gone.
2017 Nov

Death
Bride of Christ, or of Frankenstein, or Groom of Gaia, or something --
We are all someways wedded to a large complexity
to whom our faithfulness will one day expire.
It, or She or He, will then remarry, eventually or soon,
and won't need our permission,
So I give it now, every day,
You may remarry, you may remarry, you may remarry.
2017 Nov

The Holy Spirit
Being as the light is, rising, setting,
Tracelessness is granted -- joy enough.
Two snags, to be avoided if one can, or incorporated:
The ideas of eternal life, and the eternal life of ideas.
2017 Dec

Verses on Koans, IV

Book of Serenity #49
Silent, I unconscionably allow the lies to stand.
Speaking, I only introduce new lies.
Sit, stand, walk, eat, wash, sleep.
Speaking or silent,
Dustless truth presents continuously.
Sit, stand, walk, eat, wash, sleep.
2017 Nov

Book of Serenity #56

Dashing rabbit zips past. So swift!
Rabbit-watching uncle stands motionless. So swift!
"Wherever you go, there you are" --
And somewhere else, too. So swift!
2017 Nov

2017-09-23

Thirty Raven Verses, I

Responses to Robert Aitken, Zen Master Raven.

Mutually Dependent Arising
Jackrabbit knows about the chase,
And cuts right to it.
But that wasn't Raven's way in.
Everything is because everything else is, and vice-versa.
So what else could Raven do?
2017 May

Metaphysics: Oneness
What really happens
When you see a star?
Easy to say oneness --
It's not a star.
2017 May

Delicious
The difference between mutually dependent arising and delicious waterweed?
Or between oneness and waterweed?
Standing on the doorstep
There is no difference to be found.
2017 May

Something Still Missing
A tiny portion of the rain fills up a few water barrels.
A larger portion carves out the deep canyons.
The teacher does not fill your lack
But arrives to be with you in absence.
2017 May

Metaphor
She has lived under 1,000 full
moons by the mouth of the river.
Say it's a metaphor, and
she does not understand.
2017 Jun

Faith
Faith: No having or lacking.
Only doing or failing to
commit to the fullness of (your) being, with
heart and mind open to
the unknown, to
hints of new meaning.
2017 Jun

The Unborn
You and your questions
Your self and its jones on for meaning
From where does all that come?
From the unborn? The void?
Awesome.
2017 Jun

Turning Points
Cancer, maybe. Or heart disease, or a traffic accident, or "natural causes."
Something is coming for you, loaded for bear.
Bang! As old as it is new.
Bang! The turning point.
2017 Jun

Character
"There is a Universal Love that has never broken faith with us and never will." (Walther Herz)
Winter winds, shivering chill
Summer mug, sticky sweat
Blue jay at noon, clear stars at night --
They are always keeping their promise.
2017 Jun

Birth and Death
We croak.
Startled croaking, calculated croaking --
Is this birth or death?
What else is freedom?
2017 Jul

Thoroughgoing
Retreat. Preparation? For advancing? Maybe.
Or perhaps advancing was preparation for this retreat,
Accouterments reduced to carryable.
This temporary eternal world-self never stops shining.
2017 Jul

Early Students
Wander. Find something abandoned and tall.
Fix up. Sit with what gathers.
Take a perch. Rinse. Repeat.
How could anything be grander than life?
2017 Jul

The Dream
Of whose dream are you the child?
You may choose, or, rather, it is for you to discern
Whose dream -- what teacher and tradition
Gives birth to you, becomes present
Everywhere.
2017 Jul

The Pivot
Everywhere: things in their place.
Everywhere: things turning --
themselves, each other,
thee and me.
Nowhere: a place that isn't a turning point.
2017 Jul

Ego
"As I was going up the stair, I met a man who wasn't there! He wasn't there again today. Oh how I wish he'd go away!" (W.H. Mearns)
Every day, climbing that stair,
Meeting the self-centered one:
The companion who acts in your name.
Not there! Won't go away!
Like an unforgettable fictional character.
2017 Aug

The Spirit of Practice
The better question isn't Why? It's What?
What is this? What is now and here?
This sensation, this emotion, this world presenting before me, This!
What is it? Curiosity is the path;
It leads not to knowledge, but to intimacy.
2017 Aug

A Key Issue
Are we not here to be eaten, the substance of our life consumed by more life?
To die and turn our bodies over to the nourishment of a grander thing?
To flee in terror only to get caught?
To see amid safety and friends that this is so?
2017 Aug

Timid and Truthful
Declarative sentences come in true and false.
Sycamore trees, not so much.
A river, even as it winds back on itself, flows nothing but truth.
The moon, even as it blocks the sun, shines nothing but truth.
2017 Aug

Essential Nature
Kidneys and intestines and lungs and heart,
Liver secreting bile and brain secreting thoughts:
This is called "inside."
Trees and chipmunks, rooms in buildings, people,
The kitchen sink and the Hudson River:
This is called "outside."
Inside and outside, essential nature everywhere,
Nowhere to be found.
2017 Aug

Bedrock Buddha
Signifier and signified
All over the place, standing alone.
My finger points to the moon, yes,
Also, the moon points to my finger.
2017 Sep

Inspiration
Peekaboo! Where are you?
There you are! Here I am!
The inspiration in your own heart. Where?
From somewhere else. Where?
Peekaboo. There it is.
Parent and child convulsed with giggles.
2017 Sep

Karma
Murder, etc. Before it outs,
It ins. And it's sticky. Atoning
Doesn't always succeed. Not atoning
Lives the lie.
2017 Sep

Propinquity
It's a murmuration of boomerangs
Doing what they are
Going around coming around
Less coordinated than starlings
They frequently bump
Leave marks and nicks
Work themselves pure
2017 Sep

The Purpose of the Practice
The practice is the enlightenment, the doing is the purpose,
The doubting is the faith, the asking is the inkling.
What am I saying? Badgers dig.
On the whole Blue Planet, nothing is missing.
2017 Oct

Brown Bear's Purpose
What do the maples have in mind, their red leaves falling?
What does the moon have in mind, its crescent resting in the branches?
Something, perhaps, though they seem
To have forgotten what it was.
2017 Oct

Buddhist Terms
Save every being, end every delusion.
Do this twice every morning before breakfast, and after.
Gain wisdom from every sensation, embody the entire Buddha way.
Like the rain, like the rain, like the rain.
2017 Oct

Maintenance
Being present to. Becoming the proof of.
These two things only are to be done
With and in this brief and florid stay:
Witness, and bear witness.
Heaven, hell, and a planetful of blue,
Are sitting here, sitting here.
2017 Oct

Buddha
The most basic most eludes definition.
Would you constrain the stream of love poems?
Or otherwise delimit the limitless?
When a single leaf is clear,
what the master is talking about
doesn't much need to be.
2017 Nov

Delusion
Names lie. A cup or tree: infinitely more than
Its cupness or treeness. And less.
Not merely the falseness of categories, this --
For proper names lie as blatantly and remorselessly.
To dress in such lies: a risk.
To step naked into the truth of presence:
Also a risk.
2017 Nov

Mythology
"Everybody needs to believe in something. I believe I'll have another beer." (Fear)
The believing's in the doing. The holy
Emerges from the worship. Trees
From sylvics, dendrology, forestry, timbering, carpentry.
On the question of what is really,
The steadfast practice needs not opine.
2017 Nov

Thirty Verses on Koans, III

Responses to koans of the Gateless GateBlue Cliff Record, and Book of Serenity

Book of Serenity #45
The way the sun's warmth is pleasant before I think "pleasant" --
The way it's just there, abiding.
The way the thought "pleasant" arises before I notice it has --
The way it too is just there.
I can't not dwell in the luminous.
2017 Nov

Blue Cliff Record #43
Asking how, answering why.
Asking where, answering when.
No what, no who: suffering cannot arise.
From the beginning, we are dead ones walking.
2017 Nov

Book of Serenity #77
First, the myriad things. Then, the practice.
Third, the empty oneness. Then, guarding the dharma.
Yangshan and company put on a flashy show,
But there's really nothing to it.
2017 Nov

Book of Serenity #62
"Second class enlightenment"?
It is the way of my house to speak thus,
Goosing one another to notice conceptualizing
And serve the greens fresh
As befits a house of the homeless.
2017 Oct

Book of Serenity #32
One side of the mystery.
How many sides are there? (None. One. Two. More than the square of the number of all the grains of sand in the world.)
From the mountain peak of faith to the village street of person,
Wherever you are, you're needed at the other.
2017 Oct

Book of Serenity #26
The white, whole and beautiful, pure and radiant.
It goes beyond
the red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet.
What goes beyond the white?
The red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet.
What's all this beyonding?
2017 Oct

Blue Cliff Record #68
I am the pine trees
For all that
If I bump into one
I say excuse me.
2017 Sep

Blue Cliff Record #34
There are peaks and there are valleys
But it is all the peak.
Even so, it is, at the same time,
A big mistake.
2017 Sep

Gateless Gate #25, Book of Serenity #90
There I was in Professor Maitreya's class,
Was it the second or the third seat?
Someone in a monk's cowl called on me
Did he bang the gavel first, or not?
Anyway, I took that gavel and banged it.
I had some point to make that seemed important.
Or I'd already made it.
I wanted the class to get it.
Something about propositions and negations and beyond.
Then I woke up and the dream
Began.
2017 Sep

Book of Serenity #68
No dust! Clear Buddha!
But the mind soon makes dustless clarity into "dustless clarity."
With Jiashan's sword, cut off those marks --
Or, with Shishuang's understanding, unhook them.
Fly, you fish. Swim, you birds.
2017 Sep

Book of Serenity #35
"It's no use walking anywhere unless our walking is our preaching." (St. Francis)
St. Francis never said,
"Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary use words."
At least, he never said it using words.
Perhaps he walked it, tongueless.
Perhaps, when he spoke, he spoke the same way.
2017 Aug

Book of Serenity #14
"Where have all the past saints gone?"
A finch song, a broken cup
A harsh word, the pang of being judged
The vast sky and the unanswerable green of the fern,
Brooks, roads, subway cars, scents of flowers, of garbage,
All of it, each of it, complete,
Quietly displays all that ever was or will be
Brings our noble ancestors so fully and plainly before my face --
So present --
That for a moment I wonder at their absence.
2017 Aug

Gateless Gate #13, Book of Serenity #55
Deshan, deep student of the Diamond (his beginning, his first word)
Burner of all his notes (no further words on that!)
At last becomes himself the Diamond.
In this fleeting world he comes --
   an ancient man
   bowls in hand
   no bell rung
   no drum struck
In this phantom dreamland he goes --
   an ancient man
   bowls in hand
   bereft of clue
   bereft of luck.
2017 Jul

Book of Serenity #22
Common or holy?
No, not in the least.
That's why Yantou
and I bow.
2017 Jul

Blue Cliff Record #10
Where did you come from, after all?
Conceived in a shout and birthed from silence,
As was the Universe, Dao, God --
As is each eternal moment coming forth.
2017 Jul

Book of Serenity #95
Sell your shout for a whack, or your bow for the same,
Sell all that you've grown, lose your load, lose your name.
Still that trace of the staff is beyond an exchange
'Cause what's given for free is in no one's price range.
2017 Jul

Book of Serenity #38
Right where you are is everywhere-nowhere.
Without rank, position, business, affairs,
The no-rowing rowing of your no-boat boat:
Gentle, merry, carried by the stream.
2017 Jul

Book of Serenity #13
I think of praying: "dear God, when my time is nigh, let me enter
that good night as Linji did:
teaching with my last breath,
learning with my last awareness."
But never mind.
Linji's dying words granted that prayer long ago
And laid bare our imperishable treasury of the true dharma eye.
2017 Jun

Blue Cliff Record #32
So the essence of Buddhism is: you get slapped and shoved.
Also: Bowing in gratitude.
In this gentle roughness
Gnawing hunger is itself the food.
2017 Jun

Gateless Gate #28
He shone with the light of his knowledge.
It was a beautiful, wonderful thing, really.
Also beautiful is how much farther it is possible to see
In the dark.
2017 May

Book of Serenity #83
The stars at night: sick or healthy?
The room where Daowu tends a patient: a sick or healthy room?
Perceiving the sickness of health, the health of sickness,
Is a single step down an infinite road --
A sick or healthy step?
2017 May

Book of Serenity #21
Working hard is taking it easy.
Taking it easy is working hard.
The moon, for instance: nothing works harder --
Nothing's more at ease.
The river, for instance.
The flower beside the path.
2017 May

Blue Cliff Record #89, Book of Serenity #54
Compassion, in the darkness, seeing nothing,
acts with unthinking naturalness.
Being awakened is like being asleep --
Nondiscriminating, responding spontaneously.
A patch of violets beside the path --
What could be more awake?
What more could Compassion do?
2017 May

Blue Cliff Record #55
Alive or dead? Form or emptiness?
Meaning or no meaning? The body,
beautiful and poignant, presents all that has passed.
For a while it moved; then it stopped.
2017 May

Book of Serenity #57
The nothing returns again to something.
If the nothing returns as something to obtain, have, grasp,
Scrape off that sticky something nothing.
Wash it away.
Otherwise, the nothing returns to mere being, the self-world river.
Float downstream;
Smile softly over the fall.
2017 Apr

Blue Cliff Record #96
Mud clay, gold metal, wood
Every strength depends upon weakness
Your destruction is incorporated into your being, as usual.
"The true Buddha is sitting in the recesses of the house."
2017 Apr

Blue Cliff Record #80
There's a babe inside the adult,
Overlaid with learning, skills, delusions.
There's no going back, and what is going forward?
This, then this, then this . . . Watch and see!
"Not by your will is the house carried through the night."
2017 Apr

Blue Cliff Record #59
Take it to the end: Give every bit of yourself!
"I only meant this much." He's made his choice and chosen small.
The Great Way, helping people:
Only take it all the way to the end.
2017 Apr

Blue Cliff Record #58
The old man was 80 before he consented to teach.
By then, decrepit, and so unattached to whether or not he was attached,
He had nothing to left to teach -- nothing more than
a stone, a brook, or a breeze teaches.
2017 Mar

Blue Cliff Record #57
"Alone, alone, all, all alone/ Alone on a wide, wide sea!"
The picking and choosing that picks nor chooses --
The alone that knows no aloneness --
The Great Way becomes you.
2017 Mar

2017-09-07

Meditation 17,514

"If a clod be washed from the shore, Europe is the less....Therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee." -John Donne, Meditation 17

Though I am, and perhaps you, too, are, weird,
though I am, and perhaps you, too, are a bundle of idiosyncratic brain chemicals and neural circuitry that render incompetent and useless,
though my thoughts which seem to be insights and important are neither, are trivial or trite or false,
though I cannot grasp an original truth of interest,
though I am a clod washed from the shore, as, perhaps, are you, too,
still I am strangely necessary. You, too. This weirdness
is not ours, but the universe's, or God's.
Can this be said?
I think: not like this.
I am (and perhaps you, too, are) here to love, and that can be said.
The bell that tolls for thee, for all of us,
tolls for me, too --
for my grief and loss,
and for my death and passing, though my every pass
is incomplete.
I can still sometimes catch yours --
just get it somewhere in my vicinity, OK?

White Plains, 2017 May

Thirty Verses on Koans, II

These verses are responses to koans in three 13th-century Chinese koan collections. To locate the koan to which the verse pertains, see: Gateless Gate (aka Mumonkan or Wumenguan) HERE; Blue Cliff Record (aka Hekiganroku or Biyan Lu) HERE; Book of Serenity (aka Shoyoroku or Congrong Lu) HERE.

Blue Cliff Record #52
Clop, clop, clop, crossing the bridge,
All us beasts of burden treading on
Always crossing, never crossed,
Or always already crossed, and still crossing
From things to no-things, no-things to things
One step, one stone, one step, one stone.
2017 Mar

Blue Cliff Record #45
The touch my lover brings, breeze in the pines,
That email to answer, moon rising over a winter lake,
A bowl of oatmeal, the prick of a pin,
The fluttering fall of a red maple leaf,
My friend's sweater, a moment's fear,
The raising and lowering of the teacher's eyebrows,
Flowers among the grass, playground sounds,
And the riverbank talks of the waters of March --
Everywhere, oneness never stops reducing.
2017 Mar

Blue Cliff Record #41, Book of Serenity #63
After the ecstasy, the laundry.
What is on the other side of death
Was always here on this side
Waiting, like the daylight and the laundry.
2017 Mar

Blue Cliff Record #30
Soil and tending and the grace of waters
Make a radish.
Conditions and conditions and the whole universe pouring through them --
Make one large radish.
2017 Feb

Blue Cliff Record #9
Coming in, or going out, or coming out, or going in,
Sunlit, moonlit, or unlit,
Thou and I are always stepping over the threshold of four gates,
As if our names were "The World."
2017 Feb

Blue Cliff Record #2
Snow in the branches, on the roofs. Geese
In the sky. A gibbous moon.
Choosing is not to be found.
Disliking choosing is not to be found.
2017 Feb

Gateless Gate #37, Book of Serenity #47
Down, down go the roots; out, out go the branches --
In the winter, standing bare; in the spring, clad in fresh leaves:
The reason and meaning of all that you ask.
2017 Feb

Gateless Gate #11
Two hermits -- what is the difference?
Their sameness is their difference.
Dissolving the illusion of "sameness" and "difference"
Into just this! just fist! just thist.
2017 Jan

Book of Serenity #79
Down from the pole of emptiness.
Then down from the pole of ordinariness.
Stepping to one's death over and over,
Ah, that's the life.
2016 Dec

Blue Cliff Record #36
"Eventually all things merge into one, and a river runs through it." (Norman Maclean)
By the river, eternal, flowing,
A gate.
At the gate, the conversation, the meeting:
Master and administrator.
oneness and multiplicity,
going and returning,
rising scents and falling flowers,
spring and autumn.
2016 Dec

Book of Serenity #37
Fully manifesting the entire universe of karma right where you are.
Fully manifesting the entire universe of karma right where everything is.
Tossed in interdependent co-origination, caught in webs of causality:
There is no escape. The daffodil blossom does not escape
its stem, nor the stem the earth:
Fully manifesting the entire universe of karma right where it is.
2016 Nov

Book of Serenity #15
Those old questions:
Where have I come from? What am I? What should I do?
A field, a hoe, and a moving toward those who labor.
What else is needed? What else is possible?
2016 Nov

Blue Cliff Record #4
The bundle carried, the haughty dismissal, the second try --
The formal clothes, the shout, the departure --
The lonely mountain hermitage, the frost on the snow --
Such profligate generosity! So superfluous, so unnecessary --
And so absolutely essential.
2016 Oct

Book of Serenity #86
What is the great meaning of the Buddha-dharma?
Whack!
Where else did you think the answer lay?
In the moonlight on the birch tree?
Whack!
2016 Oct

Book of Serenity #7
Yaoshan gives a dharma talk like the pines do --
And those who are hungry consume it.
With eyes to hear and ears to see --
Nothing is left unsaid.
2016 Sep

Blue Cliff Record #81
Die when it is time to die.
Come alive when it is time to come alive.
Coming alive and not running away,
The great deer is of no concern.
2016 Sep

Book of Serenity #23
Face the wall of years, centuries, kalpas.
Face the wall of time and eternity.
When these illusions lift, the wall you face is always right now --
Also without substance.
Facing facing facing.
2016 Sep

Book of Serenity #93
The treasury is your heart wondering what the treasury is.
The treasury is your heart moving on from wondering what the treasury is.
Summer breezes turn to autumn gusts
The budding peach blossom is already the fallen fruit.
2016 Sep

Book of Serenity #69
The three phases:
There is a mountain; there is not a mountain; there is a mountain.
Or:
There is knowing;
there is the further knowing that knocks out the former knowing;
there is the sublime not-knowing of the Buddhas of the three worlds.
2016 Sep

Blue Cliff Record #69
Say something? Not me.
"Then let's go back," I'd say
Shouldering my knapsack
And continuing toward the National Teacher.
2016 Aug

Blue Cliff Record #40, Book of Serenity #91
You can't pretend there is no flower there.
There clearly is!
You can't pretend there is a flower there.
There clearly isn't!
2016 Aug

Blue Cliff Record #32, Book of Serenity #16
Sometimes you're affirmed, sometimes scolded.
You get judged. It happens. The teachers recommend equanimity.
Beyond that, though.
Judging aside. Equanimity, or lack of, aside.
There is just the fact
That what you just did,
And the time before that, and the time before that,
And now, and next time,
Was, is, and will be
Entirely right and completely wrong.
2016 Aug

Gateless Gate #34
Buddha, Dao, knowing, mind.
Not a one of them is another.
Mind is only mind. Buddha is only Buddha. This is only this.
So how could you be somewhere else?
2016 Aug

Blue Cliff Record #28
You can't step in the same river twice, can't preach a dharma the same as what's been heard before.
Comprendes?
Also, there's nothing you can preach that can't be preached (so, as Roshi John Lennon said, all you need is love.)
Capisce?
And here is Nanquan saying (preaching?) "it's not mind, it's not buddha, it's not things."
If he's preaching it, then it's preachable, so he must be not-preaching it.
Ah.
I stepped into the Chattahoochee River once. Then stepped into it again.
I do that kind of thing all day every day -- entering what is the same, yet different,
Preaching what is unpreachable.
84,000 not-preachings per second.
I am like this. How about you?
2016 Jul

Gateless Gate #27
Preaching comes down the chimney with presents wrapped in quote marks.
For you, "mind," "Buddha," and "beings." How to unwrap them?
Explanations cover the package with more shiny paper and sticky tape.
Wanting to live disquotationally puts your life into a gift-wrapped "disquotationally" box.
Merry Christmas.
2016 Jul

Gateless Gate #19
To a mind simultaneously ordinary and boggled
The world's very banality is its profound, wondrous mystery.
Only let the unnecessary fall away --
By attending to its necessity.
2016 Jul

Blue Cliff Record #64
Those monks swimming in mud,
Zhaozhou swimming in a clear brook, with the current --
How dear to me are they all!
Not by our efforts does the mud clear to pure water,
Nor without effort.
2016 Jun

Blue Cliff Record #63
What cruel murders do you commit
With your concept-clinging arguments?
Cut it in two. Cut it in one.
Present your delusions. Present essential nature.
2016 Jun

Blue Cliff Record #75
Sticky sticks are scripts:
The bit is in your mouth, directing your course.
Sticks washed of stickiness are playthings:
Total freedom is enacted before our eyes.
2016 Jun

Book of Serenity #72
"Inside there is a monkey."
Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.
"If someone calls, 'monkey,' it responds."
Right, right, right, right.
2016 Jun

2017-08-29

Thirty Verses on Koans, I

These verses are responses to the koans in three 13th-century Chinese koan collections. To locate the koan to which the verse pertains, see: Gateless Gate (aka Mumonkan or Wumenguan) HERE; Blue Cliff Record (aka Hekiganroku or Biyan Lu) HERE; Book of Serenity (aka Shoyoroku or Congrong Lu) HERE.

Blue Cliff Record #42
Beauty of flake, sting of slap,
No place but here, no place but here.
Beauty of flake, sting of slap,
Long since gone, long since gone.
2016 Apr

Blue Cliff Record #91, Book of Serenity #25
Rhinoceros broken to make a fan, also broken. One brokenness or two?
Bring forth your brokenness and, what is the same, the rhino's.
Then you may draw a perfect circle
And behold what is right under your nose.
2016 Apr

Blue Cliff Record #71
The monkey leaped far from branch to branch, and
Now would instruct the eagle and turtle alike how to soar.
Shoulding the teacher is a gutsy display,
But what do you do for an encore?
2016 Apr

Blue Cliff Record #70
An action (speaking, say)
Doesn't come from a decision (to open the lips, say)
It doesn't come from anywhere, it's just suddenly (there, say)
One ex nihilo universe after another, all day long. Say!
2016 Apr

Gateless Gate #40
Every true assertion is also false.
Every false one also true.
Speech, calling a thing this or that, is a hawk's cry in a canyon.
It says neither something nor nothing, and it echoes.
2016 Mar

Blue Cliff Record #26
Behold the special! So ordinary.
Behold the ordinary! Sublimely special.
Sitting alone leads to bowing.
Bowing leads to receiving blows.
This ordinary is extraordinary precisely because there is no extra.
2016 Mar

Blue Cliff Record #3, Book of Serenity #36
Listen, I will tell you the good news: you're going to die.
You don't have to get everything fixed, figured out.
It's not up to you. You're off the hook, Dead One Walking.
You only have to be present to the sky's shining faces.
If you say, "no time soon, I hope," you might as well be dead already.
1800 years is just the same as one day.
Right now, the only eternity there is, they're just the same.
2016 Feb

Gateless Gate #33
Snowflakes are beautiful because they are gone.
Flowers come after, also gone, gone before they arrive.
Rocks, lakes, stars -- all that is mind --
All long departed: beauties of absence.
2016 Feb

Gateless Gate #30
Endless play everywhere. No inside, no outside.
The ten thousand things cross the ten thousand synapses,
Merge into a single axon, which passes itself into
The dendrites of ten thousand other cells.
This is not just a nervous system.
It is mountains, rivers, the great wide earth.
No outside, no inside. Endless play everywhere.
2016 Feb

Blue Cliff Record #18, Book of Serenity #85
A seamless monument, he requests -- to a seamless life,
Lived like a fabric smooth and unbroken from river to lake.
Are you so keen to unemploy the tailor?
Or has your eye perceived the seamlessness of every seam?
2016 Jan

Book of Serenity #42
Just take a deep breath. The essential body of Vairocana Buddha.
Turn left at the second light. The essential body of Vairocana Buddha.
It's always right where you put it, until you try to nail it there,
Then it's gone.
2016 Jan

Blue Cliff Record #99
"Jesus died to save you," say the Christians.
Buddha, also, dies to save you.
The twist, though, is you must kill him yourself --
And know you haven't been saved from anything.
2016 Jan

Gateless Gate #17
Calling calls and stands alone, complete.
Answering answers and stands alone, complete.
Thus do you and I, each other's attendant, each other's master,
Disappear into solitary completeness.
2015 Dec

Book of Serenity #5
I went down to Luling to buy a bag of rice.
I paid something for it: the essence of Buddhism, I guess.
Even though the bag proved to be empty
I have been living on that rice ever since.
2015 Dec

Gateless Gate #29
So wind, flag, and mind all move.
So neither wind, nor flag, nor mind move.
Both are true.
Indeed, they are the same truth.
2015 Dec

Gateless Gate #23
Ming's primal face, without thinking good or evil, was thinking good and evil.
Maybe he knew. If so, what then? Softening? Hardening?
Freedom.
To become dry, dive into the lake.
Steadfast attention to the grip
Is the only release.
2015 Nov

Blue Cliff Record #67
Other masters of the time opened their mouths, spoke at length,
Polished and clarified the Diamond, edified audiences.
Today we speak of Fu, who spoke not,
And speak not of the masters who spoke.
Were not Baozhi's ghost whispering the poisonous question, "Have you understood?"
We would not distinguish chatter from silence.
2015 Nov

Gateless Gate #41
No one's arm was lost,
No weapons, no defenses, cut through;
Thus peace and disarming mutually entail --
And both are always already established.
2015 Nov

Blue Cliff Record #1, Book of Serenity #2
The deep meaning of the holy truth is that there is no holy truth.
Therefore, not knowing pervades everywhere
Like a mountain mist, like a speck of mud on a trouser leg --
Like a sincere and pious prayer.
2015 Nov

Book of Serenity #3
Every dharma is dharma.
Realizing realizes.
He can recite the suchness-sutra
But can he shut up?
2015 Oct

Blue Cliff Record #78
Just find fifteen intimate friends,
And follow the rule.
The water takes care of everything.
Nothing to pierce. Nothing to break through.
2015 Oct

Blue Cliff Record #84, Book of Serenity #48
Watch them play, Manjusri and Vimalakirti.
See the one's chatter enact the other's silence.
The one's silence enact the other's chatter.
Watch them play, Xuedou and Hongzhi,
Recapitulating the ancients.
All the words there ever were are contained in your silence.
The vast and void silence is contained in your every word.
How then will you speak? How remain silent?
How enter the gate of Not-Two?
2015 Oct

Gateless Gate #22
Breathing in, Ananda. Breathing out, yes, Master.
Breathing in, yes, Master. Breathing out, Ananda.
Breathing in, flagpole knocked down. Breathing out, flagpole raised.
Breathing in, flagpole raised. Breathing out, flagpole knocked down.
2015 Oct

Gateless Gate #6
If you are genuine,
like a running brook, like a crow,
Or like that weed in Buddha's hand,
Then the treasury is transmitted to you
Every time you smile, and
Every time you don't.
If you ask, "how can I become genuine?" then you are lost.
Sit down, shut up, and see
That you have never not been.
2015 Oct

Blue Cliff Record #97, Book of Serenity #58
The people hate you, of course.
They know you for the liar, the thief, the murderer that you are.
Can you be saved? Redeemed?
Maybe. Just tell me this:
How deeply grateful are you for their hatred?
2015 Sep

Blue Cliff Record #94, Book of Serenity #88
When the beloved's smile lights up your world, you don't see it.
Isn't it just you, through and through: smile, light, beloved?
Later, groping for the memory, you believe you saw it,
And the world dims. Also you.
2015 Aug

Gateless Gate #42
Buddhas gather so they can return to their original dwelling.
They return so they can gather again at the next Buddha party.
She, unnamed and untitled,
Her light and its snares one,
Surpasses their backing and forthing.
2015 Aug

Blue Cliff Record #92, Book of Serenity #1
Each moment, a gavel bang.
Each moment as sharp as that whack.
This is the Dharma of the Dharma-King.
Birthless, deathless, thunderingly silent.
2015 Aug

Gateless Gate #32, Blue Cliff Record #65
Such earnestness and no asking.
Miles and miles beneath the sun and under the moon
Climbing mountains, crossing rivers, getting lost in the woods:
A long journey for nothing.
2015 Jun

Book of Serenity #4
Mountains, rivers, God’s green earth
Spring sanguinaria, autumn moonlight,
Lightning flashes light up the pines.
Indra would have more quickly built the temple
Had he left the grass stalk where it was.
2015 Jun

2015-08-07

About Both

Flapjack, garnish weasel,
Ace of space,
Lost and found beside himself.

Gristleburger, condimentarily,
Chewer of numbers.
Bar graph barracuda, pie charts like sly darts.

Flappie and GB hang on edges.
It's not about Harlem, they say.
It's about fecund and fatal
Versus neither
Or just one.

Charlotte, NC, 2015.08.07

2014-09-04

Speak

". . . speech does not only register or express a traumatic psychic life; the entry into speech is in itself a traumatic fact. . . . speech does not simply express/articulate psychic turmoils; at a certain key point, psychic turmoils themselves are a reaction to the trauma of dwelling in the 'torture-house of language.'" (Slavoj Zizek, "The Poetic Torture-House of Language." Poetry. 2014 Mar. 566)
Speak, tell, say.
What can I say? What can I say?
What did he say, she say?
He said, she said.
What do you say?
Is it something I said?
Say, now.
You don't say.
Or do you?
Let the witness speak. Tell us what you saw the night of the twenty-third.
What do you have to say for yourself, young man?
Speak up.
Who can say?
Who am I to say?

Some masters of old, so it is said,
whacked their students to jolt them into awakening --
Knock away ego
Reveal that death is impossible
Because the thing thought susceptible
Is an illusion
A brief eddy in the river of being, or not even --
A fleeting ripple
Given a name and spoken
into a flash
of delusion of
self-existence.
Other masters, or the same ones on different occasions, grabbed a student by the collar,
shouted, "speak!"
And tossed them aside when they stammered, faltered, could
Not in that moment injure being, shove it into the torture-house of language.
Hence, the point.

Speak.
Join me in this dungeon for putting the thumbscrews to each other.
Speak, which is to say, scream the pain of screaming.
There's nothing for it.
"Life," "speech," and "dukkha" are synonyms, co-referential.
I could say:
"Touch the silence. Shut up and sit still and be with silence until you feel it around and within all the chunky flow of words."
But that would just be me talking,
Prying out your/my last
fingernail.

White Plains, NY, 2014.03.07

So What If?

Finally upon the edge
Mud on my shoes
And maybe blood
I have reached the moment I was made for.
It was no easy thing to get here
Across the gravel of yesterdays.
So what if I've never been anywhere else?

White Plains, NY, 2014.02.26

Tuesday's Gone

This morning Lynyrd
Had not begun to pray
Train roll on
Just the jangle of kneeling and throat-clearing
When I reached in sleep to off the iPad,
To honor the roomie's sleep.
Tuesday is already gone.

White Plains, NY, 2014.02.25

Earth and Air

Walking is like this
The thaw comes from underneath
The next freeze hardens from above
The suspended uneven crust
Crunches and holds
For a few steps
Then I'm in past my knee.

White Plains, NY, 2014.03.04

2013-12-22

Thank You, Earth

Thank you, Earth.
Thank you for air.
The sunshine:
Morning rising beauty of hope,
Evening setting grace of gratitude.
My brain processes the light that comes from the sky as blue –
I’m not clear on why
Or how a bunch of neurons does that.
And chlorophyll is green because, I don’t know.
I just know the blue sky and the green grass and trees
Are home.

I don’t know why blood is red, either,
The vivid aliveness motion inside me, and us.
Or why flower blossoms are so variously, brightly colored.

Thank you, Earth,
For ants, worms, beetles, spiders, jellyfish, squid.
Thank you for fish: shiny, darting;
And reptiles: gopher tortoises, bright little lizards, dark green gators.
Thank you for birds, and the unignorability of the fact of flying.
Because they are, and I am they, I, too, fly.
Thank you for other mammals: foxes and alpacas
and manatees and rabbits:
The things with hair and milk-making bodies.
All the funny, weird animals – the different ways that life can be.

I imagine living on a space station,
The view, so deep the black, and vast starfields,
Filling me with infinity every day.
Yet.
It takes ground to be grounded.
I was made to be among your colors and life and limited horizons, Earth,
Even when it is dangerous.
Even when it is too hot, too cold, too rainy, too dry,
I was made for you, Earth.
All the millions of species, each was made for you
Out of dirt and water and sunlight.

Did you make snakes able to be thankful?
Have blue jays gratitude? Lobsters?
Maybe they are always grateful – and what they aren’t able to be is not thankful.
This is a wonder to me, who am sometimes ungrateful and who other times,
Like today, am
sky-blue thank you and leaf-green thank you and blood-red thank you
And lavender and fuchsia and goldenrod thank you.

Grateful feels good,
Dear Earth,
And you offer so much for which.
Sometimes I forget.
Then I remember again.

Gainesville, 2011.05.22

2013-11-11

Armistice Day

"Armistice Day. Armistice Day.
That's all I really wanted to say."
- Paul Simon

It's Armistice Day
I would have no arms
Eleven eleven, like the first Armistice Day, 1918,
One one one one, we
Won won won won.
Won one, won one (how many did we lose?)
On the other hand, every birth is a win, isn't it? So we're all right?
On the other other hand, the planet can't handle all those wins?
I would be done with the back and forth of hands
I would have no arms, and thus no hands.
I would live in Europe, Asia, America, south and north, Africa, Australia, Antarctica,
     and all the wide deep blacken blue oceans
I would have no Western front
I would name myself Peace Among the Nations
Finally undisappointable,
Hanging over the beleaguered of nations like a happy gracious fog, I would
Penetrate everywhere
I would weigh you down with uplifting serenity
I would double you four times, Woodrow Wilson World War
All ate of you, consumed by love, would have a thousand arms each reaching and
     embracing every dying soldier every wailing mother every broken-legged horse,
     enfolding them in doesn't-change-a-thing compassion
I would have no arms.
Gainesville, 2010.11.11

2013-10-28

Ometepe

Hey, you, on the island of Ometepe, among the twin explosive breasts of conceiving and wood
(the latter petrified),
You, among the tourists farmers plaintains parrots
(counting any of the last whose napes are yellow)
You, the weird, wired Amazon princess,
You, with the out-of-season breeding season, standing in the feeding area where divergent cycles coalesce,
Winging it
Conversing with the devil
Rising predawn
Drinking coffee damp
Swimming to get dry
Uniformly recounting accounting:
I cannot open my mouth to preach a single word.
How does your sermon flow effortlessly endlessly?
How can the rain reach land?
How can anything be missing?

White Plains, NY 2013.10.27


2013-04-26

Sunday Night

Dark night outside airport windows.
48 hours in Minneapolis --
Now a memory.
Charlotte again: awaiting
The flight home on schedule to depart at 21:19.
Fatigue economizes my motions.
Another couple hours or so,
tireder still,
bag-laden, keys-fumbling,
I'll arrive at the chill and silent house.
If this is life,
OK.
But, life, let me ask you:
What else can you show me?
Charlotte, 2013.02.17

Beautiful-Useless

I went to the shoe-shine stand at the Charlotte airport,
Got the works from a man with quick hands, and a Jamaican accent.
Today I'm lookin' sharp in my shiny, shiny shoes.
And I'm comfy warm in my longjohns.
All a waste, I guess --
Beautiful-useless
Like humanity.
Let's all the humans get in spaceships and leave
this planet to the parrots.
I'd go too
In my longjohns and my shiny, shiny shoes.

Minneapolis, 2013.02.16

Prayer to the Rabbit God

the rabbit god made bunnies
as morning brightened into day.
she gave them a green planet to eat,
made them love to hump
like rabbits
and love their babies.

bunnies make bunnies faster than plants grow, she noticed.
so, as evening darkened into night,
the rabbit god made foxes.

predation, she said,
will give my lovelies
sharp ears,
beautiful speed,
a touch of cleverness.
let them be grateful for the red fur death
and the fear that makes them so alert.

thus the rabbit god became the fox god too.
bodies are made of nutrients,
there being no other way to make them.
how could there not be carnivores?

dear god of hunter and of hunted,
i, too a body made of food, pray
to be eaten rather than outconsume providence
to love
the beauty of my fears.

San Francisco, 2011 Aug

Beast-Machine

When I roll by on my bicycle
my noise is too small and random
to register as threat.
The gopher tortoise by the sandy road home
Doesn't flinch until I am some yards by.
I round the house, pedaling to the back shed, and
A pileated is on the ground, working a stump.
I watch him as I coast by, nearly bump a tree, swerve.
Only then does his magically red crest
swing up and his vast obsidian wings lift.

Tomorrow something will scare me.
I will react in fear and flinch or fly
From some beast-machine already past and receding.

Gainesville, 2009.04

Sister Golden's Hair, Surprise

"I keep on thinking about you, Sister Golden Hair Surprise"
- Gerry Beckley, America

Sister Golden's hair, surprise,
Is greyer now and beautiful.
The skin around her eyes, looser, creasey, lovely
The blue of the iris maybe a touch faded.
The light brighter than ever.
Intently she saves the world, again and again.
I know -- I have seen her do it.
Or was that only me she saved?
It seemed to be the world.
"The brown ones are the young cranes," she told me once,
Thus rescuing all of earth and heaven.
Just yesterday we sipped coffee together and bowed.
Surely in that moment the universe was set right.
Today she counts loros' nest trees,
providing God with salvation once more.
Sister Golden's hair, surprise,
Her face, her body,
Manifest the transformation, the eschaton,
Herald the reign of heaven.
Is it only me?
It seems to be the world.

Gainesville, 2009.04.01

Philosophy Class

Freshman philosophy student
Standing before me after class
Says his thoughts go off in wild directions
When he tries to explain his way through one of my questions.
He hasn't the skill -- and half-doubts the possibility of it -- to tie
Much of a knot
Or to weave the colored strands into coherence.
In his eyes I see the facade of frustration about this.
Under that: wonderment,
And the birthing of a brand new baby hope.
We old professors who have midwifed a thousand such
Can still gasp.

Gainesville, 2009.03.31

Blue Cliff Record #6

Forlorn spring!
The leaf buds in bereaved and stricken multitude of golden green but frame
The azalea’s unconsolable magnificence of fuchsia.
The waxwings, warblers, and woodpeckers’ percussion
Fill the vernal morning light
With a clamoring din of death.
Everywhere you turn in these lengthening days
You hear and see and smell again and again
That there is no hope at all.

Gainesville, 2009.03.25

Nov 4

It felt like church: sacred, moving.
Gathering at the temple/precinct with my neighbors
I say hello to the greeter, am known, identified.
I receive my order of service, the ovals to fill in.
My neighbors and I have come together because we, the people, have work to do.
This is our liturgy, which means “the work of the people.”

The sacramental power is stronger in conjunction with scripture study.
For this worship, the assigned scriptures are newspapers, magazines, candidate records and statements.

I go into the confessional booth and pray.
Before I pick up the felt-tip marker,
I bring my palms together,
take a moment,
feel the touch of god.

I am aware of my expansive vastness,
My tiny smallness,
And the sacrament before me,
this paper wafer transubstantiated body politic of christ,
this marker-ink wine, the black blood of the people, chosen, choosing.

This is the difference a vote makes, no other.
I know the math:
the chances I’ll die in a traffic accident driving to the polls
are about one hundred thousand times greater
than the chance that any candidate I vote for will win by one vote.
Determining an outcome cannot be the reason I take this communion.
A vote is a prayer, and changes things the same way: by changing the one who does it.

I cast my ballot bread crumb upon the waters, causing no one’s victory or defeat, merely
Joining with something larger,
Participating in the infinity of history,
Lifted out of myself into the shared soul of
130 million voters,
6 billion humans on the planet,
all life that ever was or ever will be.
World without end amen.
Amen.

Gainesville, 2008.11.16

Exactly

A patient on an addiction-recovery ward asked the chaplain, “How can my family ever trust me?”
“Exactly,” replied the chaplain.
- Marion Thullbery’s dissertation

I sat up in bed, said,
God, I disappoint.
Ticking clock answered: Ex-act-ly.

Stood at the window to the dark outside. Said,
God, I'm still gone so much.
Nearly-full moon, setting, said: Just so.

Blearied to the kitchen, rattled coffee makings. Said,
God, the Earth groans, and I consume so much.
Faucet gushed: Yesss.

Stood on the driveway, hesitating to bend for the paper. Said,
God, this war, my government's corruption, my country's coldness to the poor or anyone who needs healthcare, its mania for wealth and stuff; and, God, I spent most of yesterday, same as the day before, forgetful that I am enough.
The newspaper shuffled: About that first bit, right on.
Then, probably around the obit page, whispered: Yes to the second bit too.

The wind blew through the trees,
and I heard the morning birds.

Gainesville, 2008.08.07

For Morris

97 percent of a century
and an equal percent pure.
97 years old
97 years young
97 years thin
and tall so tall.

This man,
This tough string,
This class of ‘33 Yalie
Rotsee’d himself just to ride the horses
he loved.
Clip-clop, clip-clop.

Pulled willy-nilly, like the world, into war:
Dubya Dubya Two,
This lanky port engineer
Saw such action as Boston afforded.
Then, later, Korea.
This man, too gentle-hearted for the body bags
Of death piled so high, by the hundreds.
This resilient gristle of a man too decent not to be overwhelmed.

This music-lover
Selling tuxes to dapper musicians
Dancing to their music
Clip-clop, be-bop, da-da, da-dum

God said:
“Morris, people should not be wearing body bags.
I mean for people to wear fancy duds –
Threads with life in ‘em.”
This slim haberdasher – he served his God.
97 percent of the time, or thereabouts,
He served his God.

Gainesville, 2008.06.12

Lines at Spring Sesshin 2006

Seasons

Ecclesiastes was Shakyamuni's book too
All those seasons -- be born, die, plant, pluck up, kill, heal,
break down, build up, weep, laugh, mourn, dance,
throw away, gather, embrace, refrain, seek, lose, keep,
tear, sew, keep silence, speak, love, hate, make war,
make peace.
The seasons preach one thing.
Quite a list, this one-item preaching.
Now preach!

Dallas, 2006.05

Snow in a Silver Bowl

That summer when I had but 20 winters:
snow in a silver bowl.
My senescence to come:
snow in a silver bowl.
When intellect's blade was sharp and swung so careless-quick.
When wisdom slows, takes skillful aim
Each is snow. Each the other's bowl of silver, silver.
Silver: the excellent conductor
Of heat
And cold.

Dallas, 2006.05

I Am a Stick

I am a stick
I've lain on the ground beneath the
tree I came from
For a year.
Before, I spouted leaves,
the little leaping greelies
Took in the light, the sun
Synthesized it.
I held up leaves
And bore their energy back to the trunk
that still lives.

Dallas, 2006.05

Lines at Rohatsu Sesshin 2005

It's always right there.
How silly to have built all these monasteries and all these busy fretting monks
Trying to find their mind.
Nothing to find but searching itself.
Do you find searching, or do searching?
If you find it, be sure to put it back.
Quietly ticking over in a metaphysical sort of way.

* * *
We need differentiation, even as we see through it.
We are full up of emptiness, and also must see through that.
From differentiation see through to emptiness and farther through to differentiation again.
Always come back to the fact
Not its meaning
The meaningless fact is all.

* * *
A stick is not a stick
When it is just a stick
In the dawning light
The call to breakfast.

* * *
The wild bird settles on her nest
And feeds down the gullets of her young:
What you have is given
And lackingness itself is taken away.

* * *
With information ethical particular and logical
And comment that is moral less so than it's ontological
I am injunctured not to do what anyways impossible
Aren't we the very models of some modern Major Zenerals?

Dallas, 2005.12

2013-04-24

Dwell in an Artist's House

“Let the graciousness of the Lord our God be upon us, and the work of our hands,
establish beyond us; yes, establish the work of our hands"

--Psalm 90

Live in an artist’s house for a time
If you can
Dwell among the strange ceramic on display
in small groups and singly in each conceivable nook
they spot you at every turn
textures remind you of a dim possibility
shapes sing a Psalm of hands
colors give your eyeballs breath.

Yes, live in an artist’s house for a spell
If you get the chance
Gaze over the books on the artist’s shelves
take in these shapes and titles
the thick ones and the thin
the smell of their unsettled settledness
the scope of restless interests
Someone here has wanted to know everything, everything important,
And could not stay in one place too long.
Pull down a volume of poetry you never heard of,
with a style half-way between familiar and exotic
And limn the pages, a few each day,
Leaf through the art books, Gauguin, Wyeth
Let these be your companions for the week.

Live in an artist’s house a while
And on Sundays stroll down to the artist’s church
and take worship with the small besieged band of freethinkers
vaguely wishing they could believe more than they do in salvific things:
love, justice, redemption.

Feel the artist’s lifelong care, the slow-swift passing of his years, in the shape of his house,
Mold yourself to that shape
Sleep there with infected dreams
For a week or two at a time
And recurrently, if at all possible.

Dwell in an artist’s spare fecund space
And when you leave say, “Thanks again”
Surprised by how much you mean it.

Midland, TX, 2005.09

Gateless Gate #12

Always the Master calls
The voice of the green turtle,
Silence.
Always affirmation answers back, screaming yes
In every soundwave, every lightwave-photon, every particle's
Stillness, the origin of every vibration.
Silence calls. Heed!
Stillness answers. Heed!

Dallas, 2004.12.05

As Good

Shivering in the night
and in the fog of sleep, trying to find you,
And in my dreams make love to the warmth of you
beneath too-thin covers.

When the morning sun throws our bedframe pattern on the
wall,
Slowly, slowly descending as your blond and peaceful
Head
Dozes on my
Shoulder,
I know this chill has passed.

Soon I will put on my boots.
We will walk the stony upward path
To the dead hermit's abandoned house, and
say a prayer to his
God
and ours.
Then we'll visit Betty's sisters -- they
will bring us eggs and coffee.
It will be as good
As the morning sun that throws our bedframe pattern on the
wall.

El Paso, 2004.04.12

Eastertide

What resurrects save falling?
This rainy day in the desert
     Muffle-grey cat lies down on us.
And I am a rumpled lotus bud.
Opened enough to see a little.
     Down in the valley, those others live
     Up on the hillside, those others live
The poor, not like me, and the rich, not like me.
How can I tell them what matters to me?
How can I hear them, know them, be with them, when
     I am so different?
To ask the question is to begin to see the path
Like a rumpled lotus bud
Opened enough to see a little.

El Paso, 2004.04.11

2013-04-20

Taken

The moon is almost full, I say.
She's about to say, No, just past full
When we turn down the last alley to home:
the darkest stretch
A furtive wispy motion, the shape of a sneer
Halts us dead or alive
The wild maw of someone else's escaped fantasy
Is ready to swallow us
In our own backyard alley.
It is seriously tempting, this lure to be
     taken in, taken to where
     there are no more arguments
     about the moon
     taken beyond this dangling dull familiarity
     simply taken.
And though she feels it too,
Our hands find each other.

El Paso, 2004.04.10

Gabriella

The book of wounds, where we inscribe all our hurts
She does soul-shifting into the bodies of her friends
Falling is the voice of the rain
Use broken things to see ourselves
The moons of insomnia
Days of the week are characters
And some of our energies are refrigerated
Paper boats floating on a dirty river, and the
Body parts of dolls.
Some poets, our dearest friends, die frailly.
The City of Rock Walls: El Paso.
That's Gabriella.

El Paso, 2004.04.10

First Anniversary of US Invasion of Iraq

Remember the springtime
     that always comes in every desert
The perennial grace of beauty
     as a bright blossom on a harsh hillside
     as a soldier of an occupying force
     pausing from duty
     crouching in some act of kindness
to a native child.

Remember the events unfolding one year ago
     Wanton death comes sometimes
     Vast destruction born of foolish pride,
          or fear
     Oceans of suffering washing the desert.

Remember everything in which you are in community
     which is to say everything
     is your community of memory and hope
So remember.
Remember
     what part of that community
     called our country
     unfolded in another part
     called Iraq
     one year ago.

Remember the springtime
     Wanton death comes sometimes.
     So does wanton life.

Though vast destruction and suffering is sometimes born of foolish pride
     or fear
Yet the springtime comes in every desert
A perennial grace of beauty
     as a bright orange blossom on a harsh hillside
     as a soldier...

Humanity may end war someday.
Not in my lifetime, or my children's, but
Maybe someday. I don't know.
In the meantime, I know what I remember.

El Paso, 2004.03.24

2013-04-19

The Cycle of a Breath

Finally the sun comes up
Bright and glad
It will soon go --
and won't be gone long

Snow on the mountains
Gently melting to water
And more snow falling

The silk handkerchief
Pulled out through my nose
Cleans me out, wipes my window clear

The peace that flows through me flows
Through everything
It is only that
Only what is common as dirt
It is all of that
the everything itself
I can't help it.
The luminousness of objects is a mistake I made
An accident, I'm sorry, I didn't mean it,
I slipped, I stumbled, the sun

Was in my eyes.

I see my whole journey
A spinning bobbin.
Threads wind off, flying away
Pulling themselves loose and
Loosening the whole
While also threads wind on
become tighter wound.
It must be the mites:
Tiny, black, a few thousand programmed neurons
Mindlessly digging into the center
Inadvertently loosening it
So threads are thrown off
Even as the
Winding on winds on and on.

Albuquerque, 2004.02.27

2013-04-18

Rocks and Leaves

The cool texture of granite
Moist. And so much green around.
I must be back east.
The forests of my childhood, with the large rocks I clambered on.
Once I was especially loving the stone and
my own boy energy carrying me over one,
then another in delighted
speed.
My grandmother was along, on this particular Appalachian excursion.
She waited with some patience for me to return to the trail
Until the patience ran out, as I'd been waiting for it to, and she hollered me
back.

She did love this earth -- whatever part of it she found herself living in.
The histories of its people, the feel of its rocks against the hand
and leaves between the fingers.

 Albuquerque, 2004.02.26

I Have Known Parrot Love

He was surely a part of the dance of your eyes
The first moment I looked into them
Not knowing what I was seeing.

The first time I visited you at your house
It was that place in Bellwood
You came to the door, opened it four inches
Your face in that narrow frame
Your blue eyes, glad to see me,
Glance askance, attending to another life,
You said, "Bird out."

Another time, another visit, you instructed,
"If he flies at you, go down."
He did, and I did:
Spread-conure on the floor.

With February snow lying white across our Minnesota yard
I phoned you at work where the others there heard you exclaim,
"He took a bath with you!"
So, yes.
I have known parrot love.

El Paso, 2003.10.24

Wednesday 9:23am

80 miles north of El Paso
on I-25 headed for Albuquerque
my bus pulls into a Border Patrol checkpoint.
Weekly, I participate in this ritual.
The green clad agent steps aboard.

"If you are a US citizen, state the city and state of your birth
If you are not, show your documentation."
As far as I can see, the green agent and I
are the only Anglos on this full bus.
Border Patrol makes her way down the aisle,
frowning at papers of widely varying size, shape, color,
sometimes also asking for separate ID, sometimes not.

My head bows under the world's weight upon this spot.
This posture cues me to a whispered prayer.
"May there be an end to invidious distinctions
including those based on whether our mothers,
when we first peaked out from them into the world,
were north or south
of a line
a few politicians and generals drew
more than 150 years ago.
May I find ways to help bring
justice from my unjust privilege.
And blessed be all of us on this bus, including the Border Patrol agent,
as we all struggle in our diverse ways
to realize the fullness of our humanity."

She gets finally to me on the backmost seat.
This week no one has been hauled off.
I look up from clasped hands in lap
For a flicker our eyes meet.
My voice says, "Richmond, Virginia."
This only is asked of me, no papers, no ID.
Pale skin and the right sort of accent clinch it,
if I will but utter the name of an approved holy city
as the weekly sacrament of transition
from El Paso husband to Albuquerque minister intern.

I only have to say out loud my condemnation.
Richmond is a city much farther away than Mexico,
and memory recalls only a few passings-through,
none recent.
Of Richmond, I vaguely know a view of a skyline from the interstate, nothing more.
Not that it matters.
What I'm saying with those two words is:
I am on your side, Agent Green Jump Suit.
I deny Yahweh's call for a preferential option for the poor.
I deny Buddha's call to live compassion rather than fear.
I deny my faith profession:
the unitarian commitment to the unity of us all
the universalist commitment to universal community
From my lips, this two-word Peter's denial: "Richmond, Virginia."

Peter, having spoken, saw in a dizzy flash, as I do:
We who long to be merely good,
Are revealed as rotten with complicity with the empire.
And what could show more clearly than that
That the world’s brokenness and mine are one?

Between El Paso & Albuquerque, 2003.09

Sadlack's Heroes

On the corner
Where Hillsborough meets Enterprise Street,
Where perhaps we boldly go where we have not gone before,
An orange and blue sign, “Sadlack’s Heroes,”
Declares baldly,
We are sad, we lack,
And we are heroes – all there is of heroism, at any rate –
Despite our unhappy incompleteness, or because of.

I passed a dusty woman, and something brought me back again.
I spent a couple dollars on fries, blue cheese dressing on the side, and a diet coke for Caroline,
I spent a couple moments sitting on a rock wall by the sidewalk,
The evening traffic bustling by
The bicycle locked to a No Parking sign
Beneath the larger sign, Sadlack’s Heroes.

Caroline declined my offer to get a bagel,
Showing me the molars she said could not chew it.
Between bites of fries, she peeled off her left shoe and sock
Showing me the yellow and red reasons that it hurt so much to walk.

At last, the bicycle and I rolled away from Caroline,
And the sign of sadly lacking heroes.
Later, in my house, as I ready for bed,
Standing on pink feet, toothbrush in hand,
It occurs to me to that I might think I am so fortunate
Compared to Caroline.
It is clear that I am not.

Raleigh, 2002.06

A Bird in Boots

To carry such prodigious footwear
Her wings are very strong.
She is ready, just in case
Soaring ends and landing's hard.

Born of and borne by air,
The rain plays on her feathers happily as sunshine.
Through blue skies, grey clouds, and before rainbows,
she flies
As though she might be hiking the next moment,
if wings fail, or if she chooses.

Minneapolis, 2000 Fall

Wedding Poem

Our Whole Lives

I.
We said we would
Call the OWL:
March down the I'll,
Ring the bell and each other's
Fingers,
Vow ourselves into oblivion, wholeness, etc.
And die.

II.
The OWL has special wing feathers that quiet its flight,
So the prey never detects the predator.
One noiseless flap, two, and the small mammal is caught.
As out of the soul’s dark night, love is suddenly there, upon us:
Talons and beak.
We succumb,
And turn our bodies over to the nourishment of a grander thing.
2000 May, 2009 Apr

Imposition on Dr. Lantry II

AUTUMN, by William Lantry, 1995.02
"...we come by love, and not by sail..." -Augustine

Whether the evening stopped what little wind
had driven me, or if a sudden change
in pressure slowed the bow, as, smooth, it made
its way around the cap d'ail, towards
the esterel, with its red peaks suffused
beneath the red dust of siroccos, I

will not attempt to say, but I do know
progress was slowly ended, and the drift
of that small boat became the same as waves'
slow movement toward the shore, where I could see
her skirt, at least, grown luminescent in
final reflections, blue, the slender words

inaudible, I voiced then, seemed to fill
slack canvas, only seemed, since the land breeze
recirculates in autumn, still, the bow
was moving, and I heard before my own
her voice, and knew that song from memory
but changed now, as I drifted to the shore.


IMPOSITION ON DR. LANTRY II

Years ago
Imogen
Autumn
Saint Cuthbert and I were at the edge of consubstantiation.
She left me teetering there.
But she kept writing me letters and sending her love.
"...we come by love,"
and laude, laude, cum laude, we love to come
"and not by sail..."
as much as by sale.
It's all prostitution, one way or another, said
Augustine
the Hippo to Anselm the Giraffe.
Yeah, yeah, I'm a ho, you a ho, everyone a ho, ho, ho, Mr. Santa fey indemnity clause.
But was my price too high for Imogen Autumn, or hers too high for me?

Then, as philosopher's apprentice with Willard Quine, I kneaded the status of sentences as,
"The morning star is the evening star."
(The question: just how to characterize the difference between that sentence and "The morning star is the morning star.")
Venus is both, thus dawn and dusk are female.

Last night the latter visited me.
Whether the evening stopped
by for a beer so the two of us could keep each other company
or because she meant to stir
what little wind
of sentiment
had driven me
before to my defective Volkswagen to go in vain search of Imogen
or if a sudden change
of plan just happened to bring her my way, the increase
in pressure
was just enough to send me packing, though I was
slowed
by
the bow
ties, polka-dotted, paisley. Which to take?
Running my hand over a fuchsia and gold striped one,
as, smooth, it made
my hand describe the arc of Imogen's dimly recalled rump.
Such a tie as this could wrap
its way around the cap d'ail, towards
sundown at a cocktail party for elderly Republicans. I discard it.
The esterel, with its red peaks suffused
--despite the best efforts of the good people Playtex.
Beneath the
tires, the red clay dirt roads of Butts County, Georgia.
I drive this Volkswagen toward the coast, trailing behind me that
red dust of Sciroccos, I
will not attempt to say
to what this embarassing passion amounts.
But I do know
progress was slowly ended.
Five years have gone by now since my brother Benjamin died.
A letter last year told me Geoffrey, friend and colleague of Imogen's, was dead.
Are there any but insulated morons whom AIDS has not by now left bereft?
Beautiful Mapplethorpe lies cold, and twisted Helms glows on, incendiary bright.
Too many Gramms of Newt spoiled all affirming witches' brew everywhere.
In the spaces between the funeral parlors and the ballot boxes,
belief in progress ebbed away.
and the drift
of that small boat
the ship of state
became the same as waves
of despair on sands of negation.

Yet I drive on.

Ten hours, and right onto the night beach, where I walk.
A mile or so north. Nothing.
Making my way back, the tide's
slow movement toward the shore, where I could see
her skirt
not far from the parked Scirocco, hidden in the dune shadows.
The skirt lies abandoned next to her blouse,
at least, grown luminescent
as my radio dial was at 2:00 AM midway between Macon and Savannah;
luminescent as my bowtie, which I pull off and drop beside the signs of her.
In
final reflections,
love is
blue,
but so is failure, so is decrepitude.
A little further on, I find Imogen Autumn for the first time in twelve years.
She is not ashamed in moonlight and surf and underwear;
she's just nervous about seeing me again.
the slender words
inaudible,
and the broad inarticulate noises
I voiced then, seemed to fill
slack canvas
pants with newly erected hopes
only seemed, since the land breeze
billows even where flaccidity reigns. An hour we are there. Two.
I get no clue about how much of the emotion washing over me
recirculates in Autumn, still, the bow
tie's smiling garish dotted arms reach out, one toward blouse, one toward skirt,
while mine hang limply, awkwardly, mutely at my side.

Whether the morning stopped by for a cappuccino so the three of us
could keep each other company,
or because she meant to climb into the Scirocco with me and leave Imogen, I
was moving,
driving away
and I heard before my own
her voice
the morning, telling me I'd forgotten to get my bowtie
and knew that song from memory
because the landscape over which I have traversed my life
is fairly littered with bowties announcing
"Meredith committed another fashion violation here."
but changed now, as I drifted
down inland back roads
to
points far from
the shore
and farther from the sure.

Nashville, 1995.07

Imposition on Dr. Lantry I

RUNWAY, by William Lantry (@harpo), 1994.11

Last night I, indolent, thought of free verse
almost as an escape, but knew my wrong
was near intentional: I thought of trees
whose branches lace together, holding up
a twelve-tone structure. Does each limb
relate to laws of chaos, or is any free?

Tonight, I think of fashion shows: how each
designer looks for some material
of advantageous difference, and the crowd
of mostly journalists looks on, then writes
a note on each. Their models, slimmed and coked
half-dance the narrow runway, and the lights

background essentials, bringing out stringed heels
and shadows echoing each other down
twelve-boarded planks. A choreographer
finds movement in their chaos, while I lean
half-languid, near the back wall, noticing
our darkened exit doors are bolted shut.


IMPOSITION ON DR. LANTRY I
Last night I, indolent, thought of free verse
flowing like Aunt Jemima's Lite Imitation Maple Flavored Syrup onto a replica of the Statue of Liberty, damnit
almost as an escape, but knew my wrong
was not the product of two wrights, Orville, Wilbur, and the escape of cerulean yonders to which far too many yesterdays lighted us.
was near intentional: I thought of trees
especially those Imitation Maple trees
whose branches lace together, holding up
crystals, sugar crystals on the edge of Tuesday morning's blue plate breakfast special, constituting
a twelve-tone structure.
And she turned to me then and asked:
Does each limb
relate to laws of chaos, or is any free?
And I said this was a false either/or. Not because it was possible to be neither, but because it is possible to be both.
Tonight, I think of fashion shows: how each
time I look at her, I'm struck (like a plastic bottle of syrup on cool-colored linoleum) by the falseness of her cloven dichotomy. The creator of the universe, she said: A
designer looks for some material
dialectic, but since God is infinitely more indolent than free verse, history is left lawless, just one more gaddamned fluke after another. And the classes -- the elite
of advantageous difference, and the crowd
of disadvantaged sameness -- are no more plagued by contradiction than I am when I can't decide whether to fuck or nap. Indecision looks like contradiction only when a group
of mostly journalists looks on, then writes
its gray on gray, signaling the senility of a way of life. Karl really was, as the old joke goes, the funniest of the Marx brothers. Can it really be coincidence that you speak through Harpo as you speak for Karl? The gods, they plink
a note on each. Their models, slimmed and coked
don't represent reality the way they used to. I can't full-dance the wide, wide world, and you can't
half-dance the narrow runway, and the lights
of reason go out, one by one, until finally we manage to get along just fine. With those lights gone, there are no more essentials. No central essentials, no foreground essentials, no
background essentials, bringing out stringed heels
and other assortd low-lifes.
and shadows echoing each other down
twelve-tone structures, twelve apostles, twelve days of christmas, the twelve members of the O.J. jury, and other
twelve-boarded planks. A choreographer
she was, before going into the syrup business. And each Marx, whether making "Das Kapital" or "Animal Crackers,"
finds movement in their chaos, while I lean
half-dancing, half-trying, half-assed making it,
half-languid, near the back wall, noticing
our darkened exit doors are bolted shut.
We'll have to go out the same way we to came in.

Nashville, 1994.11

Jeffrey Wilson

Today I spoke with Jeffrey Wilson.
We knew each other
     when I was young,
     and he was younger still.
I had been at judo in the gym;
     had just changed clothes and was leaving
     when he hailed me at the door.

Jeffrey Wilson had been at lifting weights
Wanting strength and muscle
     just enough to compel
     certain people to leave him alone.
"Girls like muscular men, too," he said.

Jeffrey Wilson told me about someone he hated.
A classmate of his
     seems she made him nervous
     when he drove in driver's ed.
He mentioned other people he said he hated.

And one girl he'd wanted to go with all year.
He'd written notes, tried several times
     to go up to her
     to talk to her.
"But when I do, she just walks away."

The evening air at the gym door mixed with the small of sweat and chlorine from the pool.
And Jeffrey Wilson talked about a bench press he wanted to buy.
     It cost seventy dollars.
     He'd decided he needed new clothes more.
Maybe he'd get it next year.

Two years later

It is now two years since I last saw Jeffrey Wilson.
I found him today here on the page.
I have written him, and he is immortal.
     He only aspired to be an electrician.

Carrollton, 1979, and Dallas, GA, 1981.10

Some People Just Don't Like People Sleeping in Their Back Seat Anymore

Pulled off Exit 43
She shook me from my back seat sleep
With one bare arm reaching over the wall between us.

Seeing me awake, she turned back to facing forward
And broke the silence of the drone of passing cars,
"Go on. This is as far as I'm going your way." she said.

I considered how she knew.
I had not told her my way,
Nor had she asked.

"Get out," she said again.
So I reached to the floorboard and gathered my clothes
Into the knapsack I have had since I was seven.

Dallas, GA, 1981.09

One I Love Changes Her Size

One I love changes her size.
I awake mornings to find her quite larger
than the nights before.
I know she is the same
--she has not left and been replaced--
The eyes, the face, the hands -- all are so familiar
that identity is not in doubt.
Yet, incredibly, this human enlarges --
wholly, in even proportion.
It is unsettling.

Cartersville, GA, 1981.02

The Last Four Undergrad Poems


Black Tresses Still

Reflections off bedsheets
On white bodies spill.
   Her long fingers curling,
      Strong, lost eyes there burning . . .
Black tresses still.

Lips quiver their redness
To swallow at thrill.
Neck pulsates, throat gestures,
In vibrating drill.
   Her whole body gasping,
      Arms constantly moving . . .
Black tresses still.

Years later I found her
As death sent its chill
Her pallid eyes open
Revealing no will.
Now here she lies rotting
'Neath this very hill.
   Lips of no redness
      Eyes merely hollows
         No breath at all . . .
Black tresses still.
Carrollton, GA, 1980

Epistle to Dr Mathews

(from an American Lit student)

Dear Sir, I have a strange complaint
You do not often hear.
It's just me, really, not your fault.
I've been this way for years.

I have an ailment: I'm fertile ground
And words in me plant seed.
Thus, whether, then, for good or ill,
I must act on what I read.

Last year I read some pastorals,
And had to rent a farm.
And once, while steeped in Beowulf
I near tore off my roommate's arm.

In pretty pots I sought the truth
And all else I need to learn
For two weeks after I had read
"Ode On a Grecian Urn."

I'm awfully glad that these effects
Are not forever fixed,
Else 'tween Rod McKuen and Jean Genet,
I'd be a soul most oddly mixed.

Well, now I'm living in a shack.
I rise each day at dawn.
I have no heat, 'Twas cold last night,
But I'll be no one's pawn.

For the past 10 days I've been transcending
And I've communed with the woods.
And, of course, I think for my own self
As I'd never thought I could.

But I'll be glad when this is done:
To in my car once more go.
So when will we at last be through
With Emerson and Thoreau?
Carrollton, GA, 1980

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Desk

Waiting to be come to, looked at, worked with,
     turned on, moved from, changed by...

A yellow residue of ice cream
     in yesterday's bowl
Sticking a poor spoon to the bottom.
An impossibly balanced stack of books up to the clouds,
     to the right, there,
     precariously looming over bowl and prisoner
          (is there no brave platter to
          rescue this utensil in distress?)

Papers scattered all across:
          ditto purple,
          typewriter black,
          handwritten blue.
Renegade books like boulders on this steppe.
A ceramic, shade-less lamp, brown glue displaying
          base's cracks
     to the left, there,
     a monument light-house rising beyond the clouds.
     A cracker.
          Unnumbered hidden pens,
          hypodermics for an inky soul.

Waiting to be come to, looked at, worked with,
     turned on, moved from, changed by...

Or, as in the case of yesterday's ice cream bowl,
     Simply washed.
1980 Jan

Terminal Illness

That year I turned 20
I had a lover, a friend, and a class to teach.
Penny was the lover, April the friend, "10th Grade Indep Studies" the class.

Aug 17
Went to see April at her apartment this evening.
We were silly and giggled for an hour or more.
Then we got all morose and despairing for even longer.
This is a pattern we've followed before.
Last time, by the time I got back to my apartment, I felt better.
This time the rottenness coagulated and stuck.

Sep 2
Penny says all I talk about is my students.
April says all I talk about is Penny.
My students say they don't know what I'm talking about.

Sep 24
Penny and I celebrated the one-year anniversary of our first date.
We drove into Atlanta, which Penny has never liked, to see the specialist, which I don't like.
We sat in the doctor's posh plush office.
He was exceedingly polite.
He said the test results would be in in a week.
Penny and I didn't see a movie.
Both of us had head-aches.
Night bright lights, the smell of the car.
The pressing of the gas, then brakes.
We ate at a Holiday Inn, then went home.

Sep 29
When I'm older will I be wiser?
Or will I simply find I've settled?

Oct 3
I'm having less and less to say to my class. I've talked about how to research, what to footnote and how. And they're doing it. I answer questions.
Penny moved in.

Oct 7
'Terminal,' echoes over and over in my brain.
Terminal, terminal, terminalterminalterminaltermin altermin
Altermin altermin, al.
Concentrate: give the odd sounds meaning.
'Terminal'
As in 'bus terminal.'

Oct 26
My students stopped asking questions. They come in and go straight into their books and scribbling notes.
I submitted my resignation to the principal.

Nov 10
My skin is electric with worry and fear for Penny, and I haven't seen April for more than a month.

Nov 24
Penny, pretend that I am alive.
Pretend that I am eating saltines and you are visiting me.
It's that old gray house in Hoboken
And my clothes are fine.
A light bulb hangs by a long wire from the ceiling
And the barren wood floor is noisy under hard heels.
You whistle at me, but I can't whistle back
Because of the saltines.
Pretend that I am alive.
1979, 2014