Category Archives: Writing

Cardboard Box

I’m finally looking into the cardboard box
I brought home from my mother’s house
late last month;

The clementines she insisted I take and perched on top
have long since been eaten;
it’s been otherwise untouched
sitting in the corner of the yellow room.

Two pairs of my infant pajamas —
The yellow corduroy with the embroidered lion;
the faded white and green night dress.
She had remarked on the drawstring
she had sewn into the bottom,
how it was still there,
and the fold-over sleeves to keep me from scratching myself
as I slept in my crib.

My white shoes, too —
laces gone,
but still with their impossibly stiff soles;
my grandmother’s blue-and-white Canton ware,
wrapped in the 1975 Daily News
from Bowling Green, Kentucky.

That night,
just before I left,
we sat on the basement couch flipping through
faded Kodak prints, square with rounded corners,
(most taken before we moved into the house on the hill).

We paused at one where I wore that night dress,
standing with my sister
in the deep darkness of an evening east window.
There were others, too, from that forty-years-ago,
and she told me again about each one.

We had such fun, she said,
such fun.

Before the Snow Arrives

A poem hasn’t completed me
since last season;

I bring an occasional one
to the finish –
so I don’t forget
how many lines are in a stanza,
or to remind myself
the weight of my pencil.

I have to get the leaves moved;

the ones scattered
withered
across the lawn

I have to get them moved
before the snow arrives.

Touching the Heart Mind

I finished work early today,
walked out of the office
I built in my barn
into a cool afternoon.

I took the clippers from the
upstairs linen closet and
cut my hair with the shortest blade.

There were still a few errands to run
before I came to sit here in our kitchen,
distracted by house sounds and
typing out a home-leaving poem
for sesshin,

where I’ll sit with the sangha,
alone together
under autumn skies.

Untitled

birthdays, too,
hold misunderstood questions
alongside bright smile greetings.

at the end of the day,
I stayed late at the Temple
to water Roshi’s flowers.

oceans of bright clouds,
oceans of solemn clouds.

The final couplet comes from the words of Dogen in our school’s translation of the Ninth Precept.

Lazy Ovals

I’ve scolded my son for riding
the old green bike
(the one with training wheels that used to be his)
when he runs to get it before his little brother can,
riding it gleefully away from him.

Today, though, his brother wasn’t home;
so he pedaled slowly
around the driveway, pulled gently
at the duct-taped edge of the handle
as he rode.
I heard him talking softly to himself and
humming as he made lazy ovals
in the bright sunshine.

He kept going
until his sister called to him from the porch,
asked him what he was doing.

I heard the first words of the story
he began to make up,
then turned away so I wouldn’t
hear the end.

Earnest Offering

I’ve gone through half an eraser;
there’s some danger I might believe
that the thoughts I used to have
were better,

the way they made images
when captured in my notebook.
So much more evasive now,
I struggle to evaluate their worth.

The night insects, though,
make their earnest offering
through open August windows —
calling and calling.

But it is all just noise —
I sit distracted

by the tears
my son couldn’t show me
when we argued this afternoon,

by the cars outside
moving too quickly down the hill.

Forty-Something this Summer

It’s supposed to be raining this morning,
but I awake without the sound
of small drops trickling from maple leaves or
spattering the old tin roof
outside our bedroom window –

either would have muffled the clinking of
spoons against the edges of
glass cereal bowls that
filters up from downstairs.

Yet well past the hour when
I often find myself alone,
you are still beside me,
only breathing;

I watch your breasts rise and fall
under the softness of your light blue camisole,
its narrow strap rising over your left shoulder
into a blur of light from the south window.

Your birthday is two days from now –
early forty-something this summer –
I should get up and settle the children’s argument,
plan for a gift.

Six

Ophoto
 
he knows now how to read.
he won’t pass through kindergarten again.

he won’t bring home another packet of sight words,
tape them to the wall
over his largely-unmade bed,
lie in the darkness,
read them by flashlight.

that moment,
that emerging,
that world,
that lifetime,

that he-and-I
is gone —

and I want it back.

Buddhism might one day free me from suffering, but not from being human. If anything, I feel my joy, my sadness, anguish, loneliness and contentment more acutely. Buddhism promises the possibility of welcoming each one. It has taught me, even, to welcome my attachments, to not run away from even my clinging.

My relief from suffering, when it arises, comes not from stoicism. Instead, it arrives when I allow the joy and dukkha that are the essence of fatherhood to be together. It comes when I turn and face them both and say, Yes, all of this. This is now. This is fatherhood. The wanting and the letting go. This is love. This is it. All of this. This is it.

Spiderman Pajamas

Standing at their top
in the old house on the hill,
it seemed a long way down
the steepness of the dimly lit stairs.

From below in the kitchen,
you called my spiderman pajamas
superman.
I thought to correct you —

but even at nine,
I knew it didn’t matter.

Driving to work this morning,
it was even more remote
from the concerns of this day
or the decades in between.

Yet there we were,
among the forsythia
and apple blossoms
in the brightness of spring.

There’s a much more involved prose piece in here; but for Mother’s Day, this is the essence.

Spring Haiku #3

blossoms emerge —
incessant rains engulf
hopes of children

I sometimes feel as if a haiku isn’t enough of a post, as if eight words aren’t worthy of a week’s worth of creative work. And then there are blossoms; it is incredible how much of our own experience they bear on their tender petals and stems.