Tuesday, December 18, 2012

12/15/12, a poem

Been thinking of you, all of you, and of the distance
that may be between us as the old year closes,
the new looms so close, thinking of the strange ways we
now pass our thoughts, the slow scratch and fold that served
so well for so long, almost completely supplanted
by these soft and immediate clickings.

Soft too is the color of the green here this time
of year. A break in the rains let me to the hills,
as I haven’t been for awhile, new grasses
pushing to the surface, looking to cover the slopes
in silent, steady waves, from bottom to top.

Coyote bush, a coastal, hill country shrub, common
from here into the Sierra, blossoms in December
and January, small, frost-white petals, bursting
to seeds spread across the dampened earth in minute
snow flakes. Red Christmas berries bunch in native toyon,
young hummingbird sage sprouts along the trail, soap plant
on it. And the blue-grey leaves of new sage, fragrant
and tender to touch.

I say their names out loud, these few I know. The season’s
so short, this seems important. The streams, silent in summer,
sing too; their tongues knowing all there is to know of this place,
their Bodhisattva voices carry every name,
forgetting not even one.

Higher in the hills, I begin to recall the carnage.
It might be the middle-east, could be the invisible
Philippines or some unknown African country,
but it’s Connecticut this time, teachers and children,
targets so common these days, almost anywhere
we might name.

With a President as thoughtful as our own,
I am saddened when he touts our military might
as a towering accomplishment, and more so
as he stands today, helpless in the face of our children
killing our children. As real as outside threats may be,
it’s a cancer on the inside that torments us—all of our might
cannot make this right.

Something different need be done.

The News will chew and bite, encourage us
to swallow, as they diligently search more feed.
But what matter the motive, when the method
is readily given; what matter the method
when the solution is imbedded
in society’s psyche
as viable.

Broken bodies litter non-combat zones across the globe,
school yards just one. How many names, how many the lives
as brief as interludes, snapped shut—we are not different
in this, and any indifference marks complicity. This
is not the heritage I wish to protect—it is this
that needs breaking.

Whether ensconced in constitutions or lodged, abstract,
in folk-laws, this cancer will have its way with us
and within the lives of those we influence, unless
we learn to call it what it is, aloud: ours, it is ours.

But sickness rides the same currents that healing does,
and in time all resistance can be recognized
as temporary. With this, and only with this,
comes the light that allows for creative change.

Just as winter is one word, but not a single experience,
our work needs to be in the deeper recesses
of the violence in our own hearts. There, and in sharing
as open and authentic as the working of streams,
we will find the way to the seeds
of violence’s opposites

and the beginnings
of a different way to be.

I am indebted to poet Sam Hamill, and his “Awakening in Buenos Aires,” which closes with the following:

“….to have come so far
to find again what I believe:
how things—slowly,
but inevitably—can change,
and how our hearts
and this world can, at last, be made.”

Friday, December 14, 2012

More from October

October poems-2012

Beyond the window,

evening chill settles,
outside darkness
reflects the lighted room,

and the moon, 

reaching for fullness, lingers
high above the roof top,
as unseen as tomorrow’s faces,

yet to be known
and yet as readily recognizable
as our own.


Su Tung Po lived on East Slope,
looking west, just as I do.  

He took his name from that slope,
but I’ll stick with my own, Gummo,

and imagine that he too
sat among the many weeds

setting summer suns pull
from hills like these,

imagine that he too, in his time,
sat like this, looking west..

Su Tung Po is one of the Chinese ancients. His name means: Su of East Slope. “Gummo” is the name I took as a follower of Buddha’s way—it means “weeds,” a most common form of life. The wife and I have made our home on the east slope of the small valley that holds Brisbane, California.


The first of the newly hung bird feeders
gets some attention, but the second hangs lonely,
unattended, hummingbirds busy elsewhere
around the yard. Perhaps when winter comes,
unattractive offerings, such as this one,
may show different colors for those then
passing by.


Buddhist Temple of Marin

The flowers from the altar
now rest in a vase
on the kitchen counter,

of gathered beauty
spread of itself, 

friendship in worship
deepened over tea
and togetherness,

the way made concrete
on considered words,
petals transcending time and place.


Winter rains arrive
without equivocation,

arrive with little room left
for even a lifted eyebrow,

arrive in the steadied flow
of movement of time

as certainty—winter rains.


And so there are others, recognized now,
who’ve walked this way,
and breaths come less the lonely
because of it.


With the great eucalyptus down,
a constant presence
all these years,

now gone,

the curved shock of night sky opens,
the horizon’s comfortable-usual
giving way to wonder.


I woke groggy
and aching
this morning,

peered into the fog
that revealed


Elizabeth Street

Elizabeth Street in San Francisco
is one-way, runs parallel
to 24th, that somewhat upscale stretch,
there between Delores and The Castro.

It’s quiet here, sitting in the car,
under trees, looking down-slope,
with housed hills in the distance,
a block and a-half up from morning traffic.

Balding men in slacks
and short-sleeved shirts
enjoy the sunny sidewalks;
all seem to carry folded newspapers.

The most straight-forward
of explanations, if at all necessary
in the wider scope of things,
is that this is where, right here

is where life is right now,
as I wait for the store to open at ten,
right here now, where as best I can,
I watch, and listen, and try of its taste.


Freedom happens
when others
are allowed theirs. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Scattered, then found—poems
October 2012

With stars
for companions, 

what standard of measure
might one ever devise

that ever really
measures up ?


Is it that light lays on leaves
and catches, or that light is caught,
that it dapples?


Like the lightest of breaths,
held so as not to disturb,
moon beams breathe on me.


Everything this morning speaks of space
—the gray sky swept aside for blue, the moon
rests high, showing just  a sliver;

clustered crows, barking dogs,
allow only echo; even curbside grasses
give way to beige.



Young, bright,
not overly certain,

eyes like sky
radiate promise

that fills all that befalls
their gaze.


For the grand daughter, Kawayan

Only twenty-four
hours past its fullest face,
the moon begins to “melt.”

I suppose this is
Indian Summer—long heat
over shortened days,

windows kept open
through silver-tinged darkness,
the kind of light

that shimmers
on high mountain juniper
that grow out of rocks

that glow like you do,
even as we speak
of the moon.


Out of the clamor
and confusion,

Buddha’s Name




Leaves, browned and fallen,
pack along the streets like doormats
thrown outside to be washed
in first winter rains.

But for now, still summer,
an invisible sun streaks breaking clouds
in soft pink, turns the tallest eucalyptus 
to shadowy, swaying silhouettes.


Orion is directly overhead
this morning—what direction
is that, Heaven ?

A dead mouse
on the shadowed walk
is really a leaf, parched and curled.

That adult over there
is my child, is loved, loves
and is torn—you’d think

that would be enough
to find the way from here.
You’d think.


Preparing for the service
with the old folks,

reading the poems of Ryokan,

if he’ll warm their hearts
as he has mine.


Shadows play, breezes weave,
through grasses dancing
with flowers.


My religion

From the street side
         of the courtyard fence,

beyond the flowering shrubs,
         in lifting fog,

children’s voices pass
         through the lingering mists,

pulled by a bell—


She don’t bite, he said,
and neither do I; but how
were we to know ?

Monday, October 1, 2012

September 2012

September Poems

I think of recluse masters a century away,
I nurture your secrets. Your true nature

eludes me here, but taken by quiet, I can
linger this exquisite moon on out to the end.

                                            T’ao Ch’ien

Preparing for my 69th in the Sierra,
Freemont Lake at 8,000 feet

Leaning against the rocks,
wondering at the movement of the years
and the certainties gathered here—ablutions

on a bouldered slope, chanting in trees
in the coming dark, in the unfolding entirety
of the life I’ve known as my own.

I write, but poems don’t find the page. So I listen
for the wind, for trees turning to shadow, for the stars
to signal of sky life

as clearly as I hear the waters 
on the shores of this lake.
And they come,

one, then another, and another
of that silence so ancient, so subtle
that time can’t capture, nor distance determine

the closeness so thorough
as only a poem
can know.

And I’m here, so I write, in the headlamp’s light.
As a breeze from the lake lifts the edge of the page,
I’m here, so I write.


Day three

We hike the lake’s perimeter today,
first the overlooking outcrops,
nearly a thousand feet above,
then descend

to slow-walk, explore and fish.
As we rest in the shade, from among the pines
on the other side, an aspen waves,
its yellow wave.


Evening prayers

Clouds streak pink,
westward peaks shadow,
the lake grown still

and soundless—we speak
of the sacred, of the day, of early departure,
then slip into our bags for the night—

on a scrape of rock, aside a mountain lake,
in a sea of slow-turning stars.


I’ve learned much from the scholars,
and stand indebted as such, but it’s been the poets
who’ve taught me to watch

the misted push of ocean air
along this drift of ridge, through the window
of the place we’ve together built and call home.


Morning comes gray
with heavy fog,
Saturday sounds
from the street out front.

Sluggish, as well as
the usual foolish,
I pad around bare-foot,
looking for my favorite cup.

To write something new,
or prepare a few of the old
for the world at large—indecision,
that old friend

suggests both.
So here I sit, over a cup of coffee,
celebrating sixty-nine years
with a song.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

August 2012

August  2012

The sleep of old age is heavy,
it lingers, holds on, even as there seems
never quite enough of it,
or so it’s been for me of late.

Except for those dark mornings of course,
the only alternative to rise before day break,
walk those slow breathing hills
that accept any careful step,

of any age,
and offer back a bedrock peace
that carries as weightless
as lingering starlight.


Six days in the Trinity Alps

Upper South Fork Lake

In first morning light, he slowly skirts
its western perimeter, surface
so placid it captures the entirety
of the tree-studded cirque

to the tiniest detail—I know
there’s only one of him, walking carefully
along the edge, yet I can’t decide
which one to watch.


Mavis Lake

The rocks hold their place
in sun and shade alike, tall pines
whisper or rush, breeze or wind,
either conversation enough.

And we sit and wait for shadows
and for the fish to find the surface, ripples
lipping stories of cloud-filled skies.
Later, we’ll walk back.


Fox Creek Lake is home
to fish, many fish, who eat  
only what the lake serves up.


Since we have a signal, I’m photographed
by phone, which sends the photo to the wives, via
the net—place, date and elevation.

All the while, I write poems of this place and time,
will carry them with me from this elevation, to everywhere
I’ll ever go, signal or no.


The young eagle sits on the limb,
looking down on the lake,
like us…given enough time,
it too will leave.


We have a plan,
hatched over two
servings of soup.
There was a bite.

Wait for the sun
to fall behind
the ridge, shadow
the waiting lake.

Try once again,
leaving dinner
to figure itself—
after brandy.


A poem’s worth

As if in response to the unarguable purpose of solitary song,
the setting sun suddenly illumines the lake’s eastern shore,

lifts the rising pines in witness
to the slow turn of summer

and the promise
of  a cloudless night.


Mavis Lake Blessing

To wake with morning’s coming,
leaving dreams behind.

To see the pines
against the sky.

To feel apart of
the closeness.


Three poems from San Luis Obispo

They call it the marine layer here,
the ocean’s push, above the costal range,
past the vine-filled valley, to the low slopes
where we sit in the last of its reach,

a graced witness, breath against the face,
shoulders warm in first sun light
and the cradled flutter, the silence
about the beat of hummingbirds’ wings.


Over too many glasses of wine, a satisfying meal,
after a long day in the hills at the edge of the ocean,
we share stories not yet told, retell ones already known,

to remember separate journeys come together
to bring us this far, to this age, to these days,
still friends, still remembered.


Before the sun finds its way
through layers of misted cool, he walks
the length of the drive to retrieve
the morning paper, while hummingbirds
breathe their blurred and flurried dance
at near-empty feeders,

taking all that’s offered there.

Home is what it is, implicit in time and place,
in the varied contexts of need and desire,
a web, the stretch and reach of intention
and remembrance, a resonance as nuanced
as the glance of rustled movement
from another room,

as the crunch of gravel under a foot,
a well-known path in the echo of early morning.



Artless, the laying down
on the page
of words of the day
turned awake of its own,

its time unfurled in those
in turn concerned
to make of the day
what it of itself would make.

Mid July

Mid July, 2012--poems

Where we stand

They stood and talked, working
their way to present circumstance,
two friends, catching up

in the whispered shift of light
that clicked in him, a place
just so, and he saw—

there it was, he thought, here it is,
given, as lived.

And with no further fanfare,
the ancients and their way
seemed no longer so distant.


A hundred more
and they’ll look back
on us…



The light at eight in the evening
in the garden seems the same
as at the earlier eight.

The sky. The quiet.


Where we stand--# 2

An old friend and teacher once said,
we must remember our original intention,

and I took this, as delivered, in a religious sense,
as such well enough, but the religious then

was for me so narrow  
as to preclude my truest motivation.

Spoken or recognized or not, 
the urge to first-person choice, the breakaway move

toward fulfillment, that self-conscious clarity and vision
from which all else follows—for me, was you

and all we’ve together built
and continue to build, as life speaks—

     The voice of peace of mind is response
     to the inner call that never fails,

     never interferes
     except to never relent.

     Eventual convergence, the healing rule,
     tide-like guidance of all into place

     in the greater turn
     and shifting embrace.


Haiku workshop

To witness, to set
the circumstance, so those who
don’t, who think they can’t,
see by doing that they can
do, with style, grace and insight.


Pacific Seminar 2012

The tree is still there,
the one in front of Starbucks
on Shattuck, south and west of the campus.

Berkeley, under high grey skies,
the morning chill fresh against the chest,
a few block’s walk from the center,

still there, all these how many years

since having wandered and found
an early morning cup
and sat and wondered the fate

of that scraggly street specimen
now arching some twelve feet or so
over the side walk,

still there,

so one might stand under
and look up and in
to this living canopy of green.



Like marrow,
unseen, except for you,
unheard but for your name.


We worked into the night,
each to our tasks,
to close the day together

in that fullness
of having nothing left,
of having given all,

to having given in—
that waiting ease,


The question

She spoke it for him, when he asked of her parents,
the unspoken riding the edge of carefully chosen words.
Knowingly, she’d nudged it, her answer turning to fruition
that normally taken as loss.

She didn’t say passed, did not use gone,
but said with a smile instead, completed, this life,
for them, completed.

And this morning, weeks later, it tipped
again, for him—that gnawing sense
of incompleteness—illumined.

Of course.


For Kiyo

Forgotten promise,
rising out of the tangle
of words—a friend’s name.


Sometimes only a whisper

but this morning, the sky waits,
hesitant patches of pale blue, high
out of the way of the blustery busyness
of ocean-sent winds,

the chimes, the great eucalyptus,
distant pines, grasses and fogs,  all aswirl
on the surging tides
of earth’s great breaths,

indigenous carriers of wonder.


I traveled once to Japan to see
the places my teachers had lived,

where their words might have been heard
by passers-by who had seen their eyes,

who’d measured too their human worth
over scattered snatches of breaths

shared along the trails and roadways,
beside the rush of rivers and

under shaded canopies of
cicada-filled trees—one pale face

adrift, a few pebbled handfuls
of the native tongue, specific

destinations, unobtrusive
as possible, yet taken in, turned right

at every pause and stop.
My teachers wrote often of gratitude.

Its sustaining power, its taste,
how it lingers, how it holds true

even in the tangled scratches, the marks of a life 
carefully lifted and placed on the page.

The freely given gratefully returned
to a world so much in need of it.

Toward Summer

Through the thatch of bamboo,
a stuttered flash of spinning chimes.


Even dim light casts shadows,
the attentive ear hears the faintest shuffle 

and peace rests in the details
of the daily life

of those who take the time
without asking more.


It has its way with me, well before day’s turn, the moon,
pushing light through stained-glass, scatters

broken colors, dark’s dreams, across waking tides,
and I rise

in the secret air of first bird calls.

There’s no question of earth’s place at this time
of aloneness, as all and every wait

their proper turn in the palpable presence
of rightness—yes, it is this

that carries the entirety to fruition.


The slightest suggestion across the feathered breast
moves the world in ways unplanned, unsuspecting beings

we are, recording minutia of living-dying, what it is,
every nuance encoded exactness, passed on

to rise or not, occasion to occasion—hints on the wind
may alter our direction, influence how we go

about it, but make no mistake,
move to move, we choose.


The cabin at Calistoga

Before the birds, leaves stir, the branches
nearest the screen door, slow sunlight

follows retreating chill—not a whisper.
The door’s ajar, the key dangles its fob,

occasional cars, shrouded in distance,
place us safe, unseen,

together breathing.


For Nanao

I’m here, so I write,
here, thus I chant

and let this body-voice
chant me

welling tears—this moment
enough, each moment the point.


A refrain
returns to

So listen
well, listen
for refrain.

For refrain’s
home, calls you
back. Answer.


Waking early, with gout…

the displeasing wrongness
of it all so pervasive even dreams
message throughout the night

till morning still in darkness,
to wake with pain and wounded spirit
even as day has just begun

that floundering 
the slide of desperation,
at best lingering sadness—unless

until recognition,
recognition of limitedness,
of itself the unlimited recognized

as point of demarcation, horizon
of the truth of our living met
with working wisdom

a lighted point
of what’s true and what’s real:

that point where the poem is.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Splashes in the stream

To study dharma
is to study the self, as it comes,
as it goes.

If she’s not herself,
then who am I—all alone,
the wife’s really sick.


The hummingbird darts
in and out, a brief visit—
flowers along the rail.


She asks for something cold. I get it,
worrying that my coffee
will cool.


White and gray cumulous re-gather,
                  chasing the blue
                          that chased them away.


Old friends, the monk
and the minister huddle in conversation
over current medications.


The wife in the hospital,
I sleep on her side,
use her pillow—in the silence.


Late night—the wife in the hospital,
waiting procedures—and I at play

with vows

or is it prayers or deals
or offerings to stem the tide?


Amidst the swirl
of un-answerables,
the smallest next step,
pronounced aloud,
pulls the foot forward—
the only certainty.


Having no idea what day it is,
I work the numbers back and forth, 
hoping to reclaim the present
with a name—


The nembutsu spirit…

It’s movement, movement
through familiar terrain
that smoothes the tangled tasks
of new challenge
with the taste of readiness.

Forcing myself out of bed
at the regular hour, to stretch,
to the street and curve and climb,
the distant bay
in thoughtless periphery.

Each step littered
with accrued anxiety discarded
of itself, self-patterned breaths
tracing true the sound of the real
way home,

sitting, lying down, walking,



The pine stands its own
against the distant back drop
of gray, the great eucalyptus too,
and the tall palm. All quiet,

quite dignified in their place,
while I who barely merit a silhouette,
seem somehow to believe
it is I who tower…


To wonder
if one has
yet to live.

I wonder,
is this
a question

for concern,
of regret,

or renewal?
I mean, I ask
and having asked,

looking now
to the sky—
what a wonder!



Looking out at the morning hills, as we often do.
The rise most near lifts pale green grasses
into cloudless skies, the downward slope to the north
and west, revealing the distant ridgeline
that overlooks canyons not visible from here.

Varied shades of spring green, peppered with the light
colored faces of the houses of this small community.
The great eucalyptus that leans to the corner
of the window, the porch railing, quivering ornaments.
The blanket covering my legs. The warmth.

And on the table, the large burnished vase,
full with multi-colored flowers,
sending signals of wishes
for a quick recovery.


And through the door,
the many containers, warmed
with the heft and sustenance
of love.

May Day

May Day,
clear and
dreams of

of point,
of what
it adds,
let go

It says,
it says,
look here,
what is
is peace.


Early, this morning, rising early,
on the streets, in the hills
before the touch of the sun, before
the birds overhead begin

their throated reverie,
silent sentinels, lined and listening,
the passing stranger
wandering below,

for the slightest signal
of the day’s first call
to song.


Deep Mind

Certain truths
simply sink in over time
so thorough that question
has no where to stand,

affirmation dances loose
as a scented petal, and
efforts to ignore or to discard
resonate ever more deeply.


You don’t have to close this door
just because you open
that one.


The moon, nearly full,
passed by the window last night,
so quiet its work,

washing dark’s dust clean away,
even gout’s throbbing
could be heard.


It’s like this…

like everything’s already there,
yet differently heard,

like a familiar stream in deep forests
that you know is there

delights each time with a different voice—
you know it by its surprise…


It suddenly dawns on us:
we’re going to doctors’ appointments,
together !


Sandino David
May 7, 2012

Everywhere is home
for the sage, everyone family.
But for me, there are certain places
where rest comes easiest

and this tiny, early arrival speaks
to me, as only my grandchildren can.
Too early for us to even touch,
still he shakes me—while my son,

his father, wills the earth to steady,
the air around him trembles
as he looks at his wife, and I
reach for my own.

Though they say,
anywhere can be home.


It’s like this…

like sunshine over wind-blown grasses

single-minded practice reaches
the deepest recesses

the silent presence of Buddha
spreads everywhere

namuamidabutsu, namuamidabutsu


The change

The dream was more deep-throated moan
than cry, the weighted change of recognition

rather than decision, the slow, scraping halt
itself implied transition forward

inarticulate, yet specific, message
carried complete

—the arrow’s own movement—

no longer a matter of what to do,
but what’s happening here

plans and calculations jettisoned
in the wake of open wonder

in clear and unhindered skies 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Well into April, 2012

Of light

Let this then, meager as it is,

at least begin to approach

appropriate praise:

It plays, it lays, it bounces and beams,

it warms and glows, grays and dims, and dazzles,

it glitters, sparkles, drenches, and it shines,

it blinds and awakens.

It permeates, it penetrates and it presences

—it announces the absence of darkness,

whispers discernment of shadow and shade,

reveals every nuance of color and depth.

It informs as it knows, spreads in itself

and sustains in its touch—its songs are in tongues

as varied as weeds, and its voice is as silent

as the enlightenment it shares.


Well, it could be said, many things might,

but to no real end except

the unraveled meaninglessness,

whereat joy is somehow unwrapped

as foundation—what then, really,

is there to say?


So easy here…

with a few strokes

I could produce a rooster.

I mean, who would know?

They were plentiful

in Philippine mornings

like this, dark, rising early

to remind us of things

needing doing soon! And so,

why not—I‘ve heard one here

time to time, fleeting.

A gesture, almost,

here, where things

are not as pressing, perhaps…

and so, we still sleep.


The third month of the new year

has slipped clean away

and we find ourselves early in spring,

in the wake of so much

already underway, so much looming,

all somehow so sudden, yet simply

ongoing movements

of not so hidden currents

in the shifting tides of earth energies

awash in the sway of the heavens.

Here, where we stand,

that lean and tilt

toward extending light.

That’s it.

Do you see?


Unhurried hands, slow strokes,

peel the carrots clean

to peace of mind.


Fog lingers in pines

already heavy with rains

—much loved company.


All day, all night, rain.

In the pause of first light,

the birdfeeder sways.


Finally, a hummingbird

at the feeder—it’s empty.


So sharp the blue

above the green

hills alive

with blossoms and buds.

Hidden cocoons.

Between here and there

only steps

not yet taken.


Hard-blown sunbeams

fold and dapple in light

covering itself.


Were we attentive enough,

we might hear;

but we can still follow

the fulsome sphere

of the waning moon descend

below the horizon,

only to leave rising silver

quiver its goodbye

to dimming stars.



in the gentle pull of attention—

rain slow to drips, hanging things sway,

anticipation settle, soft rivulets

run their course to doubt relieved, body

and mind return cleansed

of all but trust, native, blood-carried words

broken free into breath

to find their own way.


Where philosophy falls short…

after a long night and slow morning,

leaving my wife resting, recuperating,

I turn to the ancient poets

before preparations

for the day’s many tasks,

seeing in their lives and concerns

the mirror of my own,

the sweet sorrowed treasures

of tradition that reluctantly savors

the honeyed milk, the many and beloved

shortcomings of our shared humanity.