Grade A: Bhikkhu

Written in Albuquerque (Mesa SE), March 2002:  addressed to Tani Arness.  I shouldn’t go to poetry readings while depressed, but I wanted to hear Tani, and it was worth it.  A bhikkhu is a Buddhist monk, and the middle stanza describes a Sri Lankan monk named Paramananda, shown doing walking mindfulness in an episode of “The Long Search” I used to show in my religion classes.  I think he’s here to point out the contrast between his perfect peace and my perfect lack of it that night.  Published in my books The Closed Shrine and Wings of the Gray Moon.


for Tani


My eyes aren’t strong for a gathering of strangers,

they don’t know whether to cry or see.

My hair’s been in a foreign element

and doesn’t do the correct careless thing.

My clothing’s evidently from the edge,

hard to say the edge of what:  somewhere

accessible to indigence or pageant.

Everyone I’m introduced to will have questions of me,

not spoken questions.  Their faces

belong on their heads.  I can’t think how they do that.

I become so slight it takes me ten minutes

to get from one table to another.

When I sit, I have nowhere to put my hands.


There is an old bald man who walks barefooted

up and down a thin dirt track

and he has almost-shut recessed eyes

and a net of calm wrinkles on his taut skull.


And you go up to the lectern to read,

only person in this room I know,

and you say “I find myself thinking more and more

about individual words,” and now I’m

hungry and fed with smiling.