Question: what is air if not
the means by which we

see and feel? Sound creates only
itself, another version of the original

sense. I move from shadows to a deeper
darkness, hoping to find that point where absence
ends. But there is no end, only

continuation, a cry for those
who offer their hands in ambiguity. Sometimes
a cardinal’s call fills our

morning with questions. So
little of all we touch
is felt. We are the air. The air is.



Another poem from the 80s. I was obsessed with birds even back then…

24 thoughts on “Cardinal

  1. “Sometimes a cardinal’s call fills our morning with questions…”: the cardinals I hear all make a call that kind of sounds like “trEE-top! trEE-top!”. So whatever questions they are filling the morning with… the answer is “tree top”.

    It is interesting that you connect birds with questions. In Soto Zen Buddhism it is considered possible to be enlightened by hearing a single sound, making it possible to bypass “rational” thought into the Great Silence of Knowing. Zen also has the koan, a conventionally impossible to answer question. Given these facts, maybe the cardinal is a hidden Zen master nudging us towards enlightenment, as the cardinal is also considered an avatar for deceased relations and/or relatives to visit us with reassurance that things are OK. Cardinals, Zen, the spirit realm, your poems… Jung’s spiritus mundi seems as present as always…

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  2. People always seek great deep meanings in things without stopping to consider the value of ‘face value’ itself: not superficiality per se, but simplicity. Thus, “mountains are not mountains, but rather symbols of the deeper…” blah blah blah. Then when one spends years of struggling in vain to find “the” answer to everything, they give up and just sit in he knowledge that the mountains (in and of themselves) exist as themselves, with a power of economy and directness that seems to reach deep into Life. Then “mountains are just mountains” and we stop adding/judging/valuing/interpreting as a way of Being. Beyond that, Being is present and mountains are present, and chihuahuas are present, and one can find amazing presence in the simple act of consuming a bowl of sopa de lima.

    Life is the great et cetera…

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    • It took me many years to really appreciate simplicity. I was drawn to it, but didn’t truly appreciate it until I discovered the beauty in a simple dish prepared well, or a few notes of music interspersed with silence, or the smell of oak leaves in a light drizzle, or the black vulture etching the sky overhead…

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      • If you were drawn to it then you already were appreciating it. No one is drawn to a thing with it being within. There is a difference between deprecation and denigration, and those who appreciate simplicity are easily identified prima facie as such… notice how you stated “years to really appreciate simplicity”? You spent years already in a state of appreciation only to have it deepened or refined. I would then bet large sums of money you had already “truly” appreciated it a long time ago!

        I think the difference is the emotional impact. I could appreciate simplicity in music, for example, in the improvisation of saxophonist Wayne Shorter, on a musical and emotional level, but such a sense blossomed overwhelmingly in various moments in Japan. The first time I heard an extended opening (nettori) to the gagaku composition known as Etenraku for example I sobbed uncontrollably. It was like the disguising fabric of Reality had been suddenly torn away and there was the blinding light of Amaterasu o-Mikami lovingly sterilizing all before it. A simple turn of a phrase on the ryuteki, the holy whining of the hichiriki, very little occurring in the music, yet it seemed like the very workings of the universe’s engine were sounding silently between the notes in that one place! MASSIVE emotional impact… on an aesthetic/neurological system that was preordained to receive it all.

        In another instance I experienced a state of DRC (dream-reality confusion) during a marathon music session. I was so exhausted I had moments where I could not tell if I was dreaming or it was real life. Not psychotic DRC, but the kind often induced by master musicians in their students to crack open the wellsprings of divine inspiration for their art-form. One legendary East Indian musician had his hair tied in a braid and knotted into a brass ring over his head, which kept him in a perfectly balanced sitting posture on the floor so he couldn’t slump over into sleep while practicing (his father checked in on him occasional to make sure he didn’t fall asleep and/or to feed him, let him get up to go to the bathroom, etc). It would seem like torture to Westerners, but the kid was so passionate about the tabla drums that he bore with it and is now considered one the great legendary masters of all time (thanks to the deep levels of concentration and contemplation he achieved while moving in and out of DRC).

        These are extremes of course, but I don’t doubt for a second that there are even deeper levels of appreciation already within you just waiting to be unlocked by whatever means you think are necessary or possible. Thus, I think you pursuing those two most amazing of arts, poetry and the shakuhachi, means you will go REAAALLY deep into the power of simplicity in ways that will make you think what you are feeling and doing right now is a minor skipping across the surface of simplicity! Besides, you have a fantastic heritage: iron willed German-ness, mixed with subtle and brilliant Japanese-ness and your ‘can-do’ American spirit?
        No wonder you are ein lebendiger Schatz!

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  3. There is a legend with regards to the cardinal…first learned of it from a dear friend who flies far above them now. But I’ve never heard one relay the legend with respect to a sense of self, past or otherwise. My heart thinks we should. Has one ever reported having glimpsed one in the mirror? Probably not…but, surely, it’s for the reason of having never looked for one there.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Abstractions risk offense.

    And, certainly, my mind works in maybe the weirdest of ways…so, said risk is a constant for which I try to prepare the accounting. I fail regularly. I could perhaps be the most guilty of this shortsightedness among anyone on earth. Maybe even the galaxy. But today is today and earth is earth, so this’s where I’ll resign to gravity. I will say I’ve been tormented, in the background since waking to your response–even as my girls snickered and careened down the halls of the local mall on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, dragging me behind them into every store a Texas-bred man might otherwise be too ant-crawlingly insecure to be discovered in. But the bottom-line is, even lacking the Supreme Court of Coruscant, I would never want to be judged by either native or alien royalty for having offended a friend, let alone a stranger, on our impossibly small world or otherwise. My girls were confined by a prescribed budget…so I merely had to follow, nod or smile. Meanwhile, my thoughts tore down the walls of the place…

    So, please, if your patience would permit it, suffer my explanation as it relates to the cardinal. My friend, as referenced in my initial comment, was much older than me. A shockingly handsome man, even in his seventies, with hair as ever-white as the north face of Pike’s. His eyes were an always calm and fatherly blue; his speech was slow, deliberate, and measured, like gravel sliding out of a beaten bucket tipped with two hands. Weather permitting, he’d saddle up his Harley Dyna Super Glide for work every Friday. And he looked at you when he spoke (a skill outsmarted by so many youth these days), which was at all times mesmerizing, on occasion intimidating. We were both accountants for a large company in San Antonio at the time. He was my senior in every plausible way: intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, in terms of raw life-experience and, as it invoked a paycheck, the science of numbers. Only an openly self-admitted fool would have forgotten to respect him. But, for me, it was more than that: he was my friend. Not instantly. But, over the years, he burrowed his way into what I knew mattered, and I grew to be grateful for who and what he was.

    Buddy, they called him, though that wasn’t his real name. I never called him that. It always seemed too loose and impersonal. So I called him Wes, a family name we had in common. A few years before I met him, he had lost his wife of 47 years. There was no mistaking that he loved her. None whatsoever. It was biblical; not in the way he legendarily recounted it, but rather in the way it Juliet-lit him. Or in the way a memory hurt him, even to the courage of tears. It was unmistakable; it could not be misinterpreted, even in the all-at-once hum of a thousand tongues. For me, I learned several shades of love just in sharing a Guinness with the man.

    But then a certain lady found him, despite how well-hidden he was in the foothills of Helotes. She was a sweet woman, and quite the grace in beauty, who never strummed an out-of-tune chord in my mind, or his for that matter as he would, in his own time, report in secret. Eventually, he invited her into his home, a gorgeous two-story cabin just north of San Antonio where Bandera Road became Texas Highway 16. What was, by far, most physically remarkable about his place is that he had the house literally built around a hundred-year-old white oak; just as soon as you entered by way of the foyer, there she was, encased in glass, all the way through the roof of the house, until she laid out her many arms to shade surely thousands of shingles from the sun. It was surreal, made more so by the fact he claimed his wife demanded that tree be preserved when the building began. Stopping there, to think by it, to wish on it, to bless it with an explainable heart, was always…ALWAYS…worth a moment of stillness and silence. To the right, a rack of stairs curled to the second floor, where you could find a house-long balcony that overlooked a you’d-have-to-have-been-there incredible vista of hill country, despite the madness of Loop 1604 being just three miles to the south. Yet, so hair-raisingly quiet. And still. I shared many a glass-bottled beer with him there. And spilled a few, too. Wes’d always laugh it off, saying the Azaleas down below could use the brew…

    One night, a cardinal Wes knew came again while I was there. Very near, the bird lighted on a tree branch not fifteen feet from where we were reclined. He flatly, out-of-nowhere, said, ‘There she is again. I just know she’s so upset with me.’ Lost to the horizon, I said, ‘What the hell are you talking about, Wes?’ And he pointed to the bird. ‘That cardinal there,’ he went on, ‘that’s my wife, shaken with jealousy.’ For starters, and in my insensitive ignorance, I strait-away replied, ‘That’s no cardinal, man.’ He turned to me, all solemnness, and taught me that the females are not solid red, the males are. I gulped my Guinness and challenged him: ‘Fair enough, you old coot. I’m no ornithologist, but what would it matter? That’s a bird so long as we’re men sitting here staring at it.’ So, suffering me (and what a great suffering it must’ve been), he went on to tell the tale of the cardinal being the sign of a loved one who wanted us to know that they missed us, were watching over us, yada, yada, and whatever else would bore the rest of us. As if supernaturally-meant to overturn his story, a red one showed up. And it was obvious from the outset that the red dude had a thing for the little brown bird with an orange beak. Wes didn’t say anything, watching. Finally, being the immense smart-ass I’m infamous for being, I said, ‘Then who’s he, man? So far as I know, birds’ve never delivered milk!’

    I’ll never forget it, Okaji. Even after I’m dead and dancing with the stars, one of my dearest, noblest friends simply said, half under his breath, ‘He’s the best parts of me.’

    And that’s what I mean by looking in the mirror. We could be haunted by far worse, my incredibly gifted friend.

    Liked by 2 people

    • This was beautifully said. I hope my brief response did not cause you too much consternation. I merely meant that I wanted to glimpse that cardinal in the mirror, or more likely for me, a mockingbird or black-chinned hummer. They are my guides and confidants. If only I could be certain they bore my best parts.

      Liked by 1 person

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