For departing friends.
A journey of a thousand miles,
Lao-tzu is supposed to have said,
begins with a single step.
But there is another translation:
A journey of a thousand miles begins beneath our feet.
It starts where we stand.
Before the first stride.
Before lifting the staff.
Each moment a journey entire;
an arduous climb to that wild mountaintop
where the universe opens about us like a great flower
and we see what supports and sustains;
bow to grass underfoot,
bow to hard-packed earth,
to concrete and broken glass,
to a gnarled weed pressing through the smallest crack,
upward from confinement,
reaching toward the sun.
For Hwalson Sunim
No need to seek mountains.
The world is generous.
Tomorrow offers a rugged trail
to the brilliant crest of Agiocochook.
This day, like most,
I labor on the slopes
of my own ignorance and vanity.
So Here I Am
On my knees
in the kitchen.
It’s 6 a.m.,
not even light,
and I’m on my knees
wiping dog shit off the floor,
kneeling, bending, wiping in silence
like a monk making prostrations.
Charley is outside.
I had no heart to yell
despite the fouled floor,
despite the late-night urgent barks
that woke me twice, at least.
He looked so sad, morose, contrite,
embarrassed at his failure of control,
I couldn’t bring myself to scold.
And really, I’m to blame.
Twice my wife got up to let him out,
but I just sternly called at him to hush,
thinking he was merely bored
or eager to assault some squirrel
who dared invade our yard.
I should have known that it was something more;
he never pesters that much late at night
once we’re all in bed.
But I was just so tired, exhausted —
weary from the day behind,
worried for the day ahead —
I didn’t think
that he might need relief.
So here I am
on my knees,
relinquishing the luxury of my shower
to complete the task at hand,
to make amends to Charley,
to erase the stain of his (and my) chagrin,
to restore his dignity
before I leave for work,
where I’ll try again
to teach my students the importance
of paying attention.
Stephen Jones lives in Detroit and teaches history at Central Michigan University. His poems have appeared in Abandon Automobile, an anthology of Detroit poets, as well as in a number of other print and online publications -- including the first issue of Buddhist Poetry Review.