Walking Is the First Meditation
Mornings the air is softer quiet by comparison.
The city whoosh/roar/rattle/honk not yet geared up.
On the sidewalk, slugs and snails cross the phosphorescent
trails of earlier travelers while in a patch of still-wet grass,
a lone cicada twitches his wings, resting or dying.
Two pink-washed worms float side-by-side
stranded above ground—caught in the sprinkler’s tide
ebbing now, too late for anything more
than the line of ants making its way toward them.
These are residential streets where gardeners and workmen
tend needs of invisible people. Where squirrel chases
squirrel in tight circles up tree trunks, out on limbs,
and leaping from branch to fence to ground,
stops just long enough to bend down buds worth eating
before beginning again.
Where half-hearted barks float through morning-glory drapes
over wisteria-fall walls between tall leafy hedges
or wind-break yews like hellos (almost friendly)
unlike these dogs come dusk, serious then,
deep-voiced and territorial.
The road dips, water pools— crows bathe and call,
crowd on nearby branches like dark ornaments,
preening themselves with throaty churrs
and touching beaks as though kissing.
Once last winter their birdbath froze over, panes of ice
a half-inch thick, but there was no one to show it to
and who’d believe Los Angeles ever got so cold.
Here, the windfalls: lemons, oranges, sycamore balls
bursting into fluff, sweet gum spikes
(like tiny maces, hard as ball bearings),
camphor leaves that on this block fall in spring,
making slippery walks.
Soon there’ll be berries, figs, Japanese plums
and the blossoms of ornamentals not listed in any book—
designer-mades exploding in white, showy pink
or near-purple fruitless excellence.
Here, too, finches find never-noticed crevices
in the double-metal street signs, appearing
grass in beak, pensive, furtive
before disappearing in plain sight,
while above me rustling the canopy,
a colony of noisy, flitty birds
reaches its shrill crescendo, drowning out
the three-note song of a mocking bird
that’s trilled all day and all night
as if it had never before been sung.
Loud white/green flashes past resolves
into quarrel, into cockatoo and parrot
alighting in a leafless tree.
A man and young boys in Orthodox black
stop beside me then two joggers and more—
t-shirts and shorts among those
who’ve always walked to synagogue in suit, fur hat,
shawl or black-striped satin-silk jacket—
all of us looking up, suddenly talkative.
The man’s wide-brim Borsalino tilts back as he points:
“That one’s lived in the neighborhood for years;
sometimes leads a flock of black birds but the green one’s new.”
A boy pipes up: “Yeah,
since it started to come around, they’re always squawking.”
“Are they,” his father smiles, “I didn’t know that.”
Nodding, we take our leave,
strangers who have come to a place
outside ourselves under common skies.
I’m alone again, zigging around
pansy flats laid out for planting, zagging
as a crow floats down to work the dug-up dirt.
Another, slightly smaller, follows,
glides in and waits. Then, beaks open, throats ripple
and I stand amazed that any bird
would or could feed full-fledged young,
care for offspring already able to fly on their own.
How like us—
though no one would call that
caring in a bird;
but then again no one would call me
an intimate of air— and they’d be wrong.
(Title from: The Practice of the Wild by Gary Snyder, quoting a Buddhist monk)