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.

Farther on
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)

Brenda Yates