for John Tarrant

5:30 a.m.
downtown ghetto Richmond
winter--still dark--morning
 
I get out of the car, but gas
station attendant disappears
behind the bullet-proof
plexiglass window
as two black guys approach
high on blow…
 
The tall one wants a dollar
for gas, the fat one
a cigarette—both happily given
no sense of fear
 
The tall one goes to his truck
to write down his number
should I hear of a hauling job
(the long-shot, his desperation
to find work “anywhere, even Sacramento”
--he claims eleven children
& it’s the week before Christmas
 
Now the fat one is mumbling
& making strange hand gestures
but when I look into his gleaming eyes
there’s a presence between us
& fumbling with his hands again
he says, “I can’t express myself…”
 
I say, “you’re doing fine”
he then holds both his arms out, wide
saying, “it’s so big”
“yes,” I say, “it’s big and beyond words”
“you understand,” he says, “most people don’t understand” 
 
Then he gives me a hug
until the tall one comes back
but his pen is hollow
where once was its cartridge
so he returns to the truck.
 
The fat one says,
“I’m a fisherman too, I come from the sea”
 
“brother, we all come from the sea”
which brings him to hug me again
until the fat one returns
with wet, blue numbers
smeared
on a tatter of paper, barely legible
 
Now the fat one wants to write
his name & number, which he scrawls
studiously
as I think, “getting later & later for dokusan”
 
then realize
it’s happening
now

..........................................................................................................................................................

note: dokusan-- “the whispered teachings” between teacher and student in the formal
zen interview. This poem first appeared in the Parallax Press anthology What Book!?
Buddha Poems From Beat To Hiphop; Gary Gach, editor; foreword by Peter Coyote.
Winner American Book Award, 1999.