Because he’s read about it in a book on Zen
and there were lilies-of-the-valley on the table
in a thin white vase, he took the morning
to look at them and only them, to concentrate
all his attention on the lilies-of-the-valley.

Sick of politics, society, and war, he wanted only Zen
answers to the universe. Where but a kitchen table
could be a better place to start? Where but a morning
splashed with paradoxes and absurdities? Concentrate.
There’s nothing in the world but lilies-of-the-valley.

Each bell-blossom on the stem is Zen,
he thought, and the three that fell upon the table,
also Zen—as is this entire morning,
the way the seconds and the minutes concentrate
and separate, like lilies-of-the-valley.

Puns flashed across his mind: Now and Zen,
Zen Commandments. Mice and Zen. Elbows on the table,
head in hands, he scarcely moved all morning,
images distilled, dissolving like a concentrate,
eyes focused solely on the lilies-of-the-valley.

Suspended in its bubble made of Zen
the sun cast flower-shadows on the table.
An old refrigerator hummed away the morning,
as if it, too, had vowed to concentrate
on being and not being lilies-of-the-valley.

And politics went on, and war, society, and Zen
kept leaping on and leaping off the table,
like a cat let loose will leap into the morning,
but then start stalking, focused, and will concentrate
on anything that moves among the lilies-of-the-valley.

“What is, I guess. I guess what’s not is Zen,
perhaps,” he whispered to himself. “There is a table
and there’s not a table. Neither. Both.” The April morning
kept on floating in Time’s concentrate,
and lovely, lovely were the lilies-of-the-valley.

From This Shadowy Place: Poems, by Dick Allen. South Bend, Ind.: St. Augustine’s Press, 2014. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

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