The ten ox-herding pictures represent stages of enlightenment in Zen Buddhism. Below is my idiosyncratic rendition and interpretation of the pictures. The art is Japanese ink-brush on paper towel. Follow this link to Tricycle  to see more traditional ox-herding pictures.


  1. searching

bitching the while away,

i sniff pasture and sky

for what i do not know

nor am.

i remember; it hides.

i forget; it pursues.

i have no choice

except always

to be leaving this desert.


  1. traces

wading these dunes

dappled with fibrous piles

of beastly residue,

my encrusted boots

bear the only sign

that i am in it already.

the stuff

is everywhere—

to my nostrils

a testimony of absence.


  1. seeing

i am spotted

by the shaggy bull’s eye,

not my dream’s mirage

(a charging buffalo)

but a granddaddy brahma bull.

he glimpses, dodges

and is gone.

i am left staring into desert space,

a drugstore cowboy,

a dude,

belly to belly with earth

and hungry

for steak and more.


  1. catching



by his two points

of horn

into a cactus-strewn

box canyon,

i lay hold

of a muscled neck

and humped back.

with rope and knot

i bulldog the beast


his very upside down.


  1. taming


elder bull,

dance you to the crackling tune

of the whip’s curling lash;

lumber to the music

of singing leather taking on wings.

open the spaces

between your very ribs,

and tune your bellowing

to the drum

of these two banging, clanging

noisy knees.


  1. riding

between the beast’s breath and mine:

no difference.

between hoof and boot:

no distance.

in this homecoming parade

there is neither

rider nor ridden,

player nor played.

all breathing is harmonica.

all stomp-and-thunder is drum.



  1. no bull

just walking

this way in the desert.

no path, no whip, no rope.

just this way

is home.



  1. no cowboy

no bull, no cowboy.

no light, no dark.

a horizon so empty

that no hand nor trace

can cling.



  1. source

a flash of desert rain:

the cactus flower springs yellow

the sage breathes purple

the rattler is bathed

in one fine hour

of liquid sun



  1. entering

in clown-patched cowboy rags

he enters the city’s circuit

of burger and dollar.

eyes do not recognize him

as he hands them

their lives

by the seat of his pants.



Originally published in Marrying & Burying.