Dick Allen

Zen Dictionary
March 22, 2012 Allen Dick

Zen Dictionary


In the Zen Dictionary, intention

is a blue spoon on a white plate.

If you look up koan, you’ll find

a picture of a soldier driving a John Deere tractor

around a Japanese garden.


No etymology, no diacritical marks,

just words and Zen meanings—with disclaimers

referring you to moments.  Moments are

specks of starlight, sometimes moonlight,

notes falling from a monastery bell.


Thumb page ninety-two.  There you’ll see

work defined as blueberry muffins.

Go back a few pages.  Washing dishes

has three paragraphs that lead you toward

Benny Goodman playing rooftop clarinet.


All things conjures stirring tea.  Look up

fabric and you’ll stumble into lamplight,

lamplight leads to schadenfreude, bruised tomato, then

long metal diners.  There, Hank Williams

may still be singing on the lost highway.


Flipping pages, searching, you find meaning

indicates hop, skip, and jump.  Each noun

you try to settle on becomes a verb,

so house transforms to seek.  Each verb

becomes a noun, so spin becomes small mirror.


How glorious the adjectives!  Beautiful,

the look of Cheve tail lights heading west.

Huge in Zen is all the emptiness inside

an enso flowing right into itself.

Funny is a plastic picnic plate.


And Zen, defined?  Because the word occurs

so near the dictionary’s end, it occupies

left over space.  And what it says

is two cats sitting on a radiator looking

out a bedroom window at the snow.

Dick Allen (August 8, 1939 – December 26, 2017) served as the Connecticut State Poet Laureate and was a Buddhist who lived in a cottage near a small lake in Connecticut. An author of nine books of poetry, including Zen Master Poems (Wisdom, Inc., Summer, 2016), This Shadowy Place (Winner of the New Criterion Poetry Prize, St. Augustine’s, 2014), Present Vanishing: Poems, The Day Before: New Poems, and Ode to the Cold War: Poems New and Selected, all published by Sarabande Books. He received the Connecticut Book Award for Poetry, NEA and Ingram Merrill Poetry Writing Fellowships, a Pushcart Prize, six inclusions in The Best American Poetry volumes, and been a NBCC Finalist as well as a William Carlos Williams Poetry Prize Runner-Up for the Best American Poetry Book of the Year. Hundreds of his poems have appeared in such magazines as The New Yorker, Negative Capability, The Atlantic Monthly, Rattle, The Hudson Review, The New Republic, Poetry, The New Criterion, The Gettysburg Review, The American Scholar, Ploughshares, Boulevard, The Yale Review, The Massachusetts Review, The Georgia Review, The American Poetry Review, Agni and in numerous national poetry anthologies.   http://zenpoemszenphotosdickallen.net>