I really want you to come

October 28th, 2014


Sunday Morning

By Bobby Byrd

Two old guys walk single file
Slowly and wordlessly around a room.
A white curtain filters the sunshine.
Outside is the hot desert sun.

The two men are shoeless. The smaller,
the guy in front, is limping because
40 years ago in Vietnam a kid in black pajamas
shot him in the head and almost killed him.

The other guy dodged that war,
lived in the mountains, lived in the city,
wife and three kids, drank a lot,
wrote some poems. A candle flickers,

incense burns. The floor is clean
because these two men cleaned it.
Three others were here but they left.
The man in front slaps two wooden

clappers together. The sound startles
the man behind. He takes a deep breath.
The men stop walking. The first man
lights a stick of incense and places it

in front of a statue of the Buddha.
They bow to their cushions on the floor.
They sit down cross-legged and stare
at the wall. Their legs ache. It’s been

three days now. Not much longer.
One of them is the teacher
one of them the student. It doesn’t
make much difference which is which.


I’ve been traveling some lately. I’ve been traveling enough that when I sit down in my own living room, I feel like a piece of cheap, soft-sided luggage tumbling out of the baggage claim shoot on Carrousel 4.

When I go someplace, I never know who’s going to show up. A fair number of the people I expect to show up are nowhere in sight, but the empty spots are always taken by the otherwise ordinary folks who walk through the door.

I was about to head over to Las Cruces, New Mexico earlier this month when my host asked me if I could spend a part of the visit sitting with Bobby Kankin Byrd and his sangha in El Paso. “He really wants you to come,” she said, telling me that Bobby Byrd was the “Dalai Lama of El Paso.” Meeting him, I could see why. If His Holiness is the embodiment of the great monastic lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, then Bobby Byrd is his counterpart in El Paso. He’s a rumpled guy with a head of gray stubble and a giant smile, a fellow who cares a lot about many important things but who is never more than half-serious about himself. He’s a poet, a publisher and a Zen priest, which must be the holy trinity of lost causes, especially when you do them in El Paso. He and his wife Lee are the founders of Cinco Puntos Press, a small and very independent publisher of artfully rendered and lovingly cultivated books. They treat their books like you would your children if you adored your children every minute of the day. He sits with a group of die-hards every Sunday morning in a zendo about the size of a toolshed, a magnificent toolshed I should say, in a blooming backyard. I came because he asked me to and I liked it there an awful lot. I liked the people very much.

Bobby gave me the latest book of his poems, Otherwise, My Life is Ordinary. This poem came from it. It tells you exactly why I will haul myself off to the next who-knows-where to sit with who-knows-who happens to be in the room that day. One will be the teacher and one the student. It doesn’t make much difference which is which. What matters is that we come anyway.


Poem excerpted from Otherwise, My Life is Ordinary ©2014 by Bobby Byrd. Printed with permission of Cinco Puntos Press, El Paso.



  1. I will check out his book of poems. Thank you for sitting who-knows-where with who-knows-who!

    Comment by Jane — October 28, 2014 @ 11:25 am

  2. “Tender Mercies” someone wrote. The detours and gifts on the road.!Reminds me of poem I just read the other day by Jane Hirshfield titled Each Moment a White Bull Steps Shining into the World,just accept the gift.Thank you for passing it on Karen…………

    Comment by daisy marsahll — October 28, 2014 @ 11:56 am

  3. Yes, Daisy. I’m so glad you shared the shine of the bull with me, too.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — October 28, 2014 @ 12:02 pm

  4. Maezen, my gosh, I am honored and delighted by such nice words. Indeed, we all are. Your presence in our little zendo–stuffing 18 folks inside those stone walls, brought much joy and energy to our practice. And now we have your book to keep your presence with us. Mil gracias, mil gasshos. Always dance with the mockingbirds. –Bobby Kankin

    Comment by Bobby Byrd — October 28, 2014 @ 12:22 pm

  5. Jane, I think you know very well who-is-who and I bow to you before taking my seat.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — October 28, 2014 @ 12:39 pm

  6. Hi Maezen,

    I needed something that would make me sit and this is it. Thanks to you and to Mr. Byrd. XOXO

    Comment by Clare — October 29, 2014 @ 7:13 am

  7. Thank you for sharing, Maezen.

    Comment by Meg — November 2, 2014 @ 6:12 pm

  8. I bought ‘Otherwise, My Life is Ordinary’ after reading this poem and the blog post, and it’s already made me chuckle with glee, like the best poetry does. So thank you, Karen (and Bobby!).


    Comment by Huw — November 14, 2014 @ 12:16 pm

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