99th Annual Ina Coolbrith Poetry Contest (2018), 3rd Prize:



He is prepared, sometimes,

to pack his gi, 8-striped belt and cup

into his gym bag for the last time,


pass on his bo and short blade,

ninja stars and nunchuck, the sais

mounted on the dojo’s photo wall,


his sword, too, onto deserving students,

bow to the floor and walk away

from the enemy within.


Ready to retreat, though he came back

once in the second round with a sprained

wrist, bruised ribs and broken nose


to knock his opponent out

and went on to win the Gold in forms

with a kata full of powerful flare.


He’s tough, my Sensei, a fighter,

chemo slurring his speech,

dulling his kiai, the cancer slowing him


down to tai chi speed in everything,

unwrapping a straw to eat, huffing

and puffing after five push-ups.


I mean, the old man could kick you

in the head three times in the blink

of the black eye he just inflicted


with a vertical punch borrowed from kung fu,

but is as gentle as wind chimes

when there’s no need for fisticuffs.



Yes, my teacher tells me,

he’s ready to give up, sometimes,

admit defeat to those tiny attackers,



yet, the only thing to do

when the end seems near is

let fear-thought disappear and

“tiger shows its claws!”

© Dan O., included in Third Set of Teeth



The small moon rises slowly like a dilemma

I was too stupid to recognize at first.


The horizon of darkening trees

undulates like the waves of a body in desire.


The night sky, here, outside the city’s noisy halo

needs a new metaphor of light


or one borrowed from ancient times:

playground, guide, god’s inverse sieve,


surprise map that only the Chinese spotted.

I’ve come to my friend’s rural spread


to try to figure a few things out

among cow paths and cricketed grass


and the true light of real darkness

but staring into brilliant space, I get


even more confused and

I can only stay 'til Tuesday.

Dan O., copyright 2001 (from A Third Set of Teeth); appears in Better Than Starbucks, May 2018.