forty neon buddhas

First published in the 2010 Jack Straw Anthology, during my time as a fellow in the Jack Straw Writers Program. You can also listen to a Jack Straw podcast of me reading some of these and selected longer poems. See also 3Lights, 12 neon buddhas, my neon buddha photo haiga, Free Thinking, Gathering Rosebuds, and “The neon buddha attends his first haiku-con.”       +

A friend once asked me where the neon buddha came from. In reply, I almost said Toledo. More accurately, he’s an avatar—sometimes a surrogate for me and what I’ve done or would like to do, both ordinary and extraordinary, and sometimes an everyman who’s definitely not me. The neon buddha is also like the Travelocity garden gnome—a little naïve or overwhelmed by the world, but always game for adventure. And perhaps he’s like R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural—an underground sage who likes to have fun and can’t resist a double meaning. Or he’s like John Berryman’s “dream song” everyman Henry, sometimes too serious for his own good. I’ve written many hundreds of these haiku-like poems (perhaps similar to the Spanish greguería form), which have unfolded as a surreal sort of personal mythology.

the neon buddha

says the word over and over



neon buddha

can’t get no satisfaction

but he knows his grammar


neon buddha is

running with the deviled



he is woman

hear him roar

neon buddha


neon buddha’s finger

breaks through

the toilet paper


the neon buddha

dies again and again

in the rose garden



the neon buddha

and old it’s


the neon buddha sometimes confuses

what’s on his mind

with what’s on his head


to see what it’s like

the neon buddha licks

the Taj Mahal



to procrastinate later

neon buddha


coming to the garage

with an axe to grind

neon buddha


as luck would have it

the neon buddha’s lottery ticket

didn’t win


foreign trip

neon buddha practices saying

no way, José


neon buddha

beats his wife

at tiddlywinks


filial piety

the neon buddha

looks it up


playing second fiddle

in the Solipsist Marching Band

neon buddha


wishing everyone

a Jiminy Christmas

neon buddha


no one laughs

at his droll jokes

neon buddha


no one laughs

at his troll jokes either

neon buddha


neon buddha

on the library steps

reading between the lions

giving 110 percent

at the mathematics convention

neon buddha


neon buddha tells the waitress

she has a nice figure

of speech


checking the oil

of forgetfulness

neon buddha


the drinkability

of whatever beer that is

neon buddha


neon buddha

crazy like a fox



bear market

the neon buddha

takes a bath


traffic light

the neon buddha

plays air guitar


you know

what the last line will be

neon buddha


neon buddha thinks

that all good children

go to 7-Eleven


neon buddha asks

the comedy club stage manager

who’s on first


neon buddha wants to be

an absolute monarch



neon buddha says

it’s not just for breakfast anymore

Dos Equis


at his favourite deli

the neon buddha asks

for the super salad


neon buddha

misreads the bar sign

please wait to be sated


neon buddha says

making toast

is still cooking


last day of the year

neon buddha’s resolutions

in invisible ink



just a spoon in the road

neon buddha


the neon buddha

builds a better mouse trap

at Disneyland


bowling night

the neon buddha

strikes again


if you see

the neon buddha on the road

kill him