CITY LIGHTS

It was a Tuesday in October
or a Wednesday in March,
hard to say which, but evening.
We had taken a cab from the Hyatt
Embarcadero or the Fairmont,
it didn’t much matter,
and sat in the Chinese restaurant
on the edge of Chinatown, or
a pasta and seafood joint
in North Beach, and you said
it was a small earthquake, while I
was certain it was the waiter
who drained the half empty
wine glasses en route to the kitchen.
We walked slowly along the street
past the “World Famous Condor”
in all its tacky glory, and I said
it was the birthplace of silicon,
we had Carol Doda to thank for that
and you said I was perverted
and suggested we go across the street
to the club featuring nude dancers,
but I balked when I saw they were men.
Finally we compromised and walked
around the corner to the City Lights.
You wandered impatiently around
while I stood transfixed
in the poetry section, a warren
of shelves, a ladder on wheels
and corners, and held, almost fondled
a fresh copy of Coney Island of the Mind.
I read it slowly, a man stood
behind me shifting his weight
from foot to foot, “It’s not all that good,
adequate, but there’s Bukowski and Ginsberg.”
Without looking back, I reached for Gasoline.
“At least that’s a good choice,” he said
and in growing anger I turned
and sneered into the nose
of Lawrence Ferlinghetti.


First Published in Creative Juices, December 1998.

CAUSALITY DILEMMA

There is a reason for all things
and therefore there is a reason for this
although we cannot begin to fathom
what that reason could possibly be,
which may be reason enough,
for reason has a twisted soul —
now playful, now angry, now vengeful
in irregular turns without warnings.
The problem with seeking the reason
for things is deeply hidden, and not
as some imagine, that it is difficult; no,
the problem is that the search for the reason
has its own reason needing to be discovered
and so recursively back to the Big Bang
which still, to this day, has
the ultimate undiscovered reason.

NOUS SOMMES ICI

The question, of course, is which
is Frankenstein, which his monster
a chicken and egg problem
that invites debate, denies solution.
They say, of course, it is you –
We sent you Lafayette, never assuming
quelle catastrophe would grow from our gift.
Freedom doesn’t make you a God
but somehow you never learned that
too busy writing rules for the rest of us to ignore.
Quite to the contrary, we say,
we sacrifice mightily to redeem you,
buried our own dreams to build
a foundation for yours, twice, and you
repay us not with the gratitude
we so deeply deserve from you,
but with derision, and that, only
if you are feeling beneficent. You are
the epitome of arrogance we each say
and we know that it is the glue that binds us.

MISTAKE IN SPEAKING 無門關 三十九

When you speak the words
of the Buddha you are lost.
Light is everywhere in silence
but the tongue must hide
in the dark of the mouth.

Buddha’s words are flowers
unfolding in the dawn
by the side of the still pond,
the eyes hear the song
and respond in silent chorus.


A reflection on case 39 of the Mumonkan (The Gateless Gate)

SLOW STREAM

The river that I imagined,
a torrent of words and images
is little more than a dry trickle,
construction cranes along one shore
hauling away half- and ill-formed thoughts,
leaving only desire and frustration
as a marker of what might have been.
I looked at each bend, hidden from sight
as harboring that epiphany
that I promised myself, and not
further evidence of my own delusion.
We will make port this afternoon
Where I can, at last, offload
my frustration and these shards
of a fantasy now gone to dust.

TONGUES

Ninety-six years ago today
Women gained the right to vote.
It would be another five
before those who preceded
the lot of us were blessed with citizenship,
the least we could offer, after
our prior gifts of disease,
alcoholism and down sizing.
Who, our forebears must have imagined,
wouldn’t want to live somewhere
they had a reservation in their name
we had given them, their land
taken with their language,
no longer useful in our shared world.
The King of France allowed
only the Jews to be moneylenders,
reserved space in each town for us as well,
for which we are still told
we should be thankful, but
you have no idea how to say so in Navajo.

PHOTO

Oddly I have a photo
of my grandmother’s grave,
but not one of my mothers,
either of them actually, and
we’ve yet to have a funeral
for the one who raised me.
I forgive the one who gave me life,
for she gave me to one she felt
could care for me well and
she slipped away into death
before I found out her name.
I do have a college yearbook
photo of her, and that will
have to do every day, and
especially on Sunday when she
will have been lying
in the soil of West Virginia
for sixteen years, and I will
be mourning her passing for four.