I received the invitation today, but I won’t be attending. I’m not inclined to RSVP, for that will only drive home the fact that I couldn’t afford to attend. They have to know this, and if they don’t, well… That really is their problem. My mother said you should always RSVP, yes or no, but she’s been dead two years, never said she’d attend anything again. And anyway I still believe the rule doesn’t apply to any invitation addressed to Current Resident
As a child, a Jewish child no less,
December was always a bit difficult.
We had Channukah, which no Jew
would dare claim grew solely to compete
with Christmas, although we all knew
that was precisely what had happened.
The problem was Christmas, but had
nothing to do with Jesus, or the church
or even its historical teachings about
the supposed role we Jews played
in that story, a role for which we
had been paying for two millennia.
The problem was far more basic,
and all you needed to do was drive
down virtually any street in any city
and it would be at once apparent.
Christmas-celebrating homes were decked
out in all colors of lights, while
Jewish homes, those few who competed,
were left with a palate of white
and blue, or up to nine candles,
and that was a guaranteed for sure
last place finish in the December game.
I have lived many lives,
too many to count, and I
remember bits and pieces
of each, but not necessarily
to which life this bit
or that bit should attach.
It is why I run them
together, view them
as a singularity, easier
to cope even when I
know it is a nice delusion.
I do wonder, at the moment
of death if each life will
flash by in turn, countless
short films, or if the gods
will go along with my
delusion, or maybe just
say time’s up, lights off.
I wrote down the biggest
mistakes I made in life
on the backs of newly fallen
maple leaves, and carried them,
a fair number, to the river.
I cast them onto the water,
some quickly swept up,
a few lingering on a fallen
tree partially damming
the flow, waiting for this.
Most disappeared as
the water approached
the falls, cascaded over
on its way to the waiting lake
and then to a place unknown.
This was an act of catharsis,
for the maple, if not for me,
a freedom, not to bear
the burden of impending winter,
frozen still with regrets.
Apple Snail shell
bleached by the sun, empty
happy Snail Kite
Great Egret sitting still
waiting, simply waiting
then flying off
staring into the distance
Pig frog croaking
but the moon will not answer
we fall asleep
A phone call, a lawyer’s clerk:
Can you tell me about Lisa Landesman?
I pause for that is a name I have
not heard in forty years, save
in a poem I once wrote,
now long forgotten.
She was my sister for two
or three weeks, adopted like I was,
and then Mike, my then father
dropped dead of a massive
heart attack and she was soon gone.
We were Federal adoptions, our
birthplace under Federal law, not
getting its own for two decades,
and her adoption wasn’t final so she
was re-placed and never replaced.
She won’t inherit as I will from
my cousin who died having no
siblings, spouse, children,
nieces or nephews, who left
no will, who left only kind memories.
She is large, and largely immobile
and occupies the bench by the road
that encircles the property like a noose.
She does this each day, a crust
or more of stale bread tucked away
in a pocket of her always floral
housedress that envelopes her
and the bench she occupies
as a monarch on her throne.
The ibis see her coming and gather
at her feet like acolytes awaiting
words from their sage and goddess.
She doesn’t disappoint them, telling
them a tidbit of the world, more often
who was taken sick overnight, who
died yesterday, always a shock
she says, then whispers conspiratorially,
but actually expected, of course,
for everyone here has numbered days,
and then tells them stories of her life,
real and imagined, the veil between
her truth and her fiction now diaphanous.
They grow impatient, but a good queen
reads her subjects and reaches
into the pocket pulling out the crusty
bread, smiles at her flock, says see, I bring
manna and together we cross the desert.
First Published in Chantarelle’s Notebook, March 2019
Fifteen years ago, I tell them,
I was invincible, nothing bothered me,
nothing held me back and even
the few surgeries were short
rest stops on a runner’s highway.
I knew it would last forever, I
knew I was kidding myself.
Now, aging, I am held together
by titanium and injections,
trying to fall apart with
as much grace as possible.
My little problems are now
and progressive, yet I live on
for there is no good alternative,
and hope that medicine finds
solutions before my problems
completely overtake me.
We want to cry out,
but we have no words.
We want to scream
but all we give is silence.
We want to curse the invader
but cannot be heard
over the tanks, bombs
We want to mourn
but there are so many
do we begin?
We want to act,
but we are incapable
and can offer
only silent prayer.
Bring me your mind
but leave the body behind,
this is what you must do
to attain enlightenment.
You may sit where you are
in total silence, or
you may come over here
and sit quietly at my feet.
Both paths lead
deeply into the way.
A reflection on Case 64 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo Koans (True Dharma Eye)
Stepping into the hotel, it was like being dropped into a truly alien world. Nothing shiny, no excess of glass and marble. A simple dark wooden reception desk, a clerk in black with a white vest. A bow upon approaching. Your room is simple, no internet, a single light on a small desk. A tatami mat in the corner. A hard wired phone. And you know, in the distance, the Daibutsu awaits you in the morning. Here there is no CNN International, nothing that isn’t Japanese. Your computer is essentially useless, a fax machine in the office for emergencies. And the nearest business center, sorry closed, is in the city. The Internet is coming soon, they promise . But on your morning run, as you catch your breath on the step outside the Todai-ji Daibutsu-den, a deer comes up to you and licks your face and you know this morning Daibutsu is smiling.
You want us to believe
you are small, kind creatures
sucking hungrily on the teat
We see you for who
you really are, parasites
who would suck the teat
dry until democracy
withered and died.
Some believe you,
accept you blindly
but what will they do
if you succeed, for like
any invasive species
when the host is gone
there is only mourning.
It never rained
when I visited Senso-ji
and Todai-ji Temples.
I attributed this to good
fortune, the Buddha
clearing the skies
for my visit.
The young monk
said the Buddha
for weather, so
I should thank
the Japan Meteorological
Agency although they
never seem to give
him the weather
he truly wants.