YOU ARE CORDIALLY INVITED

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

GAME, SET, MATCH

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.

LIVES

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.

ARE YOU CRAZY?

The birds look at us as though we had two heads. They cannot, they say, comprehend how we can stand to live in boxes, to travel in metal containers, to be stuck forever to the ground. They say that food should be picked then eaten instantly, not packaged and half thrown away. They say they cannot see how we are supposedly more evolved than they, for they have the sort of freedom about which we only talk endlessly. But most of all, and saddest of all, we know they pity us as we pity ourselves.

SEIJO’S SOUL 無門關 三十語

Open your mouth
and let your soul flee
on the dance of your departing breath.

Inhale slowly, let
a different soul
find purchase in your lungs.

Both souls are your soul,
neither soul is yours,
but is it the moon
or an obscuring cloud?

A reflection on case 35 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate Koans)

TOO WAY BACK MACHINE

Platform shoes, velour
Nehru jackets, what the hell
were we thinking, and pink
velour, seriously, for men.

At least it was Hendrix, Byrds,
and not Pat Boone and Andy
Williams, almost the death
of music as we know it.

Reefers were evil, told us so,
and when we figured out it was
pot, we begged to differ, frequently
between hits on the bong,

after all joints required a certain
amount of dexterity in the rolling
and tjat progressively slipped away
with the afternoon sun.

Now it’s chardonnay and pinot
and a good reposado or anejo,
or a blanco if company appears
and triple sec then, never Cointreau.

FINITE LOOP

As it turns out, life
is an ongoing process of accretion
and deconstruction, of growth
and eventual shrinkage.

I started with 20 teeth
I am told, and got to 32,
only to fall back to 23
thanks to orthodontia and wear.

We start with 270 or more
bones, but we knit that number
down to 206, or in my case under
200, the orthopaedist’s handiwork.

And with time we progress
from diapers and being pushed
around to walking, running,
driving ourselves in many ways,

but in the end, for many of us,
we revert to childhood, but one
where the future is behind us,
and the past is that to which we cling.

PAYMENT IN FULL

On this day I will give the cat a bath.
this involves an elaborate ceremony,
as befits an almost unique occasion.

I awaken at the usual hour, perform
my usual bathroom ritual, to the mirth
of the cat who curls up on the dirty
laundry in the basket in the closet.

I dice the pear, slice the banana,
pluck and carefully rinse the grapes,
then slather on the plain Greek yogurt,
and a large tablespoon of granola.

I carefully peanut butter one and a half
slices of multigrain toast, each with a dollop
of No Sugar Added strawberry jam
and make my cortado, on the foamy side.

It is time, now, for the main event,
and I fill the tub with warm water, pick up
the cat, and soon bandage my bloody arms.

BANDAGE

She wants to know if it is even possible
to make a bandage large enough
to bind the wounds we have inflicted
on a planet which we were told
was ours over which we were
to exercise our wise dominion.

She says it isn’t fair that she will be
left to try to clean up the mess
that we have made for it was our
world too, though she adds, we were
not very good at sharing with others.

I want to apologize and tell her
that she is right, that we adults
have failed her generation but
I know she won’t believe me, for
we could have stopped this, but we

always looked out for ourselves
always wanted just a bit more
always were too busy to notice
assumed the others would handle it
said there was nothing we could do.

We hope one day you will
forgive us although we have done
nothing to merit any absolution.

First appeared in The Poet: A New World, Autumn 2020

GRANDCHILD

You more easily remember
the birth of a grandchild
than his or her parent

whether from a memory
sharpened by age
or regular sleep

or by a vision
more acute for knowing
what to look for,

or simply a clinging
tightly to any symbol
of youth denied you.

It may be as well
that grandchildren see
you differently than parents

a hope for a long life
and the possibility of
one day being old

or someone whose mind
more closely resembles
in innocence and simplicity

or simply as adults
whose rules can be ignored
with no real consequence.

MINDFUL(L)

The Buddha said that any task you do
if done mindfully is a sort of meditation.
We assume he said it, we’ve been told
he did, but no one I know was anywhere
near that bodhi tree, so we take it on faith.
When it comes to things like chopping
large quantities of onions, or roasting
coffee beans I totally get it, it does
seem like meditation, and deep at that.
Walking the dog makes the list, and
perhaps convincing the cat to do anything
she didn’t think of by out waiting her.
I can even accept washing the car
or the dishes, but washing the dog
is only so on rare occasions and only
if I medicate her first, and the cat, forget it.
But even Buddha would have to concede
that no matter how totally mindful
you are, driving anywhere in either
Broward or Miami-Dade counties is
as far from meditative as opting
to commit sepuku with a butter knife.

TREPIDATION

I approach it slowly, overcome
by fear and desire, warned to step
carefully over the uneven earth
that on this hillside haven set behind
the rusting wrought iron fence , its
master lock dangling askew, peers
out through the trees to the Kanawha river
flowing unknowingly through the valley.

The stone is set in line with the others,
neatly incised, a name, English
and Hebrew, two petunias, cornered,
in perpetual bloom, a beloved sister
and aunt, and unstated, unknown perhaps,
a mother whose son, gently touching
the stone, washes her with my tears,
and we speak of love in silence, and I,
a child of sixty-seven, embrace
my mother for the first time, and I
am finally and for the first time, complete

JOSHU PLANS A VISIT 鐵笛倒吹 十九

If Joshu asks you
which is the true eye
will you climb to the top
of the mountain
in search for it?
There are a thousand mountains
where Manjushri may dwell
staring out at the world—
how will you know which one?
A cloud may
reflect your sight
simplifying all.

A reflection on case 19 of the Iron Flute Koans