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.

MY LIFE AS A CAT

In my next life I think
I want to come back
as a cat, and not just any
cat, but a domestic
shorthaired spotted tabby.

I have it on good authority
that there is nothing finer
in the animal world
than being a domestic
shorthaired spotted tabby.

There will be much work
involved in the early days,
right after adoption, for
people tend very much
to be slow learners.

But with enough time,
the occasional well placed
claw, and earned affection
you can bend them
finally to your will.

At least that is what
my cat tells me in
moments of abject honesty.

JIZO PLANTS THE FIELD

As you search
through the Dharma
what is it you hope to find?

When you ask your teacher
to explain the Dharma, what
do you expect him to tell you?

Do you cling to Dharma
because it is there, unchanging,
a guide to the end of your search?

Better to live the precepts
fully, present in every moment,
waking, working, eating
and even sleeping for then
the path rolls out before you.

A reflection on Case 12 of the Book of Equanimity (従容錄, Shōyōroku)

HOLY ERROR

If you truly believe that God created
every creature individually, it is all
His intelligent design, then why the apple
in the Garden, and why both crocs
and alligators, wouldn’t one have
been sufficient, and why, just why
have mosquitoes at all, ever?

I won’t bother asking why God gave
us free will, since you say He will
punish us if we use it other than
as He directed, and you know the
directons better than anyone.

For that matter, why termites
and fire ants, alternative purposes
seem wholly lacking, and above all,
and beyond all logic and even
beyond omniscience, what in the name
of God was He thinking when
He created the politician?

DROWNING

Stop and breathe, deeply,
don’t look at the smog,
at the particles hanging
in your air like a curtain.

Don’t pause to consider
what you are inhaling, don’t
picture your alveoli clogged
with what you can now see.

You are drowning slowly in
a sea of air, so imagine yourself
a fish struggling in the water
of a sea you have laid waste to.

SUNDAY MORNING

Every Sunday morning my parents,
usually my father at mother’s direction
would drive me the four blocks
to attend Sunday school.

I could easily have walked, a long
block and a half by cutting through yards,
but they were afraid of I have
absolutely no idea what.

My friends that weren’t there with me
were probably in church so
it wasn’t like I had anywhere else
I might go, anything else I could do.

I never asked why my parents were
so insistant I attend the school, they
knew I’d be Bar Mitzvahed with or
without the Sunday mornings,

and they were Jews only in the loosest
secular sense, and I was in those
awkward years and the only thing
else that came to mind, fed by

my father’s not so well hidden stash
of Playboy’s was too grim to imagine
and given how little they liked to be
around one another, could be rejected.

CURFEW

We sat in the cramped kitchen
huddled around the stove
the open oven door spreading
a faint warmth that barely
slid through the winter chill.
The bare bulb in the ceiling
strained and flickered
fighting to hold as the generators
were shut down, and darkness
enveloped our small world.
The sky was lit by the flares
and the odor of exploding shells
seeped through the towel
sealed windows covered
in the tattered bedsheets
too thin to afford warmth.
Ibrahim had been gone two weeks
sneaking out of the city
to join his brothers in Gorazde
or Tuzla, or wherever it was
that they were struggling
to save what little was left.
We huddled under the small table
and dreamed of the taste
of fresh bread, or even pork.
In the morning he would run
among the craters in the streets
in search of the convoy
and the handouts, which we
would raven as the sun set
over our war torn hell.

First published in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. XXX, No. 1 & 2, 2006

MARVEL

We are, after all, merely human
so we are fraught with questions
and lacking answers, willing
to take things on faith on occasion.

Take God, for example, although
some say He is uniquely exemplary,
we want to know if God is a he,
a she, or to cover all our bases, a they.

And when we ask for a sign we
often look to the heavens as if
God only operate locally, even
Moses knew a bush would suffice.

Actually we hunger for signs now,
in a world gone mad, cursing free
will, wanting proof, when all we
need do is marvel at nature around us.

ALL THAT JAZZ

The magic of jazz
is not what you think,
there is nothing random
even in the wildest, in
the acidest of solos.

Cacophony is randomness
and the key to jazz
is to see the
invisible logic,
read the mind,
be the mind
of the musician.

It is zen, but only
if you stop searching
and just be in its
moment.

UMMON’S TWO SICKNESSES

As you wander
your path, what is it
that you search for?

When you seek
instruction from a master
what is it you expect
him to provide you?

When you sit
still on the cushion
you may find a moment
of kensho, but
labeling that moment
destroys it.

Enlightenment cannot
be described
for attaching words
brings it to the ground
as rubble around
your feet.

A reflection on Case 11 of the Book of Equanimity (SHôYôROKU 従容錄)