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.

RETURN OF SCIENCE

During the Presidential debate the other night the inevitable question was eventually asked. I have to say the answers were much as expected, exactly as scripted, and while “correct,” each candidate missed a golden opportunity. “On January 21, what will be the first thing you will do as President?” Most of the world’s problems made the list, immigration, climate change, wealth inequality, you get the picture. It was never mind that almost none of the things listed could be solved by an executive order, their hearts were in the right place. But no one hit the real mark. Ask me and the answer’s simple. My first act as President is to appoint the official White House herpetologist. It is a two for one appointment, after all. I get someone who can help me deal with Congress, members of both the Senate and House. But better still, when it hits the fan, and we all know it will, repeatedly, I have an expert who can explain that yet again, it is all the snake’s fault. That one has worked since Adam, and even the evangelicals and Catholics must agree on that one.

GENSHA’S BLANK LETTER 正法眼蔵 四十八

If you wish to find the Way
follow the signs that read
“This Is Not the Path” or
at least some of them.
If you ask me directions
I will hand you a blank sheet
and ask you what
does it contain.
You may say it is void
and you would be correct,
or you may say it
is a thousand dharma texts
and you would be correct.

A reflection on Case 48 of The True Dharma Eye (Shobogenzo)

FELIS CATUS

She says just think of it,
when the cat is twenty
you’ll be 87 and I’ll be 92.

I never thought of it
quite that way, of the cat
being twenty, I mean.

My cats all died
in their teens, and though
I missed them terribly,

I assumed it was
just their time, just how
long they should live.

I’ve now thought of myself
being 87, and the cat
sitting on my lap

staring into my half
lidded eyes, reminding me
to take my afternoon pills.

HAIKU

I picked up a book
off the shelf this morning
one hundred haiku

it was like sitting down
a word starved man, tired
of searching for an always
denied sustenance, and here
laid out before me, a repast
of the sweetest grapes,
bits of sugar caressing
a tongue grown used
to the often bitterness
of ill-considered prose.

As midday approached
I knew that this was a meal
to which I’d return.

BATTLESHIP

As a child I played Battleship
on a square grid, the ships marked
by hand, one for each of the players,
we were efficient by necessity.

My sons played Battleship, though
under a different name in deference
to my hatred of things martial,
on an electrically wired board.

My grandchildren haven’t yet
discovered the game, now played
on their iPads and iPhones, but it
is no doubt just a matter of time.

In Washington our president
plays the game with real ships
against China and Iran but it
is clear he doesn’t understand

how the game is played, and what
happens when you lose a ship,
but the sailors in the Navy know
all too well and dread the outcome

given his history in playing
against opponents who clearly
understand not only the rules
but also tactics and strategy.

MELODY

I sing a shattered song
of someone else’s youth
the melody forgotten
the words faded into odd
syllables heard in my dreams.
The coyote stands at the edge
of a gully staring at me
and wondering why I slip
from the hogan through
the hole punched
in the back wall
slinking away
in the encroaching dark.
The priest, his saffron robes
pulled tight around his legs
in the morning chill,
stares as I run my hands
across the giant brass bell
feeling its resonance.
I hear the dirge
as sleep nips at the edge
of my consciousness
grabbing the frayed
margins of life

Published in These Lines, Fall 2020
https://theselines.org/these-lines-1.1-fall-2020.pdf

SATURDAY, OF COURSE

On a quiet Sunday morning, my cappuccino
in equal measures gone and cooling, I
paused to consider the mug on the table
adjacent to mine, alone, uncared about.

It stared back at me, from its perch
on the coaster pedestal on which it
had been placed so carefully, a bevy
of faces holding my eye trying to tell me what?

It was hard to read their moods, each
much the same as the others, a calm
perhaps, a hint of simple joy, almost
a childishness that begged my attention.

I wanted to ask why the red bows
in their hair, but I knew I’d get no answer,
for they were inscrutable, and that was
how they liked it, lost in a perpetual tease.

They did cause me to muse on why this day
they appeared in an unlikely place, and I
paused to wonder what Ode Keats might
have written in 1819 on this Hello Kitty mug

NEXT IN LINE

It was the moment they said, we picked you, that I knew they had not. They thought they had to say it. They knew they shouldn’t. I was the next gumball down the chute. You put in your nickel, move the lever and wait. Actually it wasn’t quite like that. If you don’t like the color or flavor of gumball, you throw it out or give it to someone else. Spend another nickel, simple. In adoption, there was no do over. In my case as well. Well there was, actually, but if you give one back, you don’t get another unless there was a really big and hidden problem. Read the fine print, the lawyers say, adoptees come with no warranty, and you take us as is. You wouldn’t buy a car that way, would you.

THE GIRL COMES OUT 無門關 四十二

She sits undisturbed
Shakyamuni by her side.
You can wave at her, she
will pay you no mind.

You cannot grasp her mind
and maintain a hold
on your own, you will grow
deaf from the chatter
but a child can curl
at her feet and she
will stroke his forehead
in perfect Samadhi.

A reflection on case 42 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate) koans.

AN E-TALE

I have been repeatedly told
by many that in this hyper-
electronic age, the best way, if
nit the only way, for the little guy
to buy and sell is online.

I’m not one to argue so
I decided to try it, and quickly
learned that Amazon had
cornered the market on sales
so Craigslist was my best hope.

I also learned that those willing
to pay anything near what an item
was worth didn’t bother with
Craigslist, but I didn’t care so I
listed under curb alerts, free

to anyone who wanted it, and
I stood by the curb for hours,
watched cars pull up slowly,
then drive quickly away, and
my heart is still unclaimed, searching.