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.

ORIGIN

I am told that I should write
about my origins, that is the stuff
that long poems are made of, or
rather the soil from which they bloom.

I have written about my birth mother
and visited her grave in West Virginia
seen those of my grandparents, met
a cousin, I’ve written all of that.

So its time to write about
my birth father, about the places
he was as a child, a young man,
where he is buried, dead long before

I discovered his existence, our link,
but I know nothing of Burlington,
or Camden and my passing knowledge
of New Jersey is limited
to Newark and its airport.

That is hardly the stuff of great poetry
or even mediocre memoir, so he
will be nothing more than a picture
of a gravestone in a national cemetery.

GENSHA’S THREE VEHICLES 正法眼蔵 四十語

Describe this moment
without use of word or sound –
see where you are
with eyes pressed tightly closed,
hear a song with utter silence,
taste the pure mountain air
reach out and touch
that which has no shape
or form, no essence
and you sit
in the middle
of reality.

A reflection on case 45 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo Koans (True Dharma Eye)

CHARMING

You said it was a lucky charm,
but I know my cereals and it
clearly wasn’t that, nor was it
a faked foot of some leporidae
sylvilagus, even you would never
be that cruel, you are a vegan
after all, even your shoes are
some unholy man-made material.

And I don’t believe in luck,
I’ve never had it, good or bad
although I do admit I look forward
to Friday the Thirteenths for
things always seem to go well
when they occur for some reason.

PAPER CUTS

Paper is at once both
the cruelest invention a writer
may have stumbled across
and also her salvation.

The blank page invites,
often demands the pen
and is unjudging, yet the poet
may change or delete
but the paper retains the original
and throws it back in his face.

The computer, many say,
changed all of that, backspace
or highlight and delete and
that mistake, misuse, misadventure
is gone forever, but
with a wrong keystroke
all you may have is a blank screen
and your words so well shaped,
thoughts perfectly expressed
can be lost in the ether.

Where did I put that pen?

ASHES TO ASHES

He says he wants to know
what I want done with my ashes
knowing I want to be cremated.

I tell him I need to think
about that for a while, knowing
that “while” could be an ever
shortening lifespan, but I
dare not tell him that, it
simply wouldn’t be acceptable
he would respond, setting off
another endless discussion.

I don’t say that time, in this
rare instance, is on my side
for truth be told I don’t care
what he does with my ashes,
I am gone and that’s that ,
bit a nice spot in the center
of the mantle in the formal
living room would be nice.

RENTAL

The mountain reaches
up grasping clouds.
The river no longer runs
red down its flanks
now traversed
by a black ribbon
twisting upward.
The Hertz rental
has a warning
taped on the glove box
driving above 5,000 feet
is prohibited, and
at the driver’s risk.
The Minolta sits
in the trunk
as I deny
the siren’s call.

FirstAppeared in Raconteur, Issue 3, January 1996.

FLIGHT

He began his trek up the mountain early in the morning to allow time for the ascent and return. He’d planned this carefully, and proceeded slowly so as not to be put off his goal. He smiled as he passed through a low hanging cloud layer, erasing the ground from which he set off on his journey. He plodded on, seeing the summit growing ever, if slowly, closer. He finally reached his goal at the summit, sat and smiled broadly. He had made it. He gazed down, feeling as though he had at last achieved flight. He was one with the sky. A sudden shadow passed over him. He looked up at the eagle circling, mocking him, as if saying this is flight, you poor earthbound creature.

CITY OF (TRAFFIC) LIGHTS

It is incredibly sad
when all you have seen
is Paris from a taxi hurtling toward
the center of the city, because
you are late for a meeting, and then
your view out of the conference room
window is another glass building
which, if you lean your head
far enough right gives you
the reflection of the Eiffel Tower.

As the meeting drags on
you realize you must pay attention
as another taxi speeds you
to the Charles DeGaulle airport
Hilton for a dinner meeting
and sleep before your 6 A.M.
flight to Zurich, and you begin to think
that Paris and New York
arent all that different
from the back seat of a taxi.

CALLING

In the dark heart of night
time is suddenly frozen,
the clock’s hands stalactites
and stalagmites, unyielding
denying the approach of morning,
leaving the sun imprisoned
under the watchful gaze
of its celestial wardens.

It is then you appear,
call out to me, beg me
be silent, not asking
the lifetime of questions
I have accreted, providing
my own hopes and
imagination for answers,
but you have faces, not
those of that weekend
but of other days, she
younger, in college, he
in a college yearbook
at a school he never attended
save as part of the ROTC
contingent of the Air Force.

I bid you farewell, finally,
and time again takes motion
and morning welcomes the sun.