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 want so to say that i feel
your pain, but we’d both
know that was an utter lie.
I can tell you abut my pain,
describe it at great length,
and I will be utterly disappointed
when you admit you can only
imagine it as a reflection
of your own pain, which I
am certain doesn’t begin
to rise to the level of mine,
but that is your failure, and I
will forgive it for I know
that my pain is unique and
beyond even your imagination.
So let us just agree that each
of our pains is beyond
the contemplation of the other,
secure in our own uniqueness.
Tonight, if all goes well, I will be
a monk in a good-sized Buddhist temple.
I am hoping it will be in Nara,
at Todai-ji perhaps, or Asakusa
at Senso-ji, or better still somewhere
in Kyoto, although it might well be
in the Myanmar jungle or somewhere
deep within the Laotian highlands.
One problem with that world is
that I have no control over it, which,
come to think of it, leaves it
like the waking world which
has never hewn to my direction.
I’ve had this desire for weeks
on end, and I suspect tonight
will be no different, and I will spend
eight hours sorting files, writing
cease and desist letters and trying
to convince myself that even that
is a form of mindful meditation
and abiding kensho will arrive
in the next rapid eye movement.
Kashyapa’s golden robe
take it up if you want.
It won’t fit at all well
Knock down the flagpole
or, if you want
just eat the flag.
A reflection on case 22 of the Mumonkan (The Gateless Gate)
The Hawaiian language has 12 letters
which is important to understand
particularly if you consider writing
an apostrophic poem, not to a person
or thing, but to a letter of the alphabet.
It might help to explain why Hawaiian
poets never write about zoology or
the role that zygotes play in life, and
leave zymurgy to the haoles, for
native Hawaiians prefer a linear
life, free of endless zigs and zags
I don’t imagine I will try and learn
Hawaiian any time soon, although
with twelve letters, I’d have an easier
time of it than Russian, say, but nor
will I write an apostrophic poem
to the letter Z although I will open
a bottle of zinfandel to honor it.
Growing up, I never imagined
that I was Lithuanian, I mean I
might have as easily been from Mars.
And it was only in my dreams
that Gaelic was an ancestral tongue,
not one my ancestors spoke,
at least those who hadn’t yet
made the unthinkable move
to Norfolk and the frigid sea.
Now I am all of those, and I know
that blood is a bond that is strong
even if it lies dormant half
a lifetime, for when you find it
it ties you to a world which
you imagined only in your dreams.
He is, he claims, a practitioner
of feng shui, and will, for
a nominal fee, arrange our home
in the harmony it requires.
His fee, of course, is nominal
to him only, and hardly one
we would incur with the expenses
of a new home, with two
of too many things, and none
of some necessities, which
our local merchants will provide
for their own nominal fees.
And I don’t know that I want
to pay to watch him move
two small pieces of pottery
and rehang our art so that
whatever Chinese gods
he channels will be pleased,
all while taking our home
away from us and leaving
a place of his we merely inhabit.
The clouds well up
over the foothills
casting a gray pall,
bearing the angry spirits
of the chindi who dance
amid the scrub juniper.
Brother Serra, was this
what you found, wandering
along the coast, tending
the odd sheep, Indian
and whatever else
crossed your path?
The blue bird
hopping across the dried grasses
puffing its grey breastplate and cape
sitting back, its long tail feathers
a perfect counterbalance.
It stares at the oppressing clouds
and senses the impending rain.
The horses wandering the hill
pausing to graze
on the sparse green grasses.
The roan mare
stares at the colt
dashing among the trees
then returns to her meal,
awaiting the onset of evening.
The chindi await
the fall of night
when they are free to roam
and steal other souls.
Was your water rite
than the blessing chants?
Did you ward off their evil
and purify the breeze
of the mountains?
First published in Progenitor, Vol. 55, 2020
So many of the late arrivals tonight
are egrets, the Cattles long in
among the reeds and brush sharing
space, only reluctantly, with the ibis.
It is their snowy cousins who arrive
as the horizon is a fading band
of orange gold dissipating under the
faint, unyielding eye of Venus,
and seem shocked when they
are turned away with flap of wing
and cry, warned by the perching
anhinga that in this preserve
the inn fills quickly, and in January
there is no nearby manger
to be found, so you’d best
make avian friends, for morning
arrives all too quickly enough.
My first inclination, in fact
my strong desire, when he asks me
what time it is, is not to consult
my watch, but to say that we live
in an age of unprecedented uncertainty,
an era of division and incivility,
and days fraught with risk that
each might be the last.
I know he wants to know the hour
and the minute, but if he is late,
the moment wasted in knowing
just how much so merely adds
marginally to the problem.
And if the question lacks
that import to him, then time
is no more than a human construct,
malleable despite our demand
of rigidity, and subject to
the whims of Popes and politicians,
and all the rest of nature
can only marvel at our absurdity.
If you answer the question
I will ask you another
each more difficult.
If you enter a room
and catalog its contents
there will always be a door
leading to yet another room,
another inventory to be taken
to determine what is there
and what is missing.
It is only when you enter
an empty room,
that you will find all things.
A reflection on Case 28 of the Iron Flute Koans