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.

THE VILLAGE

I’d like you to tell me
about the village in which
you grew up, and how odd
it must have been for you
to have met my grandfather
so far from any village
in the heart of Lithuania.
I suspect you left
with your parents, exhausted
by pogroms, exhausted
by the Jewishness
that to them defined you.
I’d love to know
about my mother who
I never got to meet,
the seventh
of your eight children,
but like you, she
is silent and all
I have left
is a small photo
and a volume
of imagined memories.

PELICAN

The pelican hasn’t been around
for a couple of days, and we miss
his akimbo dives into the pond,
surfacing and throwing his head back
to show he’s swallowing his catch
even though we suspect some of the time
he caught nothing at all, but knowing
we’re as gullible an audience
as he is likely to find any time soon.
We hope he is off breeding somewhere,
making little pelicans that will
be able to entertain us next fall
when we return, birds of our own sort,
not snowy egrets but snow birds nonetheless.
We don’t want to know any more
about the mating ritual, some
things ought to be private.
We learned that painful a few years
ago, when my brother thought it
was important we see thoroughbreds bred.
We prefer our breedings like
good French films, suggestive
but ultimately leaving it
to our memory, like so much of our youth.

HAIL AND FAREWELL

On very dreary days
I like to drive through the cemetery
meandering among the stones
until I find a freshly dug grave.
I stop, under the vigilant eye
of the caretaker and carefully place
a cassette of Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances
or Smetana’s Die Moldau into the player.
As the melodies spill forth
I hope they lift the spirit
of the resting, bringing them a moment
of unabashed joy, a memory to carry
into an eternity, a lingering riff, sweet
as the juice of the strawberry trickling
down the chin, a chocolate
slowly melting on the tongue.
Night will come soon enough
bringing a darkness in which they can see
their dreams take form
and seep away to mingle in the void.

First appeared in Aura Literary Arts Review Vol. 26, No. 1 (2000) and reprinted in Legal Studies Forum, Vol 30, Nos. 1-2 (2006)

NOT TWICE

It is said that you can never go home again
presuming, of course, that you have left at some point.
The fallacy of this statement is apparent,
for there is often nothing preventing your return.
What would make the statement accurate
is that you can never go home again
to exactly the same home you left
for your leaving alters the place and your return
creates only a new status quo, it can’t restore the old one.
It is like this with rivers, the Buddhist knows,
you never step into the same river twice
for each steps has you greeting new water
and even the rock upon which you step
has microscopically eroded.
So feel free to go home again, for there is
much to be gained from returning to a place
that is so familiar, and yet which you have
never before actually visited.

AGAIN THE DREAM

The dream came to him again last night. He could never be certain if it was on the barren high mesa outside Taos or in the endless sands of Morocco. It really didn’t matter, since the action of the dream took place in a restaurant, and its location was ambiance, although he suspected it did have some deeper psychological meaning. In the dream he was grating cheese, when he awoke, nervous. Try though he knew he wouldn’t slip back into sleep until he determined if he was grating Roquefort or Gorgonzola, and he knew the cows would be soon enough calling him to the barn for the morning milking.

TUESDAY TRUTH: THE SPIDER

Several things you need to understand. First, and foremost, a waterspout is a term no one around here has used in centuries, unless you mean a tornadic columnar vortex of water, and trust me, we spiders avoid those like the plague. Shocking, I know, but with eight legs we cannot swim. At best some of us can skitter across the surface for a bit. Another thing, while my family, the Arachnidae come in many sizes, and while I am far from the largest, I am also far from the smallest. . So let’s stop with the itsy bitsy, shall we. But most importantly, it wasn’t a damn water spout, it was a water slide, and I went up the stairs and rode the water down. That is what you do on a water slide. And at a water park, no one really cares about the rain, we are all wet already. Though I must admit, riding the slides in the sun is certainly more pleasant.

SEPPO REJECTS A MONK 鐵笛倒吹 七十三

If you find the answer
and rush to tell your teacher
why are you surprised
when he turns away from you,
saying that is yesterday’s answer.

If you want to impress your teacher
paint the answer
on the surface
of the raging river
or accept scorn
with equanimity.


A reflection on case 73 of the Iron Flute Koans

DIG IT

He started digging early in the morning,
and hoped that by lunch, he’d be well
on his way there, though he wasn’t certain
how he’d get up out of the hole
when lunch rolled around, but need
is a good instructor, so he was sure
he could figure it out easily enough.
It was slower going than he imagined,
slower by several magnitudes.
He knew that would play havoc
with his plans, but he was capable
of adjusting to circumstances, that
was one of his strengths, he knew.
When the day receded, he set the shovel
aside and retreated home, knowing that
he wouldn’t complete the task
for at least another week, and the idea
of having real Chinese food in China
would have to wait, since he had
to be in school every day or miss out
on the First Grade perfect attendance award.

FLIP IT

It would be an anathema to him
if he were a Pope or held deeply felt
opinions about anything, but he does not.
He denies being vacillating, rather, he says,
he is just open to a multitude of views,
never mind, she replies, that he
can never make any important decision
except by mere chance or luck.
He says he prefers life this way,
for he is disinclined to alienate anyone.
She says his unwillingness to take
and hold a position has alienated her,
and she points out that he has no friends
and few who would call him a true acquaintance.
He debates arguing with her, but he knows
she is possibly right and arguing
would do nothing, and so she walks away
and he can only imagine what might have been.

NEW LISTING

Consider them very carefully
for you will have only this chance
and you don’t want to add
those which ought not be included
or be forever burdened by those
you overlooked or misassumed
you wanted to retain.
When you are quite certain
you are finished, that your list
is exactly as you wish it,
that all your dislikes and regrets
are properly delineated, then
walk slowly to the river,
pen at the ready, and write them
with a precise hand upon the water.