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.

TESTAMENT

Christ and his disciples
walk slowly through the lobby
en route to the bar, discussing
the evil of war and blind obedience.
They push three tables together
and slowly drain the pitchers
of Bud draft, laughing
over the sound of the Karaoke.
As the evening draws itself
into night, he boasts
in Aramaic that he
has translated more than half
of the Bhagavat Gita,
although he much prefers
the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
Satan, he suspects aloud,
is still trying fruitlessly
to finish Spinoza’s Ethics,
but without improved understanding
the old devil is doomed to failure.
As the night draws on, the hooker
hovers ever closer, and for a moment
he wonders if she would moan
as she feigned orgasm.
He lights another Camel
and crumples the empty pack
and throws it, knowing it will miss
the can and roll on the floor
under the bar rail, and he curses
in the ancient tongue.

First Appeared in Maelstrom, Issue 2, 2000

UNANSWERED

As strange as it seems, I can
spend hours in a used bookstore
lost in the marginalia, and textbooks,

particularly those in psych and sociology
are generally the most fertile,
for those students, though they would

never admit it, pursued those fields
hoping to find answers to their own
problems without having to ask.

Yesterday’s visit was particularly fertile,
but it was a college introductory text
in biology that grabbed and held me.

In the margin of a short chapter mentioning
thoracic anatomy was a question
for which I have no possible answer:

Does the diseased heart in the metal
operating room basin curse the body
on the gurney who was supposed

to join it in the ground, and what of the
donor who goes back to the soil
heartless and utterly and eternally alone?

REMEMBER THIS

He awoke this morning, and was
surprised to be there, he said,
because when you are ninety,
and can’t get around at all,
you don’t look forward to tomorrow,
for it will simply be a repeat
of today when nothing will happen.
And it is harder still, he says,
because he can’t remember much anymore,
so it’s hard to say if today
is any different than a week ago
or a month ago, though they say
he was in the hospital then,
but he don’t know why he was there.
When I stop for a visit the next day
his is surprised to be there, he says
as though it was a new thought
that just came to him in the moment.

JOSHU MEASURE THE WATER

When your mind is raging
thoughts flowing, eddying
when you enter the zendo
what do you do in sitting?

Do you take your stick
and measure the water
to insure a safe fording,
or do you sit amid the stream
and let the flood
wash over and around you
dry and silent within?

A reflection on case 47 of the Iron Flute Koans

LATTE

At the coffee shop they chatter as if in some foreign tongue, conversations overlaid one on another on another, until all I can strain are snippets of words, stray syllables. This is true everywhere I have visited, and it promises good coffee, for I have found that when I can easily eavesdrop on others at nearby tables, it is because the espresso maker has gone silent too long, there are few present, and I will regret the coffee shortly after drinking it.

BLOSSOM

I remember the cherry trees
along the reflecting pool, though
except in April they mostly reflected
a partially clouded sky promising rain.

Their pinkness was a tone I have
searched for since, and came
closest in Tokyo, jealous of the emperor
and his gardens so carefully tended.

It is that time again, and this year
as in so many past, I will not see
my reflection in the city of my birth,
nor the pink rain that falls slowly

in April’s first strong breeze, I
will not scoop up a handful of pink
and cast it into the sky, only to fall
yet again, to the joy of a nearby child.

I will dream of Tokyo, of the two trees
In a corner of Senso-ji, alight in pink
under the always watchful eye
of Buddha and the smiling jizos.

PURSE AND WALLET

A woman’s purse is inviolable territory
she tells me, and no man dare look within
unless invited and that is as unlikey to happen
as a man is to fully understand a woman.

What she doesn’t say, but what time has
demonstrated to me repeatedly, is that
within that small space is the solution
to most of life’s pressing problems, a balm

for small emergencies, and a truth, the release
of which would loose upon those proximate
the sort of shock that Pandora only promised,
and I have more than enough problems of my own.

She asks what I keep in my over-fatted wallet
and I tell her it is not money, but thoughts
that haven’t come to fruition, and dreams
unrealized because they defy reality.

So, she says, your wallet is full of the stuff
that gets you through a day, that give you
hope for the next, and that marks your
ever present failure of irrational dreams.

SWAN DIVE

Its plump, dusty-white feathered body
sits atop the pond like an inverted
iceberg, as the lindens fringing the field
shed their seeds onto the hardened soil.
The swan lumbers across the surface
with no particular urgency or direction
slowed by the entropy of a late August afternoon,
the laughed shouts of children
plunging headlong to dinner,
diverted to bathrooms
for the cursory sprinkling
of unholy water,
the beast drags its haunches
upward
straining against the gravity
of too many
moments pecking the grains
cast at it by the children.
Its head breaks the surface of the pond
and inches downward in through the green
glaze until snatching its target
at the end of the allotted moment,
like the child’s toy with its colored fluid,
it swings back up on its axis,
and inches away, its dive complete.

The young boy climbs gingerly aboard
the rusty metal seat, a lattice of
peeling enamels, telling the years
as rings of trees, and drops the bar
across his lap, a wave to cousins
denying the tingle in his bowels
as the wheel begins its rhythmic
interrupted rotation, and the sky
summer gray, approaches.
The wheel turns slowly,
the cacophony of little girls
rings false against the fading note
of a carousel.
He rocks gently, mindful not to lean
into the baleful eye of the operator,
and glances down counting those
awaiting their moments until
he hears the grating of metal
and he slides to the side,
as his cage
begins to dangle, the bar greased
by the sweated palms of a rider,
and then the shriek of agony
torn loose from somewhere beneath
his riveted eyes
fixed on the asphalt
rushing to break him.
He lifts his arms out
vainly searching
for the genetic memory of flight.
He strikes with the sound of the plastic
barrel striking a pier, his dive complete.

First Appeared in Twilight Ending, May 1999.

ROBO

The phone is again ringing,
and the odds say it is someone
who wants to extend my warranty
on the car I no longer own,

or to lower my credit card interest
though I never carry a balance,
or to help me fix my computer if I
just hand over control to them.

I won’t answer this time, almost
never do unless I know the caller
and want to speak to them,
robocalls, despised as they are

do provide a convenient excuse
not to speak to the long lost friend
who only needs a short term loan,
or the charity always wanting more.

Many want the government to act,
to ban or limit these calls, and I
agree, but be prepared to answer
when I call about the money you promised.

CALL AGAIN

You called again this morning, and,
as usual, long before I was awake.
You left no message, but you never do,
and I do wish you’d stay in one place

just for a while, it would make finding
you to speak with you much easier.
This morning you were in Azerbaijan,
and last week you called from Belarus.

Later today you called from New York
and this time actually left a message,
but, of course, you left it in Mandarin
despite my repeated requests you not do so.

I’m sure you will call again tomorrow,
or if not, the next day, and I’ll be interested
in knowing where you are, but to save you time,
please rest assured that I will not be able

to help you recover that vast sum of money,
or send you, the cousin I’ve never heard of, the funds
you need to get out of jail or the hospital,
but feel free to call anyway and, do have a nice day