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.
Staring out, watch the bull
walk slowly past
along the old road.
Marvel at his horns,
the flare of his nostrils
in his massive head,
his breath hanging
in the early morning chill.
Mark each leg, its
muscles rippling, as it passes.
You feel you know the beast
but only if you close your eyes
can you grasp its tail.
A reflection on Case 38 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate Koans)
You need not apologize, for we
do not expect it, and would
not accept it as freely given.
It is not that you have not
done so much to warrant it,
for that list is long and replete
with all manner of sins.
It is simply that we are not
in a mood to accept an apology,
denied so long, for hollow words
have no real meaning to us now.
And our mood will not change
until you atone for those sins,
for atonement is more than sorry,
it is the work of undoing
and you have so very much
We will always be friends, we said,
probably half meaning it at the time.
How many times have we said that
or somthing akin to it, knowing
that the promise to call, to stay
in close touch, was at best
half meant and almost certain
not to come to any reality.
I have a catalog of friends, who
I told I would never give up, distance
notwithstanding, we all do, and mine
is replete with both good and bad
intentions, each and every one a failure.
I did not say this to my ex-wife
when we divorced, and I must say
that while I failed at the marriage,
or so she said, I did not ever fail
at not being friends after its end.
A triptych hangs in the gallery of memory. Admission is by invitation only.
The first panel is a time fogged mirror into which I stare. The adopted image hides behind the tarnished silver. My adopted mother’s voice is heard from a hidden speaker: “You were named after my father.” I want to tape his picture to the glass, a face to share the empty space. She has no pictures, she says, he never liked being photographed, said it would steal his soul. She can barely remember him: “He died when I was five.” I ask questions. I need to know more about the giver of names. She falls silent, drawing in, secreting memory.
In the second panel a woman sits, fidgeting. She is a striking blond. I cannot see her as being sixty-one, though she is. I deny that I am fifty. As the Rabbis climb the few steps to the Bimah, she leans over. “You know,” Lois says, “just like you, I was named for your grandfather. She talks freely of herbalism, life in New York, places she wants someday to see. “It’s funny,” she whispers, “I’ve never seen a picture of him; like he had some kind of phobia of being photographed.” Outside the Temple she stands with my mother and sister, arms interlocked, embracing both. I snap the picture. I am not captured on the film. Lois and I drive back to my mother’s apartment, stopping at one of the unending lights on Wisconsin Avenue. She touches my hand: “You know there was one more person named after him, your other sister.” The light changes.
There is only a picture hook in the wall — not even the faint outline that marks the space from which a picture is removed, the wall beneath unbleached by the sun. Lisa, my my sister, like me adopted and as quickly withdrawn, left no outward marks. She is a footnote in my father’s obituary. She is cast off by family, an unmentionable. She is my mother’s deeply hidden scar.
I am repeatedly drawn into this room. It’s walls never change, the pictures periodically replaced. I need to visit, to assure myself of — what? Someday, too soon, this exhibit will close.
First appeared in Pitkin in Progress, Vol. 3, No. 1 (2002)
Words failed him again. They did so ever more often it seemed, but it was possible it was merely that he was trying to express ever more complex ideas ideas in terms others would comprehend. A picture might not be worth a thousand words, but if you had that many, odds are some would be correct. And the listener could sort out which were and which were not. He had made up some words that fit perfectly, but they only drew stares, so he took to drawing pictures. Then he could attach his words and they would mean exactly what he was defining — picture dictionary that anyone could grasp. Well, not anyone perhaps, but most people if they would be the least bit patient. His friends had learned that patience, as he was patient with them in return. But his parents were another matter, never willing to slow down and really listen, always just searching for words that failed them.
The air we breathe is different today,
and we inhale more deeply
with the energy of our youth.
The tears we cry today are not
solely tears of loss and sorrow,
but also of promise and hope.
The wine that we drink today
will be the same as before, but
now sweeter on the tongue.
The sleep that we sleep tonight
will be deep, nightmares banished,
dreaming of a brighter future.
The songs that we sing today
we have sung a thousand times
but on this day the words have meaning.
You have heard that when
the student is ready the teacher appears,
and you believe you are ready,
but no teacher has appeared.
I can tell you that you are ready,
that you will never be ready,
that I am not the teacher,
that the teacher is here,
and that the teacher will never appear.
But the path you seek to find
with a teacher is all around you,
that there is not path to find.
If I give you a small bowl and you
stand by a lake of fresh water
just how much water can you hope to drink?
A reflection on Case 11 of the Hekiganroku (Blue Cliff Record)
If you close your eyes
you can imagine that this garden
was once a tropical jungle
as imagined by some clever
Floridian striving to separate
more tourists from their
dwindling travellers checks.
It has been carefully done over,
plants native and ornamental
replacing the vines and trees,
the alligators, real and imaginary
gone, now an exhibit of Lego animals,
the orchids in bloom, and
you wonder why anyone
once came here in the old days.
It is an odd feeling, in the middle
of January, to no longer consider
becoming a bear, choosing
to hibernate until Spring arrives
demanding an awakening.
I did that for years, never
grew the heavy fur coat needed
and wasn’t much for digging dens
in the snow, so I sat inside
and dreamed of bearishness.
Living now among the birds
where we shiver when it is
in the 40’s, and I sweat and
complain when it is 90, I try
occasionally to remember