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.

WITH A TWIST

First, Peter Piper could not have picked a peck of pickled peppers. You don’t pick pickled peppers, you purchase them. And if he meant he picked a peck of peppers to pickle, then he should have said so. And he should have specified what sort of peppers he picked to pickle. Anaheim would be good, as would red, but Peter was a rebel, so it was probably Habanero or Scotch Bonnet. And I do feel for Peter’s wife, Paulette Piper, I mean what is she going to do with a quarter bushel of pickled peppers?

A CAPPING VERSE

Snow always seemed so right
capping the summit of Fujiyama,
not dulled by the windows
of the Shinkansen to Osaka.

You barely noticed the rice fields
fanning out from its base
wanted to reach out and touch it
for that is what you do with icons.

Mount Hood had the same effect
but the chill along the Willamette
urged you to retreat quickly back
to the wine bar for a Cabernet.

A HAUNTING

He said he would ghost me
but I know you don’t tell someone
and in any event, even though
I do not very much like him
I do not wish him dead,
and he wouldn’t make
a very good ghost anyway,
since he barges and not sneaks.

He said he would unfriend me,
but since we were never friends
to begin with, how can you
unfriend someone who barely
considers you an acquaintance,
that feeling no doubt mutual.

He said he might spam me,
but that, too, is hopeless
for I have been a vegetarian
for two plus decades and
did not eat canned spiced
ham spread when I ate meat.

He said he wanted nothing
at all to do with me, and
on that point we fully agreed.

ON THE TENTH PLAGUE

Mark your doorpost with the blood
of the lamb for this may be the night
when God’s emissary arrives for the killing
of the first born. Will he be a night bird
half raven, half vulture or an aged man
concealing his weapon in shabby robes.

Mark your doorpost and check it
often for if your neighbor wipes
the blood away, you will be visited
and no amount of pleading will
deter him from his task. There
are no interim plagues remaining to buy
you time, if he chooses to come tonight.

Put your ear against the window
and listen for him. Will he come
on cat’s paws or the rasp of lungs
slowly drowning?. Will coins jangle
in his pocket, to pay your fare
to the ferryman?

But if you do not believe,
perhaps he will forget to come.

First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008)

AT ONE

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 it warrants,
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
to undo.

FINDING PEACE

It wasn’t lost on me, mother, that this year
on the anniversary of death, you had been gone
eighteen years, Chai in your beloved Hebrew,
a lifetime for me, having never met you
save in the half of my genes you implanted
in me when I was implanted in you.

As you aged, alone, did you wonder what
became of the closest family you had after
your parents were interred in the soil of Charleston?
Did you ever regret not knowing, or were you
comfortable that the Jewish Family Service Agency
would make a selection of which you would
have approved had your approval been sought.

You have grandsons and greatgrandchildren
who will mourn me, carry my memory forward,
but know that I do the same for you, and you
never aged a day from that one when the photographer
took your college yearbook photo, a grainy
copy of which is tucked in my wallet and heart.

BOKUSHU’S BLOCKHEAD 鐵笛倒吹 語十語

Seeing your teacher on the road
if he says to you
Honorable Sir, what do you do?
You may turn, bow, and act the fool
or pass, eyes averted
without acknowledgement, silent
equally the fool.

Speak in silence,
face, bow without moving
greet him as you do yourself
in the morning mirror
and once past, offer gassho
and the fool is left on the path
dragging your shadow.

A reflection on Case 55 of the Iron Flute Koans

MELODY

The melody arose from the most unexpected place.
They heard it deep within the woods
and even the birds fell silent
peering around, searching
for its unrevealed source.
It carried on for several verses
and then, as quickly as it came
it was gone, the final note
carried off by a spring wind.
No one entered, no one left
the woods that day
and though many searched
no instrument was found
and the trees of the woods
grew silent at the searchers’ approach.

WHY NOT

Today in odd places,
at the most unexpected moments,
a child will smile without reason,
a young girl will laugh,
the young boy will stroke
the neck of a wandering cat,
and in that place
at that moment
there will be a simple peace.
Only the children will notice this,
though it gives lie to those
who deem peace impossible.
A child knows that it is
only preconceptions
and attachments
that blind adults
to the peace that
surrounds them.

SENBAZURU

10,000 origami cranes
floated down over Tokyo
each bearing the soul
of one gone in nature’s recent fury.
Each crane cried freely
the tears flowing into the Sumida
forming a wave that washes
back to the sea, replenishing its loss.
We, too, shed our tears
and look skyward
sad in the knowledge
that with each passing day
still more cranes
will fill the sky
more tears seep back
to the still angry sea.