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.

APSE SOLUTION

One downside of growing up
Jewish is that you never meet
an angel or a church mouse

I have met angels, although they
were in the guise of Bodhisattvas,
and there are a surprising number
if you look carefully enough.

As to church mice, I do have
to wonder why they are symbolic,
for they have vast homes,
direct access to God, or
the Bishop or synod, and if
they aren’t tapping into
the collection plate,
they aren’t real mice, and as
for starving, do they keep
the communion supplies
in a safe, for if not, the mice
are certainly never go hungry.

CAT PEOPLE

We spent one morning
of our visit to Key West wandering
around Hemingway’s home.

The six-toed cats seemed to realize
that we were cat people, came
over to us, took us aside
for a petting and conversation.

He was a tough old goat,
they said, or so our ancestors
told itm and we cannot begin
to understand why you,
cat people, so obviously intelligent
would pay to see the old
typewriter he hated, because
the S and D keys always stuck

We scratched them behind
the ears, sat by the empty pool,
and waited for a literary
inspiration we knew was
never included in the ticket.

GYOZAN CAN’T SAY IT

The true artist,
when asked
to draw a perfect tree
will lead you to the garden
and have you sit
under the great maple.
The true master
asked to speak of Dharma
will silently
face the wall
in zazen.

A reflection on case 118 of the Shobogenzo, Dogen’s True Dharma Eye Koans

COUPLING

Walking through the art gallery,
she frequently pauses to look
at paintings of couples in a bar
or a cafe, engaged in conversation.

I tell her they seem sad, as though
whatever romance they had
has waned, they having grown
apart, this a parting of sorts.

She laughs and says that I mistake
wistfulness for sadness, men
so often do, and adds they are
lovers falling ever deeper in.

She takes my hand gently, with
a look I might have deemed sad,
but knowing better. I realize
that I, too, am continuing my fall.

SNOW

At first it was just odd
to think of snow as merely
a concept, a memory softer,
more pleasant than its reality.

You can grow accustomed
to concepts, they are generally
somewhat neat and tidy, easily
filed and brought forth on demand.

The concept of snow has
its great advantages, snowmen
of perfect shape, never melting
and no one must shovel a concept.

But there are moments, a tree
decorated for Christmas, you
want to reach out and feel
the chill suddenly warm your heart.

JUST ONE MORE HAND

My parents, well my father,
always felt is was necessary
to stop on the way to our summer home
in the Western Adirondacks
to visit Uncle Morris, who may
or may not have been an uncle
in the blood sense, it was never clear.
It was he who sold my father the cottage
near the small lake, he who now
lived in a nursing home  in Schenectady.

Morris was sweet, frail, but still
wanted my father to play 
a couple of hands of pinochle,
which drove my mother crazy,
but she loved the cottage, 
and Morris sold it to them 
for a song to keep it in the family.

I liked watching them play,
never understood the game,
and hated the name Schenectady,
but we’d always go for an early dinner
at the Chinese Buffet across
from the store Morris owned for years.

CASSIOPEIA

You sit on your self-made throne
and stare at the night sky
as clouds gather
and dissipate beneath you.
Do you even recall
why you were cast out,
condemned to your cell so vast
yet infinitely confining?
Does your body remember
the touch of his hand
the crude hunter
who set you aflame
with a white heat
that paled the sun of summer?
What do you imagine
as tongues of the Perseids
lick across the sky
and disappear into
the ebony holes that lurk
in the corners of your eyes?
You move slowly across my world
and only the dawn brings you peace.

First appeared in Abyss & Apex, Spring 2021 Issue 78
https://www.abyssapexzine.com/

NEVER TWICE

Buddhism teaches that you can never step into the same river twice. I have not stepped in a river since I was eleven. That day I stepped, my foot found a momentary purchase on a mossy rock. The outcome was predictable. I slipped, cut my thighs, broke my tibia, bruised my elbow. I did heal, but ever so slowly, and the cast on my leg did get me sympathy. Despite those upsides, I have looked askance at rivers ever since. Ponds are no problem, and I go into my favorite one with regularity. So I will have to take the Buddhist teachers on faith, for if you don’t step in a river the first time, there’s no chance of a repeat performance.

NEVER EVER

For those who cannot see the picture above, please imagine this text is the most hated font of all time*:

There are certain sins
a poet learns never to commit,
whether by teaching or
simply bad experience.

Poetic sins come in many
shapes and sizes, grammatical,
typographical, metaphorical,
or just about any -al you choose.

Bad rhyme is a minefield, unable
to know slant from abject miss,
forced form a train wreck with you
at the controls, blinded by ambition.

But the cardinal sin, the one
for which there can never be 
any excuse, mortal to a poem, is
to think you can use this font.

*comic sans, of course.

RINZAI’S REAL EYE 鐵笛倒吹 九十語



You say there are
a thousand ways
of seeing this moment
but which is the real way?
I respond there are
a thousand ways
of seeing this moment
but which is the real way?

You may take my place,
you may look
through my eyes,
but you will still
be blind
to this moment
or that.

A reflection on Case 95 of the Iron Flute Koans