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.
The weather, he announced to no one in particular,
ought to be musical or at least
incorporate some jazz.
Spring is bebop, Trane and Parker,
the sudden clash of Blakey
the downpours of Dizzy
and the hint of what’s to come
on the fingers of Monk, and
Kenny and Milt.
Summer brings the slow easing
as early Miles slides in, and we
sink into Chet and Stan.
Bebop returns as summer fades
but turns harder, with Dexter
Sonny and Benny and we know
that winter approaches, with its
disconcert, the sun an ever
more infrequent visitor,
Ornertte and Pharaoh reminding us
that the dark cold was our share
until Sun Ra appears on the horizon.
somewhere within three blocks
of here a limo is disgorging
or swallowing up passengers
a child is dreaming of taking
lessons on a piano or violin
of Carnegie or Alice Tully Halls
a woman is remembering
what the touch of his fingers
felt on her cheek, tracing
her jaw, not shattering it,
a tagger prepares for battle
carefully loading his makeshift
holster after clearing
each nozzle, plotting which walls
will be an evening’s canvas
but across from here there is
the same red brick building
five store fronts, each with
barred doors drawn tight
staring, with no hope of parole
a green grocer, two bananas
rotting on the stoop,
a tailor’s naked mannequin
head turned backwards in shame
a locksmith whose lock
dwarfs the others though
there is nothing within to hide
and two vacant hollow spaces
like eyes of the dead
rheumy, semi-opaque voids
and eight neat rows
of six sooty windows each
behind which others hide
from the anger and fury
they would unleash on the city
if they could overcome their fear.
Published in The Raven’s Perch (August 3, 2020)
He only wants to know
my spiritual name, “your false
world name is of no matter.”
I tell him I have only one name,
the one my parents gave me,
and it has worked to this point
quite well, and no one has ever
suggested I might need another,
although my Jewish friends have two.
“No,” he says, “your spiritual name
isn’t given to you, not by family, but
by one who has tapped into
the universal harmonic, who flows
along its energy as that energy
flows through him or her and they
don’t so much give it to you as
listen to the voices and tell you
what they are calling you, that’s it.”
“Ah,” I said, “well I know my Native
American name so that’s something,
call me Doesn’t Buy Into Bullshit.”
Again today I am inside this so called
box, unchanged perhaps, but who
is to say, not you, still Schrodinger’s cat.
Don’t bother to ask if I am dead
or alive, for like the Master Daowu, you
can bet that I won’t say, so there.
And do not assume I know what I am,
for if I were dead, I’d hardly know it
and what guarantee is there that
I’m actually alive merely because
I think I am, or is it that I think
I think that I am, it’s all so Descartean
that I’m never quite certain, so let’s just
assume that old Schrodinger was right,
I’m alive and dead, and leave it at that.
In the garden
what do you see
in the old bucket,
is it still water
reflecting the moon?
Is it a cloud
resting in its travels?
Turn the bucket over
what do you see within?
Does the Bodhi
A reflection on case 25 of the Iron Flute Koans
Recalling it now, the sight had to be absurd,
and I suspect it was at the time,
but as its beneficiary then. I dared
not say anything, I’d mastered that already.
My father in khakis and a poor excuse
for a flannel shirt, Goodwill no doubt,
but you had to have one just for occasions
like this, not that they would ever repeat,
struggling mightily to heft a bale of straw
from the roof of the Ford Country Squire wagon,
and haul it into the back yard, placed against
the wooden fence that backed the nursery.
He’d repeat this task two more times, using
language I knew well, but had never heard
him use before, wondering if my mother would
threaten to wash his mouth out with soap.
When the third bale was stacked, he pinned
on a target, and reaching into the trunk,
pulled out a fiberglass recurved bow, smiling
at me as he said, “I know it isn’t what you wanted,
but you are good at archery, the camp gave you
a prize for it, and a new three speed bicycle
isn’t something you need, the old Schwinn is fine,
and the BB gun you wanted is out of the question.”
First Proposition: You were put up
for adoption because your birth
parents couldn’t or didn’t want to raise you.
Second Proposition: We or I adopted you
because I wanted you and not another
and to give you the good life you deserved.
Argument: Given all of the possible
alternatives, you ought to be thankful
that we saved you from that other life.
First Fallacy: My birth mother feared
rejection for getting pregnant but would
have been a loving, educated parent.
Second Fallacy: My adoptive mother
had two children with her second husband
after they married, her children at last.
Opinion: You will he told that you are
one of the family, a coequal part inseparable
from and of the others, and the same.
Fact: You were made an orphan and
always will be one, and the best you can
hope for is to be just like family, a simile
that you know will always be a transparent
wall that you can never hope to climb
and which keeps you always separate.
The question you will be called upon
to answer requires careful thought,
but you will be forced to respond.
Would you rather live the rest
of your life in Lilliput or Brobdingnab?
It may seem rather silly, for neither
is likely to occur, but that is not the point
and you cannot avoid responding.
Of course you will have to read
Swift, but you ought to do that anyway
and there, if you pay attention, you
see your own world and your
relationship with it, and you will see
others who look vaguely familiar.
So there you have your midterm exam
denizen of Lilliput or Brobdingnab,
and no, you cannot answer with
“because I’d be a giant among midgets,”
or “because I’d stand out as a midget
in a world where all around me are giants”
because no matter how you choose
you’ll be black in a white world, gay
in a straight one, or a woman in our world.
We bow our heads
and utter words
not to the cicada
a spring night
or the beetle
across the leaf
searching for the edge.
We bid the crow
silent, the cat mewling
his hunger and lust
to crawl under a porch
the child to sleep.
The stream flows
slowly by, carrying
a blade of grass
and the early fallen leaf.
Published in The Raven’s Perch (August 3, 2020)
It’s simple enough to write a song,
that’s what I heard him say,
and though I doubted that wholly
he say try, just give it a day.
I promised I would try to write
but I knew that I’d fail in time
for even Leonard Cohen now
and then used a subtle rhyme
and that is not something for which
I was ever cut out, I’m certain
and he laughed when I said I failed,
and retreating, pulled shut the blinds.