STARING

She stares at you, unwavering.
You find this strange, wanting to see
something more in her looks,
but you get nothing from her,
as you have gotten nothing
from so many others before her.
You know men are as capable
of such stares as she, but you
don’t tend to see them, your own
gender blindness perhaps, or just
that men are less interesting
and more seldom seen
in these surroundings, usually
standing, posing, looking away.
You want to know what she
is thinking in this moment, what
she sees in your face, transfixed,
but the artist didn’t reveal that,
and so she will stare as well
at the next viewer throughout
the gallery’s open hours.

APPROACHING WINTER

We are in the season of stasis
where nothing wants to move and nothing
should shed the mantle of snow
that has announced winter’s arrival
in terms we full understand, as do
the finches clinging to the feeder
casting nervous glances skyward.
The neighbor’s cat has decided
that the remote chance of catching
a bird or squirrel is easily outweighed
by the warmth of the house, and even
the dogs down the block have found
their own lawns much more to their liking.
We know our feet will thaw
after our morning walks, but suspect
this may happen only with the Spring
that seems impossibly far away, and so
we imagine ourselves bulbs, clinging
to what warmth the earth offers
knowing the bloom has infinite patience.

ALOFT

As a child I often
flew kites, which is to say
that I ran haphazardly
pulling a string and
dragging a wood frames
paper rhombus across the park.
My father laughed until
seeing me on the edge
of tears he took up the string
and dragged the kite
across the park.
One day a strong wind
blew across the park
and the kite lifted into the sky
trailing its string
to taunt me.

THOU SHALT NOT

“I don’t want to”
is hardly a sagacious
way to run a country
and “just because” probably
didn’t work when you
were a child, why
would you think adults
would accept it now?
And when we all
expressed our displeasure,
disdain and contempt,
which part of “no”
did you have trouble
grasping, Mr. President?
The apple may not
fall far from the tree,
but let it sit
on the ground long enough
and the worms will have it.
Ambrose Bierce said diplomacy
is lying for one’s country,
Mr. President,
not lying to it.


First appeared in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press, 2008.

ANCESTORS

He clearly remembers standing on the edge
peering down into the almost bottomless canyon,
listening to the narrow river slide across the rocks
thrown down by its walls over millennia.
He was a visitor here, knew he would stay
only briefly, then leave, his spirit hiding
among the rocks in the nearby mountains,
staring down on the mesa for eternity.
He remembers listening for coyote, begging
the wily one to tell him the tales of its ancestors
with whom he will soon share this canyon.
All he hears is the wail of the jackrabbit,
coyote’s message in a foreign voice,
as night engulfs the mesa and he
stares up at the galaxies and stars
which barely notice the small orb
hanging in the distant sky.

MOMENT

If you are patient and do not
look for it, there is a still moment
in each day when nothing at all happens,
when the silence without
demands a silence within,
when thoughts evaporate
like the mist of an early morning dew,
when you have precisely enough
and cannot imagine needing more,
when where you are is where you must be,
when the past and future float off
and their gravitational pull on you breaks,
and you simply are in the only moment there is.

BODHIDHARMA’S VAST EMPTINESS

If you go walking one day
and meet a person you think
may be the Buddha, ask him
what is the heart of all of the sutras.
If he answers you with Dharma
will you be certain this person
is not the Buddha?
If, on the other hand,
he says nothing at all,
and merely holds up a mirror,
will you be certain you
are seeing the Buddha?
Decide before he crosses
the river and is gone from sight.


A reflection on Case 1 of Bring Me the Rhinoceros (Koans)

GODS ONCE

The once gods have been reduced
again to mere mortals
and find the change disquieting.
Just the other day I saw Hermes
meandering along Fifth Avenue
pausing to look at scarves in a window
of a store he never imagined.
Even the once great queen
finds herself behaving like
a love-struck teenager.
One who bred desire now works
as a hack writer for a card company,
a blow to his psyche more
than anyone can imagine.
Even the nameless one
has been seen working behind
the register at Walmart
thankful for the extra hours
as the holiday season approaches.
We no longer aspire to be gods,
it is too much work and there is
simply no payoff.

A SHORT LONG LINE

There is a statue of William Penn
atop the city hall in Philadelphia
seeming to stare down over the city
with bronze eyes incapable of seeing.
Hagar wandered the wilderness
after she was evicted by Abraham
at Sarah’s urging, the price
of jealousy, with bread and water
and the promise of a great nation.
It is pure speculation whether
Hagar was enslaved and freed
or, as we would claim it today,
employed by the family. In the end
the distinction matters little.
Penn remains blind atop the building
Hagar and Ishmael are long dead,
and Jefferson likely had children
with one of his slaves, or so
the DNA evidence indicates.
I am of Norwegian and Scottish
patrilineal heritage it appears
though my great nation is
a six year old girl and
almost three year old boy.

APPROACHING WINTER

The temperature falls, slowly at first
but gaining speed, as though
in the grip of winter’s gravity.
Winter has the potential to be
a black hole season into which
we enter and imagine we
will never reemerge into spring.
The wind whispers stories to us
of a time when this was all ice
when no one complained of a chill
for there was no one.
We turn up our collars to remind
the wind that we will remain here,
for nature has given us
an equal dose of stubbornness.