BOOTCAMP

The butterflies came in the night
floating through the barracks window,
mainly monarchs, orange and black
but the occasional yellow, with
more gossamer wings, and the odd white
with small green patches, one to a wing.

There is a corner in my footlocker
that is mine, where I can hide
the tattered book of poems.
A true poet is unafraid to write
an ode in blood, if the situation requires
drawn from her vein
by a needle or the baton
of the security force.

In the river downtown the cup
floats along, carried on the current
into which I cast my dreams
when they no longer serve any purpose.
I can easily aim the rifle
at the silhouette and ease back
on the trigger, but would the child’s skull
explode with the impact of the round
or merely cave inward, collapsing?

I can look into the mirror
in the morning, before first light
and see the shine on my head.
The cancer is advancing, growing
until I no longer have control
and merely respond to its commands
in carefully spit-shined boots
as though anyone would give a damn
waist deep in the fetid water
of the rice paddies.

The heat is unbearable
and you sweat at the thought of motion.
You, forced march from your dreams,
and the butterflies disappear
into the exhausting night.


First Appeared in Blind Man’s Rainbow, Vol. 4, No. 3, February-March, 1993.

REFLECTION

He’s mostly bald
and generally something of a grouch.
When he enters a room, the key
is to nod in recognition
but not in invitation.
You know, regardless
of the topic at hand,
he will have something
to say and it, no matter how
you perfume it, will nevertheless
have that air of negativity
he has so ably mastered.
So many others, and especially you,
have perfected the art
of deflected avoidance,
at least until that moment
you come face-to-face with him
in your morning mirror.

CHANNELING

I am swimming strongly, easily
my strokes powerful, gliding
over the waves that seemed to collapse beneath me.
The water is surprisingly warm
not the frigidity I expected, more
like a now tepid tub, but left too long.
I can glance up and see the other side
and it is approaching rapidly.
This will be over too soon, I fear
all of the preparation and doubt
falling away as I step onto the shore.
I no longer see why swimming
this Channel is such an accomplishment,
it seems almost pedestrian, like
making it across the above ground pool
that killed a circle of my parents lawn
when I was a child, but things do always
end up being far easier in my dreams.

SOUTHERN MOUNTAIN 鐵笛倒吹 四十二

When you visit the Southern Mountain
what will you say
of its Northern brother?
Returning northward what words
will best describe the Southern peak?

Answer carefully after much thought
or remain silent, both choices
are yours to select, as both
mountains caress the passing clouds
and reach out for the sun
which neither may grasp.


A reflection on case 42 of the Iron Flute Koans.

FIRST TIME

It looks perfectly normal, the kind
of restaurant you would seek out
on a Friday night in a distant city.
The people look like those you know
or could know, those from home for instance.
She is not remarkable, blonde, older,
a slightly twisted smile, blue eyes,
but on meeting there is a sudden distance
as though this is not a normal world,
certainly not the world where
you first met a cousin, and you have
a nagging feeling, which grows during the meal
that one of you is an alien, an avatar
from some other world, parallel perhaps,
and this reality is anything but, although
the pennette is quite remarkable.
Would you meet your first true relative at age 62
you know that while blood may be thicker than water,
it also congeals just as easily.

WINTER, AGAIN

The snow began falling this morning
the dry, almost greasy snow that defies
the plows running up and down the streets,
too shallow for the salters to begin.
Cars slide to a stop, or nearly so,
at the intersection, and you know
it is merely a matter of time before two
will simultaneously, and there will be
a loud crunch of metal, gesticulating of hands,
He would stay and watch, as he does
auto racing, but the temperature
has breached single digits, the wind
has taken up winter’s challenge, and
he knows only a fool would
venture or stay out in this.

SNAKE EYES

They roll in, one after the next,
after the next, gaps that appear
in their rank are soon enough filled.
By night you mark them
by their red lights, lemmings
with no cliff in sight, so they sit
one alongside the next in the queue,
disgorging their chattering, smiling contents
into the vast building, and wait
the prescribed period of time until
they swallow up their contents again,
far lighter in wallet, and leaving
the cacophony of the casino floor behind,
withdraw into the night.

ARMAGEDDON

There are a group of them
who stare at the sky
knowing it is coming
launched on its course
at the beginning of time
which has no beginning.
Some say it will be soon
others are less certain when
but all accept without question
its inevitability, and wonder
what will remain in its
aftermath, seas evaporated,
continents blotted, it is easy
I tell them, there will be
a freaking big mess
for the roaches to clean up.


First Appeared in Pandaloon, 1996.

SOUL MUSIC

The first time I heard Mozart,
I swore I was in a biblical garden
and I was content to sit and listen for eternity.
The serpent came along, as they do in such gardens,
as I recall, with the face of Beethoven, though now
I am convinced it was just Mahler trying to pass.
I still stop and eat from the fruit of Mozart on occasion,
but once the food was there for the taking, but
now it has to be purchased, and even here
you pay and never know until you bite into it
just how fresh and juicy it might be.
And lately, so much has been overpowering
that I cannot digest it,
and my growing deafness makes
each purchase agonizing, even though
I know if I went without, I
wouldn’t starve, save for my soul.

RULER, PLEASE

You search without end for a way
to precisely measure life in all of its aspects.
You will not be dissuaded by the fact that you can no more
control its span than you could control your need to breathe.
You say you picked the sperm and egg,
that their union you carefully orchestrated.
You believe all things can be measured,
if you can only identify proper metrics for the task.
You know precisely how tall you are, how much
you have shrunken over the years,
how much your waistline has grown.
You can count your good deeds, have a rating scale
that says your next life will be karmic payback hell.
You are taken with measurements of all sorts,
so much so that you often forget to fully live.
You say that this loss doesn’t matter much,
for living boldly, thoroughly, gives you
far too much more to measure.