NANSEN’S HUT

If you have fine china
you will be saddened when it breaks.
If your pantry is full
your anxiety grows
as the food diminishes.

But if you are alone
with nothing, the apple
that falls on the road
is a feast, and the stream
runs free with the finest wine.
The silence of sun and moon
is an orchestra.


A reflection on case 52 of the Iron Flute Koans

INTO THE SOIL

When did we stop being of the soil
and begin to fear it, to tell our children
not to touch the ground, it is dirty when
once it was only dirt, and we
put it in our mouths, from time to time
trying to drive our mothers crazy.
She says if you are going to plant
wear gloves, and when she walks away
I pull them off of my hands and plunge
fingers into the turned and dampened soil.
This, I am convinced, is how it is
supposed to be, how nature intended,
before designer dyed mulch, rubber mulch,
before we became the robots
our parents’ sci-fi writers anticipated.
Later, in the shower, scraping the dirt
from beneath fingernails, I watch
as it flows reluctantly down the drain
I bid farewell to that bit of my childhood
but I swear I won’t deny my grandchildren.

DACHAIGH

Even when I was briefly in Edinburgh
I dreamed of walking the streets of Lisbon
or Porto, looking into the faces of older men
and wondering if this one was my father,
the one I had never seen, never known.
the one my Jewish mother described
in detail to the social worker who took me from her
shortly after she gave me life.
It is many years later, now my mother
has a face, discovered in the twisting path
of a double helix, good West Virginia
Jewish stock, Lithuania left far behind.
I may someday visit Lisbon, I hear
it is a lovely city, but the faces will all
be alien to me, and there I will dream
of my day touring the Highlands
of Scotland, the Isle of Skye, and which
of the McDonald’s or McAllister’s might
be kin and which Tartan I can
rightfully claim as my own.

ERR GO

There is a reason for all things
and therefore there is a reason for this
although we cannot begin to fathom
what that reason could possibly be, which
should be reason enough,
for reason has a twisted soul:
now playful, now angry, now vengeful
in irregular turns without warning.
The problem with seeking the reason
for things is deeply hidden, and not
as some imagine that it is difficult, no,
the problem is that the search for the reason
has its own reason needing to be discovered
and so on recursively back to the Big Bang
which still, to this day, has
the ultimate undiscovered reason.

UNTO TARSHISH

In this place
there is a fatted,
sacrificial silence.
It is the large
Jewish Cemetery
nestling the road
where Maryland
and the District are loosely
stitched together.
It is a small plot
goldenrod dirt
outskirting Lisbon.

This ground is sacred
not for the blessing
of one who
has taken the tallit
of holiness.
The sanctity of this
ground leaches
from the simple pine
boxes that return
with the body
to the soil.

The stones, mostly simple
with neatly incised
Hebrew inscriptions
are all blank
to me, worn
smooth by memory
denied.

I place my ear
carefully to each, wanting
to hear a voice,
a fractured whisper
that will resonate
in the hollow spaces.

I pass by those
with shared names
for if he or she is here
each must share
the isolation
they willed me.
I look
at the faces
of passing mourners —
none resemble
the morning mirror.

I grow tired
of the search, sit
in the paltry shade
of the ricinus plant
knowing we both will
be gone by sundown.


First Appeared in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 29, No. 1, 2005

WITH A CAUSE

She says if you could only
peel back the photograph, you could
read the entire story that lies beneath.
It is deeper than the image below which
it lies trapped, and wider, imbued with a meaning
the image could not capture, just as,
she says frowning, there are no words
for parts of the picture, a symbiosis
that we of unitary senses cannot unite.
This one, pointing to a crucifix, shows him
where he ought to be, the pain, his pain
apparent, but so much deeper than
any image or sculptor’s hand can fashion.
Undeserved pain, not by sacrileges, by rebellion
but he would understand it, he would
revel in it, for he was the greatest rebel
and he would easily peel back the picture
in step wholly into the story beneath.