WE BOW OUR HEADS

Today’s prayer
shall be recited in silence
total, not even the breath
indicating a longing for action.
Nor will it invoke
a holy spirit without us
for it is we
we must inveigh
to attain the desired
actions for which we seek
holy intervention, casting off
free will, an accreting
poor decisions, a goat
where where seek scape
and atonement
for the sins of all the others.
Today’s prayer
shall not be recited at all,
but it is this prayer
in which we find absolution.

UNKNOWING

I don’t know what
                                               I am, the Buddha said.

I don’t know why
                                                my mother gave me up at birth
                                                or how many cousins walk
                                                                    the streets of Lisbon
                                                or where I lost my first tooth
I don’t know what
                                                became of the nickel
                                                or why the tooth fairy was so tight
                                                or who will wash the blood
                                                                    from the streets of Basra
I don’t know how
                                                my Walkman eats batteries
                                                                    like Hostess Twinkies
                                                or why fungus grows underground
                                                or why the Somali child stares through
                                                                    starving eyes
I don’t know why
                                                my dough rises, only to fall mockingly,
                                                or why forced to eat matzoh, the Jews
                                                                    didn’t go back to Egypt
                                                or why I poke my sore knee to insure it hurts

I don’t know
                                                my birthright name.


First Appeared in Children, Churches and Daddies, Vol. 141, October 2004.

FOR THE BIRDS

She wants to know why the oriole
we sometimes see in the park
never visits our backyard feeder.
I remind her that she isn’t usually here,
only visits occasionally, but she says
that I would have told her if I saw one.
She says I got excited when I saw the one
in the park during our walk. She is
right, of course, I would have told her
but all I see at the feeders are finches
of several sorts, doves and wrens, and
when he wants particularly to be seen
as he often does, one cardinal
who is far less interested in the seed
than in having a perch in plain sight, and
when he knows were watching, upthrusts
his fiery crest and spreads his wings.
I tell her cardinals are such show offs.
She is seven, laughs and says yes they are,
just like grandfathers, don’t you think.

WHERE, EXACTLY?

The one thing that will drive him crazy
is a sign with a star, or square,
or anything that says “You Are Here.”
The one place he has never been,
will never be, is standing on a map.
He admits he may be nearby,
but here is out of the question.
He’s never really sure where he is,
but he is always here, even
if no one else can be.
He would like to go there
sometime, but he knows that even
if he makes the journey when he arrives
he will be still be exactly here,
so why waste the effort.

SOUTHERN MOUNTAIN

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

MINE, NEVER MINE

I imagine to myself that this is my house
abutting on my small portion of this street
sitting on my small patch of land I pay
the mortgage and the taxes, so I am entitled
to rent this delusion just a bit longer, and
it all works, until I stop and think
But before I got here, long before the man
we bought this house from, and the women
he bought it from before that, long before
this house stood here, or the nursery it replaced,
long before all of that, others lived here, and they
believed their longhouse was communally theirs,
that the land was theirs to hunt and gather
under a precious loan from the Sky Woman
so long as they treated with reverence.
I give up that thought as well when
the birds remind me their feeders are empty.

NORMALITY

The herons don’t seem
particularly happy
even though their
mating season is over,
for the wood storks
have taken over the shrubs
on the island, their
babies endlessly describing
their wants and desires.
Even the anhinga hang
back, staring down,
knowing that soon enough
the little ones will fledge
and life in the wetlands
will return to normal.