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.

OVER UNDER SIDEWAYS DOWN

He is fond of saying that it is
“water under the dam,” and she
constantly calls him on it, reminding him
that water goes over the dam.

He smiles when she does this
and reminds her that it isn’t a dam
if water is going over it, and it is mindless
to say its water under the bridge

for that is the essential nature of bridges,
and, he adds, when I say it, you know I’m flying
by the seat of my pants, so why don’t
you just give it a rest for now, okay?

She replies, if that is what you want,
I will gladly do so, just realize that this
is why almost all your verbal analogies
have a tendency to crash and burn.

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.

EXPECTATIONS

Nothing unexpected happened today.
That, in itself, was entirely unexpected.
On this and certain other days,
you have to expect the unexpected.
When that doesn’t happen you are left
to ponder why what was logically expected
went so unexpectedly wrong.
Nothing unexpected should happen tomorrow.
At least anything unexpected happening
would be a truly unexpected event.
But as our parents always told us,
we should always expect the unexpected.
Or so was their perpetual expectation.