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.

WARRANTED

We have police for almost everything
these days, ports and airports, cities, towns
transit authorities and those whose beat
is good taste or lack of it.
Most enforce laws, some merely
regulations, a few making them up as they go.
My phone rang this morning, an 800 number,
And knowing better, I answered it.
It was a bank, one where I have never
had an account, telling me there was a problem
with my ATM card and I needed to call
immediately to reactivate the card.
Unfortunately I didn’t write down the
the call back number, and now
some poor scammer is sitting by his phone
with time on his hands, imagining
the free meals he might have had
doing federal time for wire fraud.
If only there were the telephone police,
but they have all gone to work
for the NSA, recording my callback numbers.

SEPPO’S TURNING THE WHEEL

The wisest of men
when asked at what time
it is best to pursue the Way
will answer when a thousand stars
have made their presence known.
The wisest student will say
when cleaning myself
by bathing in the mud.
This will become clear
when the frog
consumes the dragon.


A reflection on Case 38 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo

FOCUS

He always paid passing attention to the coconut palms.
It wasn’t that they were so attractive as to merit attention.
Quite the contrary, they were remarkable ordinary as palms go.
But he knew that if the drivers here didn’t get him,
a ill-timed coconut leaping from a palm
would be pleased to do the job.
And that was just too horrid a way to go.
He could see the obit: “Killed by an angry coconut
whose natural gravitational journey
he had the temerity to interrupt.”

PATER INCOGNITA

He often comes to me in dreams.
In most he is faceless, but intently present,
speaking in a voice I instantly know,
nothing like mine and totally mine.
On occasion his face appears, blurred,
as if seen through a scrim, back-lit,
vague, an actor in some film I have seen,
but yet not that person, that character.
For a while I saw my own face, but I knew
that was just my wishful mind filling in a gap
which has yet to be filled, knowing
that it likely never will.