You sneaked away one night. You were there, but while sleep claimed me, you were gone without notice or warning. Where should I look for you? In these barren hills where the spirits of the first nations roam, looking for their ancestral land?
Where should I look for you? Wandering these verdant fields where a hundred generations have been sacrificed to the will of power mad men who know no satisfaction?
Where should I look for you? In these filth ridden streets and narrow alleys where the rats scamper in search of a meal, where a child at play would be a fine repast?
Where should I look for you? Across these wind blown sands where brother has hunted brother for three generations, each laying God’s claim to the birthright of the other while wives and mothers wail in mourning?
First published in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press (2008)
She parked her cart across the face of the bin, she fills the only gap. She has a look of determination that says “give me space if you know what’s good for you.” She examines each banana with the care of it gemologist and you imagine that she wears a loop. She pulls bunches apart, finally picking one, then five minutes later the line behind her in awe and frustration, another one. There is almost a third, until as she places it in her cart she sees something beyond our comprehension, and back it goes amid the host of rejectees. I glanced at my watch, realize how long I have been on this few item shop and grab three of her misbegotten, then seeing her head for the grapes, make my own mad dash to get there first, so I might get home for dinner.
It has a certain heft that says something substantial lies within, waiting to be freed. It glides easily, suggesting an effortlessness you know is a tease, that labor still waits. Still, it does said comfortably, is appealing to the eye, has the deep jade green along its barrel, the knots interwoven top and bottom that say what lies within cannot be easily unraveled. As you draw it across the page you hope that somewhere in Neamh old Robbie will look down on you, smile and share a thought or two, but that you know, is for another day.
Approach the master sitting on his seat. The fool will seek answers having slept through the lesson but the wise student will bow silently and retreat having learned all there is and knowing absolutely nothing.
A reflection on case 44 of Dogen’s True Dharma Eye Koans
You imagine tomorrow will arrive without warning or notice, and even though you are skeptical, you accept the possibility, and if it doesn’t arrive what are the odds you will miss it? If, as expected, it arrives, what the hell, it was supposed to do that so nothing is odd about it, and if not, well you never really expected it to, it’s the blessing of a shortening memory, so you win either way. And so you go on with today, and when not if, tomorrow comes you’ll be there since you will recall your doubt and you’ll assume it is nothing more than the fall of the next domino in the perpetual parade.
It is well past time I wrote a poem about the great joys of my childhood, for memory should bubble up like lava through the crust of time, they should rain in flashes as so much matter dropping into the atmosphere in their ultimate light show. This isn’t going to happen, of course, whether because memory has grown dim over time’s distance or for lack of subject matter. At 68, the difference hardly matters for a blank page hardly cares which pen chooses not to write it.
In the end, it always comes down to night, regardless of the moon, if any, it’s faint light drowned by the city’s oppressive glow, headlights, streetlights and once, spotlights painting the sky, traceable down to that new place we don’t wish or can’t afford, would never dare to go. Death is omnipresent, his shadow is at least, but at night he has greater freedom of movement his reaches longer, less random and we claim not to fear the night, the sun assumes we mourn its absence, and this is true at some level beyond our comprehension, but it isn’t the dark, that is their origin and destination, it’s the hour at which we cede control, and that, like the roller- coaster in freefall, is what we so deeply fear
They brought him myrrh on a flaming salver and all he could do was say “This is something I would expect from a butcher or a carpenter, and the camera angles would never work, so bring me napalm or punji stakes that we have proven to work.” They brought him ripe oranges and the sweet meat of the pineapple, its juice dripping from his chin, and all he could do was tighten his grip on the AK-47 and dream of night on the edge of the jungle. They brought him Rodin, Matisse, Rembrant van Rijn, and Blake, but all he would see was Bosch and Goya, and then only by the light of fading candles. They brought him the String Quartet in A Major played on Strads and Guarnaris, but he wanted the retort of the howitzer the crump of the mortar, the screams of the child. They brought him his child wrapped in bandages missing fingers and toes, and all he wanted was the nursery, a newborn in swaddling, suckling her breast as he stroked her head and remembered the moment of her creation.
First published in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press (2008)
They are arranged like so much ill-stacked cordwood, pressed against walls that are indifferent to their presence. They watch the double doors leading to the examining rooms with trepidation, wanting to be next, wanting more not to be here at all, knowing that the options are none or fewer. He isn’t bothered by it all, this is old hat to him, he knows them and several of them know him by name. He will no doubt be here again and that does not worry him, for here he knows he will walk in and walk out, and too many of the alternatives are far less pleasant, some he is certain involve simple pine boxes or ceramic urns suitable for a mantle, but none of his family have fireplaces, and he would hate to get lost for eternity amid the toys and tchotchkes that so utterly define their lives and homes. While others continue to stare
at the doors, he hears his long dead grandmother whispering to him, “remember, pain is God’s gentle way of reminding you you’re still alive.
It has been said, wisely, that all children speak a common language, regardless of what adults believe they are hearing.
The proof of that proposition is simple enough, pause and watch a parent make demands of a child in the presence of other children, see the reluctant child glance at his foreign peers and gain silent and instant affirmation of adult unreasonableness.
When do we cease being able to communicate without words, in that language of childhood that is at once universal and capable of silence.