Between Scylla and Charybdis
they cower amidst the ruins
fearful to look skyward
lest they encourage
the rains of hell.

Now and then they visit
the corpses, hastily buried
grief drowned by the sound
of the laugh of the gunner
peering down from the hills.
It is always night for the soul
and lookout must be kept
for Charon, who rides
silently along the rivers of blood,
that flow through her streets.

In the great halls,
far removed from the horror,
self-professed wise men
exchange maps
lines randomly drawn,
scythes slicing a people.
They trade in lives as chattel,
reaping a bitter harvest,
praying there may only be
but seven lean years.

They offer a sop to Cerberus,
three villages straddling the river,
but the army of the hills
knows they will take that and more
and waits patiently for the winter
when the odor of sanctity
no longer arises out of the city
to assail their nostrils
and Shadrach is
no more than a ghost.

First Appeared in Living Poets (UK), Vol. 2, No. 1, 2000.


It is odd to discover
that time obeys the economic
laws of supply and demand
but as I have aged, that
has become ever more clear
as my supply has dwindled,
my demand remains constant
and the value increases accordingly.

That may explain why, now,
I am content to check the scores
and read the stats of my favorite
football or baseball team, getting every bit
as frustrated with their performance
without investing three plus
hours for an hour of action.

This has worked out
quite well, but I am concerned
that they may start winning,
and that I will become another
recidivist looking everywhere
for a Sports Fan Anonymous meeting.


We live in the cell phone age
and there are hidden advantages
that the young, exchanging
last year’s model for this,
will never fully understand
until they, too, are much older.

With the push of a button,
held in for five seconds,
the phone will go off at night,
and since no one any longer
has a landline, you are assured
that no one will drag you
from sleep to announce
they are able to extend
the warranty on a car you
sold two years ago,
or to say that a friend
or relative has died,
and denying death night hours
is the closest thing
you can do to feel that you
are in control of anything.


If the student asks the teacher
for greater knowledge
he will be met
with a blow from the stick.
If he asks again
the teacher will respond
I have nothing to give you.

Will you recognize
the greatest gift
when it is offered to you
or will you continue
to pursue its shadow.

A reflection on Case 79 of the Iron Flute koans.


Along the shore
of the pond wishing
it was a lake,
the anhinga proudly
shows off the small fish
that will be his
mid-morning snack.

The egret finds
this show of ostentation
abhorrent and returns
to her search
for bugs on the reeds
fringing the shore.

The alligator swims
lazily off shore
hoping we will
soon pass, and
considers whether
he wants only to sun,
or if an anhinga would
make a good meal.


The meeting occurred by chance,
two old men sitting in the same park
staring at the same empty chess board
as the waves of the Stygian Sea
lapped against the break wall,
the ferryman now at the helm
of the great cargo ship.
“So,” said Hillel, “you come here often?”
Old, bent Buddha paused
“as far as I know, I have
always been here, or perhaps
I am not here now, never have been.”
“I know the feeling” the ancient Rabbi said
“I’ve been here so long, I too
have begun to doubt my very existence.”
Buddha rubbed his great girth
and smiled placidly as a black bird
alighted on his shoulder.
The Rabbi stroked his beard
the stood on one foot,
only to have two bluejays
land, one on each arm.
“Would you care to join me,”
he asked, “for a meal at Ming’s
or if you prefer, we can do take out
from the Dragon Palace,
whatever suits your mood,
in any event, my treat this time.”
The saffron robed old man
unfolded himself, and erect
and bowing, said
“It would honor me to dine with you
but if you wouldn’t mind
I’d much prefer a bowl
of chicken soup with kreplach
and a pastrami on rye.”

First appeared here April 24, 2016


We were six hours out of Tokyo
somewhere over the North Pacific.
My back was cramped, calf muscles
knotted, longing for sleep
that would not come, the movie
rolling out in sullen silence.
I wait for the night to pass, for light
to break in through the cracks
around the pulled shades
some small reminder that day
and freedom await, but the sun
remains outside, knowing its place.
We wandered the desert for 40 years
but there we had freedom of movement,
endless space in the parching sun.
Sitting on the plane, quietly begging
for a landing and the crush of bodies
moving through the airport, you long
to see her pull off the shirt and jeans,
to see her standing, stretching in the pink
panties, to mix lust and love and sweat,
to hold her in the frantic dance of orgasm,
but none of that is possible from seat 34-C
United Flight 882 en route to Chicago.
We stood in the cattle cars, pressed
so tightly that movement occurred
only in waves, surprised that they
would treat laborers in such a fashion,
but dreading the alternative, it offered
constant provision of your papers
to the smug young men who knew so little
of the world, save for the gray wool
of the uniforms, the twin lightning bolts
screwed into their lapels, their cruelty
not only expected but ordered.
When we saw the smoke rising from the ovens
we knew, but preferred to deny the truth
as surely as the cordwood knows that it
is destined for the fire, soon to be ashes.
She is likely waking now, stepping from the shower
her skin lightly red from the back scrubber
and the towel rubbed across her thighs.
We stood on the deck of the old freighter,
many of us pressed tightly against the rail
and saw the old seaport baking in the sun,
a land we were certain was promised us
but they turned us back though several drowned
swimming for her shores, death preferable
to return to a place of nothingness, a void.
Six hours out of Tokyo, teeming with people
like the lower East Side on Shabbat morning,
you want to see open spaces, to find some sort
of freedom and our slavery is barely
a bitter memory, saved for prayer.

First Appeared in Footwork: Paterson Literary Review, Vol. 24-25, 1998.