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.
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.”
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.
There was always breakage. You accounted for breakage. You measured breakage. You didn’t know when breakage would happen, but you knew it would. You hoped to minimize breakage, but not to totally avoid it. It couldn’t be done and there were those who relied on some level of breakage to make a living, who cleaned up after it when it happened, who logged it and measured it, who devised plans to avoid it. And there were those who had a hand in creating it, or seeing it through, but no one really liked matrimonial lawyers except other matrimonial lawyers.