RETAINER

I had a meeting this morning
with a number of the birds
that inhabit our wetland.

The said they wanted to retain
my services, although how
they discovered I was a lawyer
is wholly beyond me as I
retired several years ago.

They asked me to draft
a cease and desist letter
to all Americans, demanding
that we stop tweeting, or
more to the point, that we
call our inane and sometimes
violent messages something
other than a tweet for that
is the sweet trill of their
songbird cousins and we
are besmirching nature
with each new posting.

FRIENDS

We will always be friends, we said,
probably half meaning it at the time.
How many times have we said that
or somthing akin to it, knowing
that the promise to call, to stay
in close touch, was at best
half meant and almost certain
not to come to any reality.

I have a catalog of friends, who
I told I would never give up, distance
notwithstanding, we all do, and mine
is replete with both good and bad
intentions, each and every one a failure.

I did not say this to my ex-wife
when we divorced, and I must say
that while I failed at the marriage,
or so she said, I did not ever fail
at not being friends after its end.

TRIPTYCH

A triptych hangs in the gallery of memory. Admission is by invitation only.

The first panel is a time fogged mirror into which I stare. The adopted image hides behind the tarnished silver. My adopted mother’s voice is heard from a hidden speaker: “You were named after my father.” I want to tape his picture to the glass, a face to share the empty space. She has no pictures, she says, he never liked being photographed, said it would steal his soul. She can barely remember him: “He died when I was five.” I ask questions. I need to know more about the giver of names. She falls silent, drawing in, secreting memory.

In the second panel a woman sits, fidgeting. She is a striking blond. I cannot see her as being sixty-one, though she is. I deny that I am fifty. As the Rabbis climb the few steps to the Bimah, she leans over. “You know,” Lois says, “just like you, I was named for your grandfather. She talks freely of herbalism, life in New York, places she wants someday to see. “It’s funny,” she whispers, “I’ve never seen a picture of him; like he had some kind of phobia of being photographed.” Outside the Temple she stands with my mother and sister, arms interlocked, embracing both. I snap the picture. I am not captured on the film. Lois and I drive back to my mother’s apartment, stopping at one of the unending lights on Wisconsin Avenue. She touches my hand: “You know there was one more person named after him, your other sister.” The light changes.

There is only a picture hook in the wall — not even the faint outline that marks the space from which a picture is removed, the wall beneath unbleached by the sun. Lisa, my my sister, like me adopted and as quickly withdrawn, left no outward marks. She is a footnote in my father’s obituary. She is cast off by family, an unmentionable. She is my mother’s deeply hidden scar.

I am repeatedly drawn into this room. It’s walls never change, the pictures periodically replaced. I need to visit, to assure myself of — what? Someday, too soon, this exhibit will close.

First appeared in Pitkin in Progress, Vol. 3, No. 1 (2002)

PICTURE THIS

Words failed him again. They did so ever more often it seemed, but it was possible it was merely that he was trying to express ever more complex ideas ideas in terms others would comprehend. A picture might not be worth a thousand words, but if you had that many, odds are some would be correct. And the listener could sort out which were and which were not. He had made up some words that fit perfectly, but they only drew stares, so he took to drawing pictures. Then he could attach his words and they would mean exactly what he was defining — picture dictionary that anyone could grasp. Well, not anyone perhaps, but most people if they would be the least bit patient. His friends had learned that patience, as he was patient with them in return. But his parents were another matter, never willing to slow down and really listen, always just searching for words that failed them.

DIFFERENT TODAY

The air we breathe is different today,
and we inhale more deeply
with the energy of our youth.

The tears we cry today are not
solely tears of loss and sorrow,
but also of promise and hope.

The wine that we drink today
will be the same as before, but
now sweeter on the tongue.

The sleep that we sleep tonight
will be deep, nightmares banished,
dreaming of a brighter future.

The songs that we sing today
we have sung a thousand times
but on this day the words have meaning.

HUANG PO’S GOBBLERS OF DREGS

You have heard that when
the student is ready the teacher appears,
and you believe you are ready,
but no teacher has appeared.
I can tell you that you are ready,
that you will never be ready,
that I am not the teacher,
that the teacher is here,
and that the teacher will never appear.
But the path you seek to find
with a teacher is all around you,
that there is not path to find.
If I give you a small bowl and you
stand by a lake of fresh water
just how much water can you hope to drink?

A reflection on Case 11 of the Hekiganroku (Blue Cliff Record)

IN THE JUNGLE

If you close your eyes
you can imagine that this garden
was once a tropical jungle
as imagined by some clever
Floridian striving to separate
more tourists from their
dwindling travellers checks.

It has been carefully done over,
plants native and ornamental
replacing the vines and trees,
the alligators, real and imaginary
gone, now an exhibit of Lego animals,
the orchids in bloom, and
you wonder why anyone
once came here in the old days.

JANUARY

It is an odd feeling, in the middle
of January, to no longer consider
becoming a bear, choosing
to hibernate until Spring arrives
demanding an awakening.

I did that for years, never
grew the heavy fur coat needed
and wasn’t much for digging dens
in the snow, so I sat inside
and dreamed of bearishness.

Living now among the birds
where we shiver when it is
in the 40’s, and I sweat and
complain when it is 90, I try
occasionally to remember

once wanting
to become
a bear.

FORGETTING

What they don’t want to see, or are
perhaps blind to, is that it always
came down to boats, and fear was
always overcome, the ocean tamed.

Today, it is trucks, trailers, and still
boats, and fear is still overcome
for the promise of better, for
the hope for life without terror.

None of the arrivals came invited
many were turned away repeatedly,
but if they still breathed they
would continue the attempts for

such was the value of freedom,
from tyrants, oppressors and fear,
but we have forgotten them, those
who are why we are here today,

we so willing to build walls, to turn
others away for they have no
invitations, for we offer none,
the country being ours alone

DYBBUK

The evening slowly enters
Warsaw — along Aleje Solidarnosci
a lumbering truck backfires — some old ones
cringe — thoughts collapsing — into rail cars — lightening
bolts on stiff black wool uniforms — polished jackboots —
a wrought iron gate — Arbeit Macht Frei

The evening slowly enters
Warsaw along Aleje Solidarnosci
a truck backfires a sudden flock
of sierpowka Eurasian Collared Doves
rises gracefully from the trees
each carrying another lost
in the ghetto ’43 in the revolt ’44

Night settles on Warsaw – there is solitude

First appeared in Pitkin in Progress, Vol. 3, No. 1 (2002)