SMALL REFLECTION

It is that moment when the moon
is a glaring crescent,
slowly engulfed by
the impending night —
when the few clouds give out
their fading glow
In the jaundiced light
of the sodium arc street lamp.-
It nestles the curb — at first a small bird —
when touched, a twisted piece of root

I want to walk into the weed-strewn
aging cemetery, stand in the shadow
of the expressway, peel
the uncut grass from around her head-
stone. I remember
her arthritic hands clutching mine,
in her dark, morgueish apartment, smelling
of vinyl camphor borsht
I saw her last in a hospital bed
where they catalog and store
those awaiting death, stared
at the well-tubed skeleton
barely indenting starched white sheets.
She smiled wanly and whispershouted
my name — I held my ground
unable to cross the river of years
unwilling to touch
her outstretched hand. She had
no face then, no face now, only
an even fainter smell of age
of camphor of lilac of must

Next to the polished headstone
lies a small, twisted root.
I wish it were a bird,
I could place gently
on the lowest branch of the old maple
that oversees her slow departure.


First appeared in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 30, No. 1-2, 2006 and in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press, 2008.

TOZAN’S ADVICE 鐵笛倒吹 七十七

If I tell you there is
a still more precious gem
will you ask “what is it?”
If I respond “it is not a diamond:
what will you do then?

The wealthy fool
will throw off his rings
and begin a futile search.
Are you such a fool,
or do you look inside
secure in knowing
the greatest gem
lies waiting within.


A reflection on Case 77 of the Iron Flute Koans

LOST AND FOUND

He cannot be certain when he lost it. He isn’t even sure where he lost it. He knew he had it, had it for years, and then, once when he looked for it, it was nowhere to be found. He wasn’t all that upset at the loss. It was more that it was familiar, that he was accustomed to it, not that it had in intrinsic or extrinsic value. In fact, he had already replaced it the moment he noticed it was missing. Still he couldn’t help but wonder where it had gone, and why he hadn’t noticed its loss at the moment it occurred. Or had he? But ego could be like that, and it was comforting to know the replacements were stacked up and waiting.

ELLIPSE

He lies on the steam grate
under a thin blanket and plastic
garbage bags, sleeping soundly
lulled by vibrations of a passing car,
back to the Ellipse and grand white house,
oblivious to footfalls of tourists and joggers.
Steam seeps upward through his tattered clothes,
he is back in-country, lying at the fringe
of the jungle, awash in sounds, neat
cast up from furnace earth, cutting
through fatigues and the heavy canvas
and steel toes of the boots, into skin,
to pool on muscles held taut, twitching
at the first heard whoop of chopper blades
or stirring of branches and flora
in still summer air which hangs, a shroud.
Sun rises slowly, bathing the obelisk
in a faint peach glow, he rolls, crushing
the fading, wrinkled photo of three boys
lost, from a different world, standing
in beer soaked mirth, leaning on rifles.
One night, trees oozed forth
shadows, black angels, and his hand
resting in a pool of blood and viscera
with whom he had roamed the bars
of Saigon and Bangkok, invincible knights
before their armor turned to rust.


First appeared in Luna Negra, Spring: 1997

DIMENSIONS

It is far less a matter of space
for we have that in profusion
if mostly always beyond reach, but
unnecessary anyway given our pervasive
fear of being alone while always trying
to define our particular uniqueness.
The universe has a vastness we
can never hope to grasp and so
we turn inward, where space is constrained,
and we can imagine impenetrable borders
that exist solely within the mind.
But the dimension that gives rise
to fear and loathing is time, for it
despite its vastness, is always finite
and always, in our deluded eyes
shrinking as the universe expands,
and we know there is a point
when time becomes a deathly singularity.

DREAMING OF GOLDILOCKS

The universe is more vast
than we could begin to contemplate
forty billion galaxies of
forty billions stars, thrust out
a child, an aged one bent by time
mothers with children in tow,
giants standing above with
names belying their stature.
Sitting here, pen in hand
it is comforting to know
there is another, and another
stretching infinitely, secure
in their uniqueness, in the shadow
of their suns, casting
words into the void.