ANTWERP

It is seven in the morning
Antwerp arises slowing in winter
the small bar along seldom
used quays of Schelde
is almost empty, one old man
tottering on his stool
swaying to breath
head pressed on the counter.
Young couple, she brown haired
pale white skin against white
sweater, he long blond
woven into a ponytail
draped over the faded
denim jacket.
Her fingers
entwined in his, they stared
now, again sipping , she
Stella Artois, he Duvel.
He would paint,
when there was light
and when not, his fingers
would play across her belly
her breasts and mons
as they had in darkness
slowly receding, touching
canvas mind filling
with images cast in oils,
she would cast words
as ancient runes, telling
of times gone, to come,
and in night he would rise
into her, interlocked
sweat running across
his chest, pooling
in his navel.
She touched
his lips, sucked her finger
and put match
to cigarette, drawing
deeply of the morning
carried on river breezes.


First Appeared in Coffee and Chicory, Vol. 5, 1997.

BASHO DOES NOT TEACH 鐵笛倒吹 八十

There is a woman
who asks no questions,
who fears neither birth nor death.
What can you teach her?
The wise man offers no lesson
but observes closely
and gains great wisdom.

What can you teach
one who already knows.
What can you learn
with a fully open mind.
In a clockless world
there is no time.


A reflection on case 80 of the Iron Flute Koans

THIN ICE

When we were much younger
we would meet by the edge
of the pond each day
after winter’s first taste
and pry rocks from the bank
with frozen fingers, one the size
of a fist, others even larger.
We would carefully aim
and in a crystal parabola
watch as they hit the frozen
surface, one upon another
in hopes they would not
break through to drown
in a strangled silence.

When the largest stones
we could heave would clatter
across the ice, great uneven
ruts in the covering snow,
we would reach for the shovels
we had sneaked from the garage
and slowly roll the blanket of snow
into a pillow on the banks.
Lacing on our skates, some
a size too large, stuffed with paper
others too small, toes crushed,
we would step gingerly out
like sailors too long ashore
and lean on our hockey sticks
like three-legged stools
tottering across a shined floor.
We would take off a hat
or a glove and mark the corners
of the rink and the edges
of the goal mouth, two sticks wide.
We would take the almost
round wooden disk of
layers of plywood
crudely nailed together
and begin a game
whose periods were marked
by the cry of our mothers.

Today the pond is gone
replaced by homes
and our shouts barely echo
off the brick facades.

ARF

Sitting on the fourth shelf
from the top, in the second rank
of bookcases in my office
is a somewhat worn copy
Dylan Thomas is “Portrait
of the Artist as a Young Dog.”
I can’t admit to ever having read it,
or an ability to now recall if I did,
but I know I’ve had several young dogs
in my 66 years, but none
were particularly artistic;
but perhaps I set too high a standard
as they did seem to treat
the white tiles in the foyer
of my parents suburban home
as a canvas on rainy spring days,
very much to my mother’s dismay.

REFLECTION

He’s mostly bald
and generally something of a grouch.
When he enters a room, the key
is to nod in recognition
but not in invitation.
You know, regardless
of the topic at hand,
he will have something
to say and it, no matter how
you perfume it, will nevertheless
have that air of negativity
he has so ably mastered.
So many others, and especially you,
have perfected the art
of deflected avoidance,
at least until that moment
you come face-to-face with him
in your morning mirror.

SOUL MUSIC

The first time I heard Mozart,
I swore I was in a biblical garden
and I was content to sit and listen for eternity.
The serpent came along, as they do in such gardens,
as I recall, with the face of Beethoven, though now
I am convinced it was just Mahler trying to pass.
I still stop and eat from the fruit of Mozart on occasion,
but once the food was there for the taking, but
now it has to be purchased, and even here
you pay and never know until you bite into it
just how fresh and juicy it might be.
And lately, so much has been overpowering
that I cannot digest it,
and my growing deafness makes
each purchase agonizing, even though
I know if I went without, I
wouldn’t starve, save for my soul.

RULER, PLEASE

You search without end for a way
to precisely measure life in all of its aspects.
You will not be dissuaded by the fact that you can no more
control its span than you could control your need to breathe.
You say you picked the sperm and egg,
that their union you carefully orchestrated.
You believe all things can be measured,
if you can only identify proper metrics for the task.
You know precisely how tall you are, how much
you have shrunken over the years,
how much your waistline has grown.
You can count your good deeds, have a rating scale
that says your next life will be karmic payback hell.
You are taken with measurements of all sorts,
so much so that you often forget to fully live.
You say that this loss doesn’t matter much,
for living boldly, thoroughly, gives you
far too much more to measure.