A SHORT LONG LINE

There is a statue of William Penn
atop the city hall in Philadelphia
seeming to stare down over the city
with bronze eyes incapable of seeing.
Hagar wandered the wilderness
after she was evicted by Abraham
at Sarah’s urging, the price
of jealousy, with bread and water
and the promise of a great nation.
It is pure speculation whether
Hagar was enslaved and freed
or, as we would claim it today,
employed by the family. In the end
the distinction matters little.
Penn remains blind atop the building
Hagar and Ishmael are long dead,
and Jefferson likely had children
with one of his slaves, or so
the DNA evidence indicates.
I am of Norwegian and Scottish
patrilineal heritage it appears
though my great nation is
a six year old girl and
almost three year old boy.

UNDER THE WEIGHT

My shelves grow heavy
with volumes of words
I wish I had written, neatly
bound up in books
that stare at me, at once
bidding me welcome
and challenging me to enter.
One shelf is set aside
for books of pages,
blank, on which I have written
each day now for three
and a half years, words
I did write which, on rereading,
I often wish I hadn’t.
I could write in pencil
erase later in the face of regret,
but the pen seals failure
and, I am sure, helps build
character, which I have in excess

ETERNITY OR A WEEK

He only wants to live
forever, or if not, at least
until a week from Thursday.
Important things always happen
on Wednesdays, he is convinced.
He has no logical reason
for his belief, but it is his
and he will not be shaken from it.
“It is a matter of faith,” he says
“and you can borrow it or leave it,
but it’s mine.” He does like
to own things, and ideas are
the greatest things in his world.
He is certain he will die
on a Wednesday, not that his death
will be all that important, though
he wouldn’t mind it so,
but he wants to be cremated,
wants some of his ashes left
in a church, any church, just
to let them know we are all
created in God’s image
and this Wednesday will
for him, Ash Wednesday.

TOMORROW

Tomorrow, he is certain,
it will be sunny and surprisingly warm
or it will rain, with a cool breeze
or it will be temperate
but rather cloudy.
It may be none of these
or all, by turns.
He would ask the weatherman
but he knows none and this
would be such a personal question
you need an intimacy
that he has rarely felt.
The weather doesn’t really matter
to him anyway, for tomorrow
he is certain, his room
will be unchanged, only
the nurses will be different.

SOLSTICE

I haven’t the time
to stop and measure the day
to insure that it is as short
as promised, that the sun
which will refuse to appear
would minimize its visit if it did.
That is a task I leave
willingly to others.
I increasingly operate
on faith, that I will wake
tomorrow, that tomorrow will
be longer than today,
that spring will arrive
in due course
if never soon enough.
I ought to be concerned
with all of these things,
but I know that time
is elastic and every look
in the morning mirror says
it is contracting far faster
than I would like.

TUNG SHAN’S NO COLD OR HEAT

You say all you seek is moderation,
simply finding a middle way, though
nothing at all would suffice for you,
no pleasure, no pain, no loss or gain,
you would willingly attach to nothing at all.
This is not the path the Buddha would tell you,
for the place you claim to seek
cannot ever exist, and if you wander
in search of it you will not find it,
but you most certainly will lose yourself.
Do not wish for death while you are living,
for the state of not living now is death
and it will find you without effort on your part.
And what is heat and cold, anyway?



A reflection on Case 48 of the Hekiganroku (Blue Cliff Record)