BASHO, REDUX

This poem was recently published in the first issue of a new journal, Punt Volat.  You can find it here:

https://puntvolatlit.com/issues/winter-2019


If Basho were here today,
in this America, at this time,

stop briefly and consider what
he might write, how he would

describe the faces of parents
mourning children gunned down

in random urban violence,
the asylum seeker, praying

at the border for entry, for hope,
the homeless woman curled

in a ball in her cardboard home
in an alley no one visits, no one

sees even in the full light of day,
the school children practicing

active shooter drills, while
learning to recite the alphabet.

sitting zazen, I
see one thousand cranes crying.
Their river bathes me.

NATURALIA NON SUNT TURPIA

When did we stop being of the soil
and begin to fear it, to tell our children
not to touch the ground, it is dirty
where once it was only dirt, and we
put in our mouths, from time to time
if only to drive our mothers crazy.
She says if you are going to plant
wear gloves, and when she walks away
I pull them off my hands and plunge
fingers into the turned and dampened soil.
This, I am convinced, is how it is
supposed to be, how nature intended,
before designer dyed mulch, rubber mulch
before we became the robots
our parents’ sci-fi writers anticipated.
Later, in the shower, scraping the dirt
from beneath fingernails, I watch
as it flows reluctantly down the drain
I bid farewell to that bit of my childhood
but I swear I won’t deny my grandchildren.

FINDING

Even when I was briefly in Edinburgh
I dreamed of walking the streets of Lisbon
or Porto looking into the faces of older men
and wondering if this one was my father.
the father I had never seen, never known.
Was the one my Jewish mother described
in detail to the social worker who took me
from her shortly after she gave me life.
It is many years later, now, my mother
has a face, discovered in the twisting path
of a double helix, good West Virginia
Jewish stock, Lithuania left far behind.
I may someday visit Lisbon, I hear
it is a lovely city, but the faces will all
be alien to me, and there I will dream
of my day touring the Highlands
of Scotland, the Isle of Skye, and which
of the McDonald’s and McAllister’s might
be kin and which Tartan I can now
rightfully claim is my own.

As a young child I recall my mother
justifying all manner of disasters based
on miscommunication, mostly hers, by
saying, “Does Macy’s talk to Bloomingdale’s?”

I didn’t care, no one did and the excuse
never worked as far as I can tell, and I now
know from experience, that of course they
talked to each other, and today they are
owned by the same corporate overseer.

So why is it that I spent the better part
of my day trying to get my old iPhone
to speak nicely to my new Samsung phone?

I wasn’t asking much, just to share contacts
and photos, but they weren’t having it,
no how, now way, not never, so I
was left to turn to a mediator, and it
pained me to call in Microsoft, but they did
have a window on a solution, so they
thanks to their outlook got to have the last word.

METASTASIS

She could barely move her head
the cancer climbed her spine
reaching upward, clutching vertebrae
reaching out, tendrils grasping
tearing fragile organs.
She would cry, but that would be
an admission of defeat,
a welcome to death.

I cried out for her,
entreated our God
for compassion
that she might stand by her sons
when they uttered the ancient words,
by her daughter, adjusting
the white lace veil,
but he would not answer,
drawn into catatonia, seeing
severed limbs of children
littering the streets of Sarajevo.

She clings tenuously to life
as I cling tenuously to faith.


First appeared in Community of Poets Magazine Vol. 21,, 1999 and later in 
Legal Studies Forum 30:1-2, 2006

CLARITY

There are those occasional moments
of clarity that appear without warning
and are, as quickly, gone.
We expect them less as we age
and they oblige us by staying away.
Children assume them, and are
rarely surprised, as though
they see them coming, need no warning
and have no expectation
anything will come of them.
Expectations grow proportionally with age
and patience diminishes apace.
The child understands all of this
with the same fascination she has
for a soap bubble, as she watches
each float away on the breeze of time.

PUEBLO CHRISTMAS

The night is that bitter cold
that slices easily through
nylon and Polartec, makes
child’s play of fleece and denim.
The small rooms glow
in the dim radiance of propane lights
and heaters as the silver
is carefully packed away
in plastic tool boxes.
The pinyon wood is neatly stacked
in forty pyres, some little taller
than the white children
clinging to their parents’ legs,
some reaching twenty-five feet,
frozen sentinels against
the star gorged sky.
The fires are slowly lighted
from the top, the green wood
slowly creeps to flame
as its sap drips fire
until the pile is consumed.
Half frozen we step away
from the sudden oven heat.
The smoke climbs
obliterating the stars
as the procession snakes
from the small, adobe church,
the men at its head firing rifles
into the scowling smoke cloud.
A sheet is draped over the four poles
a chupah over the statue of the Virgin Mother
remarried to her people.
She weaves through the crowd,
gringos, Indians, looking
always upward, beyond the smoke
the clouds against which it nestles,
beyond all, for another
faint glimpse of her Son.