ON THIS DAY

For on this day there is no peace,
for on this day some are laid to rest,
for on this day others shed endless tears,
for on this day many are wringing hands,
for on this day many offer hollow words,
for on this day they know they should act
for on this day they know they will not,
for on this day we think about tomorrow,
for on this day we think of those without tomorrows,
for on this day the sun did rise,
for on this day the earth did rotate,
for on this day God was elsewhere,
for on this day we were all too human.


In memory of the lives lost and changed forever at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

NO HAMLETS, WE

We were the crown princes, then,
with an occasional princess, though
that was more to maintain the peace.
Our kingdom was a square block,
and we dominion over all of our territory
save the two minefields, well-marked,
kept by the Strauss and Herlihy fiefdoms,
who refused to pay homage to us,
denied us our just due, and suffered
such consequences as we could muster
in the dark of a late October night.
We four, Larry, Buddy, Sheldon and I
roamed our kingdom, and one day,
drunk with power and Nehi, scaled
the border masquerading as a fence
and entered the neighboring kingdom,
cavorting until its army of one
chased us away with a shout, “It’s
a private school and you don’t
belong here,” before hobbling back
into the building he was far
too black to enter save in uniform.
We are old now, have long since
abdicated our thrones and struggle
only to retain our memories.

SOZAN’S FOUR DON’TS 鐵笛倒吹 九十二

You may seek to follow
the path of the dove,
for a fool knows many roads.
You may wrap yourself
in fine linen, an infant
wears only his skin
and knows this moment
is already gone.

Think long before you speak
of how to walk
along the path, of where it leads.
The baby says nothing,
will not speak of where
he has been,
where he is going, for to him
there is only here,
and silence
is descriptive enough.


A reflection on Case 92 of The Iron Flute koans.

YIDDISH

My grandmother lapsed
into Yiddish only on special occasions
“where other words won’t fit”
she said, where there is
no English to describe
the indescribable, blessed
be He, but we knew
that it was merely
a convenient way to keep
us out of the conversation,
while they clucked.
Mah Johng is a game
that can only be played
in Yiddish, she said,
to hell with thousands
of years of Chinese history.

She remembers the Golem
she met him once
on Fourteenth Street
when she still had
the liquor store.
She thought it strange
that he wanted gin
and not Slivovitz
but Golem can be strange
under the right circumstances,
and he did speak Yiddish.

ALL MANNER OF THINGS

Outside Itaewon she leans
perpetually forward as though
straining against the gales of life.
Her cane beats a tattoo
on the pavement, as she
drives her bent frame to the bus.
Nearing the door a young man
bustles by, receiving her cane
across his shin for his indiscretion.

Assuming her seat, as though
a throne, she leans her scepter
between her knees, and receives
the supplication of the young man
who approaches with a limp
to honor his elders and seek
absolution from a momentary lapse.
The old man, in hanbok, smiles,
the bus begins its imperceptible crawl
toward the Han, a small raft
lost in the rush hour sea.