MEOW

Again today I am inside this so called
box, unchanged perhaps, but who
is to say, not you, still Schrodinger’s cat.

Don’t bother to ask if I am dead
or alive, for like the Master Daowu, you
can bet that I won’t say, so there.

And do not assume I know what I am,
for if I were dead, I’d hardly know it
and what guarantee is there that

I’m actually alive merely because
I think I am, or is it that I think
I think that I am, it’s all so Descartean

that I’m never quite certain, so let’s just
assume that old Schrodinger was right,
I’m alive and dead, and leave it at that.

CENTER SEAT

My friends have often wondered aloud
why I claim to be most creative when
I am stuck on an airplane for hours.

I have told them that the solitude,
the lack of It is an interesting quirk
of the internet, that birth
and death are disconnected.

Seeking out those born today
I found a long list, the dinosaur
among which is Judy Collins.

That I still remember seeing her
reminds me at once a sense of my youth
and my ever progressing age.

But seek out those who died
on this day, and you hear the strains
of the Slavonic Dance in E minor

or the Sabre Dance from Gayane
but Popes Pius V and Marcellus II
suggest neither of them matter,

Heathens both, they claim, which
brings a deep laugh from Cleaver
and Livingstone, both of who

deny the other, and each says
that only he truly found the black
panther, and I’m thankful to be alive.to distract me,
which includes any airline approved movie,

that allows my creative self to emerge, to
express itself fully without reservation,
a status that being earthbound denies.

Many laugh, uncertain of how creativity
expresses itself, but certain, they
assure me, that my efforts have not

gone unnoticed, that my time spent,
but most importantly my results so well
reflect the surroundings of their creation.

DEARLY DEPARTED

I saw a deceased palmetto bug
this morning in the rest room
of our favorite coffee shop .

It is the first we’ve seen
in four winters here in Florida,
and we didn’t mourn its passing.

Forty-six years ago, during
a previous Florida life, my cat
would find numerous palmettos,

which she found made great toys
to dribble across the terazzo floors
of the small apartment, and

once deceased, tuck into a corner
for later play, or when upset with me,
to deposit in some location where

I couldn’t hope to notice until
it was too late, the grin
on her face positively Cheshire.

She also caught mice, despite being
declawed, but she had the courtesy
to deposit their bodies by front door.

PARENTHOOD

Two headstones
Name, rank, branch
of service, dates.

One New Jersey, one
Virginia, both Bittle
neither certain.

An email from
another Bittle, never
knew my father

but his was
William, and in
that moment,

James Owen became
a father yet again
and I complete.

And later still
a single picture
he in the back

row and the mirror
agrees that we
are truly family.

TICK TICK TICK

He awoke this morning to discover his mortality.

This was a concept he had never before
considered, it had never crossed his mind.

He had never been to a funeral, came from
a small family, an only child, his parents

and grandparents still living, not that he
ever saw them, he valued his solitude.

But this morning, while everything was the same,
something was radically different.

He had always recognized the passage of time,
but it was a finite measure backward only,

forward, time was an endless expanse
of possibility and uncertainty, nothing more.

Yet this morning he knew nothing had changed,
but he was mortal, that his time remaining

was not only finite, that was sad enough,
but it was ever so slowly shrinking.

He knew he had to get on with his life, so
he set about his day as though it were any other,

but he couldn’t get the thought of mortality
out of his mind, it was like a smothering shadow

that accompanied his every moment, he focused
on it obsessively even as he stepped off the curb.

UNANSWERED

As strange as it seems, I can
spend hours in a used bookstore
lost in the marginalia, and textbooks,

particularly those in psych and sociology
are generally the most fertile,
for those students, though they would

never admit it, pursued those fields
hoping to find answers to their own
problems without having to ask.

Yesterday’s visit was particularly fertile,
but it was a college introductory text
in biology that grabbed and held me.

In the margin of a short chapter mentioning
thoracic anatomy was a question
for which I have no possible answer:

Does the diseased heart in the metal
operating room basin curse the body
on the gurney who was supposed

to join it in the ground, and what of the
donor who goes back to the soil
heartless and utterly and eternally alone?

REMEMBER THIS

He awoke this morning, and was
surprised to be there, he said,
because when you are ninety,
and can’t get around at all,
you don’t look forward to tomorrow,
for it will simply be a repeat
of today when nothing will happen.
And it is harder still, he says,
because he can’t remember much anymore,
so it’s hard to say if today
is any different than a week ago
or a month ago, though they say
he was in the hospital then,
but he don’t know why he was there.
When I stop for a visit the next day
his is surprised to be there, he says
as though it was a new thought
that just came to him in the moment.

DUGO AND UNGAN MEET

 

When your mind is raging
thoughts flowing, eddying
when you enter the zendo
what do you do in sitting?

Do you take your stick
and measure the water
to insure a safe fording,
or do you sit amid the stream
and let the flood
wash over and around you
dry and silent within?

A reflection on Case 36 of the Iron Flute Koans

PAYING HOMAGE

No one thinks it all that strange
that novels featuring James Bond
appeared well after Ian Fleming
again made acquaintance with the soil.

Nor are we shocked that Conan Doyle
has seemingly taken up pen again
and brought Holmes back to life,
although many find those efforts regrettable.

And yet when I take pen to paper
and cast line upon line of verse
upon the page, weaving intricate rhymes
and couplets of fine iambic pentameter,

I am called a fool or a charlatan for claiming
my work is merely a continuation of
Milton, Eliot and old William Butler Yeats
but homage is a tough game and I’m up to it,

and I toil away wondering just who
will strive to continue my tales when,
as draws ever closer to my chagrin,
I join the masters as further food for worms.

ISRAEL’S JUSTIFICATION FOR THE BOMB

Once it was fur hats
men on horseback
swords and torches
our villages casting a faint glow
falling into dying embers,
here, one whose skull
bears the mark of the hoof,
there an old one
who would go no farther.

Once it was a helmet
tanks for horses
flames contained in crematoria
cities taken for the deserving
we, merely ashes
shoveled into a pit,
here a tooth, its gold
torn free and cataloged
first the old ones
who could go no farther.

And so we have learned,
we in our kippot
we in our planes
and if you do not hear we
will give you the holy fires of God
you and your villages a faint shadow
and so much vapor, so much ash
carried on his holy breath
for we have learned well
and we have fused these words
in our minds, never again.

First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008)