SLAINTE

It is just that sort of summer day
when the sparse clouds crawl ever more slowly
across the city, peering down, as if wishing
they could end their journey, knowing this won’t happen.
On the fields of Falkirk and Culloden Moor
stained with the blood of ancestors who, only now,
claim me as one of them, allow me to wear the tartan,
the clouds build and flee without ever pausing
to peer down on the carnage below.
They want only to move on, continue the passage,
give endless chase to the sun, certain
they will fail and fall, only to take up
the chase again onward into eternity.

THE BLINK

In the elemental scheme of things
we humans are, at best, middling.
We are minute in the scale of the universe,
our time not even a glimmer, and
as we age, time contracts, but only
in the shortening forward direction.
But pity the poor hydrogen-7 isotope
whose life is likely over
in 30 yactoseconds, absorbing
the laughter of helium-5 living
on average, 33 times longer, and both
jealously, if ever so quickly
regarding our seemingly infinite span.
But lest we get complacent, there is
always zirconium-96 for whom
our life is but the blink of an eye,
barely worth noting, a second at most
in a span that could reach
twenty quintillion years, so we
are nothing special, save in our own eyes.

VLADIMIR

Krevchinsky froze
his ass off on the Siberian plain.
The gray concrete box
was traded for concrete gray skies,
the whistle of the truncheon
gives way to winter’s blasts.
It was in many ways easier
when the beatings came
neatly marking the days
dividing days between pain
and exhaustion, all under
the watchful eye
of the meek incandescent sun
dangling from the ceiling.
In the camp day and night
are reflections of an unseen clock,
seasons slide
from discontent to depression.
The prison of the body is finite
built block on block,
the prison of the soul
is vast, empty, dissipating life.


First appeared in HazMat Review, Vol. 1, No. 2 (1996) and later in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 30, Nos. 1-2 (2006).

SMALL REFLECTION

It is that moment when the moon
is a glaring crescent,
slowly engulfed by
the impending night —
when the few clouds give out
their fading glow
In the jaundiced light
of the sodium arc street lamp.-
It nestles the curb — at first a small bird —
when touched, a twisted piece of root

I want to walk into the weed-strewn
aging cemetery, stand in the shadow
of the expressway, peel
the uncut grass from around her head-
stone. I remember
her arthritic hands clutching mine,
in her dark, morgueish apartment, smelling
of vinyl camphor borsht
I saw her last in a hospital bed
where they catalog and store
those awaiting death, stared
at the well-tubed skeleton
barely indenting starched white sheets.
She smiled wanly and whispershouted
my name — I held my ground
unable to cross the river of years
unwilling to touch
her outstretched hand. She had
no face then, no face now, only
an even fainter smell of age
of camphor of lilac of must

Next to the polished headstone
lies a small, twisted root.
I wish it were a bird,
I could place gently
on the lowest branch of the old maple
that oversees her slow departure.


First appeared in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 30, No. 1-2, 2006 and in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press, 2008.

ELLIPSE

He lies on the steam grate
under a thin blanket and plastic
garbage bags, sleeping soundly
lulled by vibrations of a passing car,
back to the Ellipse and grand white house,
oblivious to footfalls of tourists and joggers.
Steam seeps upward through his tattered clothes,
he is back in-country, lying at the fringe
of the jungle, awash in sounds, neat
cast up from furnace earth, cutting
through fatigues and the heavy canvas
and steel toes of the boots, into skin,
to pool on muscles held taut, twitching
at the first heard whoop of chopper blades
or stirring of branches and flora
in still summer air which hangs, a shroud.
Sun rises slowly, bathing the obelisk
in a faint peach glow, he rolls, crushing
the fading, wrinkled photo of three boys
lost, from a different world, standing
in beer soaked mirth, leaning on rifles.
One night, trees oozed forth
shadows, black angels, and his hand
resting in a pool of blood and viscera
with whom he had roamed the bars
of Saigon and Bangkok, invincible knights
before their armor turned to rust.


First appeared in Luna Negra, Spring: 1997