THE NATURAL KEY TO HEAVEN

The hawk sits on a branch
looking up at the sky, knowing
this is perfection, lifting up
chasing a cloud, floating lazily.

The butterfly flits from plant
to plant, tasting the fruits
that nature has given her,
perfection in a single moment.

The cat sleeps on a rocker
the breeze rustling her coat,
until waking for dinner
which appears at her request.

We spend hours searching
for the keys to heaven, hoping
to insure what comes after this
life, but so often not living it.

LISA, ONCE

A phone call, a lawyer’s clerk:
Can you tell me about Lisa Landesman?
I pause for that is a name I have
not heard in forty years, save
in a poem I once wrote,
now long forgotten.

She was my sister for two
or three weeks, adopted like I was,
and then Mike, my then father
dropped dead of a massive
heart attack and she was soon gone.

We were Federal adoptions, our
birthplace under Federal law, not
getting its own for two decades,
and her adoption wasn’t final so she
was re-placed and never replaced.

She won’t inherit as I will from
my cousin who died having no
siblings, spouse, children,
nieces or nephews, who left
no will, who left only kind memories.

CASSANDRA IN FLORIDA

She is large, and largely immobile
and occupies the bench by the road
that encircles the property like a noose.

She does this each day, a crust
or more of stale bread tucked away
in a pocket of her always floral

housedress that envelopes her
and the bench she occupies
as a monarch on her throne.

The ibis see her coming and gather
at her feet like acolytes awaiting
words from their sage and goddess.

She doesn’t disappoint them, telling
them a tidbit of the world, more often
who was taken sick overnight, who

died yesterday, always a shock
she says, then whispers conspiratorially,
but actually expected, of course,

for everyone here has numbered days,
and then tells them stories of her life,
real and imagined, the veil between

her truth and her fiction now diaphanous.
They grow impatient, but a good queen
reads her subjects and reaches

into the pocket pulling out the crusty
bread, smiles at her flock, says see, I bring
manna and together we cross the desert.

First Published in Chantarelle’s Notebook, March 2019
https://chantarellesnotebook.com/2019/03/22/

WE WANT, AGAIN

We want to cry out,
but we have no words.

We want to scream
but all we give is silence.

We want to curse the invader
but cannot be heard
over the tanks, bombs
and rockets.

We want to mourn
but there are so many
innocents, where
do we begin?

We want to act,
but we are incapable
and can offer
only silent prayer.

EXTINCT

You want us to believe
you are small, kind creatures
sucking hungrily on the teat
of democracy.

We see you for who
you really are, parasites
who would suck the teat
dry until democracy
withered and died.

Some believe you,
accept you blindly
but what will they do
if you succeed, for like
any invasive species
when the host is gone
there is only mourning.

AND PEACE?

Santayana said, “Only the dead
have seen the end of the war.”
We have grown adept at wars,
no longer global in scope, but
ubiquitous in frequency.

Mine was fought in the rice
paddies of Vietnam, and on the
campus where we struggled
valiantly and vainly to protest,
and when that failed, in the heat
of Texas, marching about, going
thankfully nowhere, shipped
to Niagara Falls when the Air Force
could think of nothing better
to do with the likes of me.

I didn’t die, know several who did
and sadly know Santayana was right
for Bierce said it best, “In international
affairs, a period of cheating
between two periods of fighting.”

TOZAN’S DISCLOSING MIND

Many would say
I think therefore I am
and it is only death
that takes away all thought
and so to walk deeply
along the Path, all
that is required
is to truly live the Way
by allowing
the mind to die.

A reflection on case 62 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo Koans (True Dharma Eye)

KYIV

From the moment it began, we knew, it was
obvious that peace and freedom were under assault,
Russia had thrown societal norms to the wind.

Under gunmetal gray skies they attacked by air,
killing women, children, destroying hospitals, homes
raining hell on the innocents with nowhere to turn.
All we could do was watch, pray and offer paltry aid
in the hope that this proud nation could hold out,
negotiate some peace, maintain their freedom,
emerge like the phoenix slowly rising from the rubble.

THE SAINT OF UNCOUNTED NAMES

A desert again,
always a desert
and she the saint
of uncounted names,
her crying eases, no
smile appears for this
Madonna of the coyotes,
her orange-orbed eyes
shuttered against the
slowly retreating sun.
Once her tears watered
the desert sands, mixed
with the blood of a Christ
now long forgotten, trans-
substantiated into a spirit
we formed in our image,
no longer we in his.
The Blessed Mother
watches, holding hope,
holding space, holding
a serenity we cannot
fathom in our search
for divine justification.
She remembers, she mourns,
for what ought to be, and waits
for the windwalkers
to pull the blanket
of stars over her.

First published in Liquid Imagination, Issue 52, October 2022
http://liquidimagination.silverpen.org/

SOPHIE

She maintained an aura of what she
imagined was elegance, a carefully
constructed persona carried out
in the most careful details.

Her furniture had slipcovers, lest
someone spill and mar the fabric,
a tea cart always at the ready
although I never saw her serve tea.

She spoke with carefully chosen
words, certainly not the vernacular
of the city, perhaps of London
where she had been born.

Those she met would never guess
that this was the same woman, who
on the death of her husband, wielded
a baseball bat in the liquor store
she operated in the heart of downtown,
one she had used on one occasion
once enough that the word got out.