FINITE LOOP

As it turns out, life
is an ongoing process of accretion
and deconstruction, of growth
and eventual shrinkage.

I started with 20 teeth
I am told, and got to 32,
only to fall back to 23
thanks to orthodontia and wear.

We start with 270 or more
bones, but we knit that number
down to 206, or in my case under
200, the orthopaedist’s handiwork.

And with time we progress
from diapers and being pushed
around to walking, running,
driving ourselves in many ways,

but in the end, for many of us,
we revert to childhood, but one
where the future is behind us,
and the past is that to which we cling.

TREPIDATION

I approach it slowly, overcome
by fear and desire, warned to step
carefully over the uneven earth
that on this hillside haven set behind
the rusting wrought iron fence , its
master lock dangling askew, peers
out through the trees to the Kanawha river
flowing unknowingly through the valley.

The stone is set in line with the others,
neatly incised, a name, English
and Hebrew, two petunias, cornered,
in perpetual bloom, a beloved sister
and aunt, and unstated, unknown perhaps,
a mother whose son, gently touching
the stone, washes her with my tears,
and we speak of love in silence, and I,
a child of sixty-seven, embrace
my mother for the first time, and I
am finally and for the first time, complete

NATURAL LOGIC

Nature has a way of applying
a perfect logic that eludes
its most complex creatures,
we claiming to be first among them.

Nature grants the housefly
a quite short life, but allows it
to see a thousand images at once,
a lifetime of vision in mere days.

The tortoise is consigned to crawl
along at a laggard’s pace, outrun
by other animals, who will be in
their graves in a tortoise’s middle age.

Birds must muck in the soil
for sustenance, or hunt small
creatures aground, but they have
the ample sky for a home.

Humans, well we have no such
luck, blind to all around us, rushing
always headlong into death, and only
dreaming of being free from earth’s grip.

SHELVED

They speak of me, never to me,
with terms like breakage, as though
life, mine at least, is a glass bottle
on a shelf with so many others,
and a certain percentage are pre-
assumed to break and be discarded
and no one will bat an eyelash.

To them I am nameless, one of many,
stock in trade, with no provenance,
or at least none they would grant me,
and they question my origins, as though
I may not be worthy enough to even
be considered as future breakage.

I want to remind them that they
invited me here, invited so many others,
that we are here because it was one
place we were going to be allowed,
but they have grown deaf, and blind,
and I must wait until they, too, soon,
are swept from the shelf and
placed in clearance, then discarded.

TOO LATE

Do those, who
imagine themselves leaders,
or smarter and better
than the rest of us, and
who deny science, (no,
the amassing of money
is not a law of physics)
plan to take up swimming?

Or will they wait
until the bears are
at their door, their
white coats grayed
by the last
belches of soggy
coal, and then bemoan
the fact that
their yachts have
floated off on
the rising seas
that now lap
at their once
beach view feet.

It’s no matter
to most of
the people of
the world who
starved to death
or died of disease
years ago.

A LOST PEN

I wrote a poem for my father,
about how one afternoon
the oddly green ’57 Caddy
appeared in the driveway
and he polished its chrome for hours,
even waxed the black bumper bullets.
It was the love of his life
he said, except for his wife,
he added after a moment.
The years would prove
that addition was most likely false.
I could send him the poem, he
might actually read it, he would
remember the Caddy, much
as he now remembers my mother, with
a fondness that fills the voids
in his fading memory.
He is not much for poetry, never was,
wasn’t all that much for reading
and poetry had to rhyme, at
least the good ones did, but
while he agrees with Hecht, he would
no more recognize that name
than that of Amichai, even rewritten
in the grating hand of Ted Hughes.
My father does not understand poetry,
does not understand all that much
these days and what little he does
bears constant repetition, and yet
he remembers well odd bits and pieces
and forms them into his own fictions
that become momentary realities.
He is Brodsky rewriting Mandelstam,
a new Tristia, sharing only a name
with its precursor, but one its author
claims is truest to its origin.
My poem will be tucked away
inside a yellowing journal, his Caddy
is rust and scrap, but in his dreams
he carefully polishes the chrome
and waxes the bumper bullets.

First appeared in The Alchemy Spoon, Issue 1, Summer 2020

INTIMATIONS OF MORTALITY

It is easier to think about death
on a wintery evening, when so much
of life slips into stasis, and there is
nothing to do but concede your mortality,
and with good fortune, then slip
into sleep before being lost
in a sea of depression.

I must be thankful for my dreams
for they keep the night from becoming
the little death of the ancient philosophers,
and on awakening in the morning,
the mantle of snow that has painted
the world in a glittering white, does
not demand the shovel as yet, but
celebrates the world’s rebirth,
and with a nod to the sun, my own.

I SPEND THE EMPTY HOURS

I spend considerable time thinking
about what it is that I am, what is I,
whether Descartes’ God or Spinoza’s
could possibly exist, or must if I can have
meaning beyond self-reflection, needing
a godly mirror, and image reflected.
Cogito, on what basis can I draw that conclusion
what logical proof, carefully constructed will
not fall under the weight of the axiom, cogito cogito
but of what? Keys that spit words that fade
under a misplaced finger, she caught in the web
twisting, unable to pull free, staring at
an approaching holiday of praying forgiveness
Vidui, as though to posit God is to validate
emotions, control impulses which leap synapses
and flit and fade, I have sinned and transgressed
I have violated laws and statutes and I beg
forgiveness that I might live, this I, this cogito
who has no external reference save God
which makes all things real, all illusion.
It is comforting knowing in death the soul is
carried on, thought lingers, or does it cease
such that I am not for I think not, yet why should
I fear, for when it is done, I will not have been
save as a reference point, a linchpin from which
may hang ornaments of a life, a tidy sum.

Publsihed in These Lines, Fall 2020
https://theselines.org/these-lines-1.1-fall-2020.pdf

BATTLESHIP

As a child I played Battleship
on a square grid, the ships marked
by hand, one for each of the players,
we were efficient by necessity.

My sons played Battleship, though
under a different name in deference
to my hatred of things martial,
on an electrically wired board.

My grandchildren haven’t yet
discovered the game, now played
on their iPads and iPhones, but it
is no doubt just a matter of time.

In Washington our president
plays the game with real ships
against China and Iran but it
is clear he doesn’t understand

how the game is played, and what
happens when you lose a ship,
but the sailors in the Navy know
all too well and dread the outcome

given his history in playing
against opponents who clearly
understand not only the rules
but also tactics and strategy.