PAPAL EDICT

She said “now what they’ve taken away limbo”
sounding a bit depressed,
“not that you proceed express
to the ferry dock, but
that was a snap, all
you were carefully taught
is suddenly wrong or irrelevant.
“It would be like Isaac,”
I say, “climbing Mount Moriah
with Abraham finding a ram
tethered to a waiting altar.”
My mother wants to know
how I can claim to be once Jewish
as though the moyel
also took my freedom of religion.
“We have no hell” she reminds me
“at least after death.”
I silently respond
and try to tell her that
I still don’t have a hell,
at least not as she conceives it.
“But I read,” she says, “the Tibetan
Book of the Dead, and hell
is very, very real.”
I tell her my Buddhism is Chinese
through a fine Japanese filter
and it is the next life
in which I will pay for this one.
She says “I wouldn’t want
to come back again,” and
on that point we find
the beginnings of common ground.

DHARMA

In Tibet there are
more than 80 words
to describe states of consciousness,
several words to explain
the sound of prayer flags
rustling in a Himalayan breeze
that reaches up to the crest
of the peaks that lick
at the slowly gathering clouds,
all of these words never uttered.
There are no words in Tibet
to describe the soft brush
of your lips across my cheek,
your hair pressed into my chest.
There are no words in Tibet
to describe the faint bouquet
of soap and morning coffee
as she dries herself slowly
in the mirror that runs along the sinks.
There are no words in Tibet
to describe the sound of her laugh
half giggle as we watch the kitten
roll on her back, paws up
reaching for the mote of dust
dancing on the heat rising
from the fireplace, pressed down
by the lazily spinning ceiling fan.
There are no words in Tibet
to describe her eyes as they dart
after the Monarch that flits above
the deep purple Sedum that stands
in silent prayer to the sun.
There are no words in Tibet
to describe how she cringes
at the sight of the buck
lying alongside the road
eviscerated by the fender
of the car, long gone, his horn
buried in the shallow dirt.
There are no words in Tibet
to describe the ripples of her spine
as I run my finger down her back
while she curls, grasping
at the margins of sleep.
There are no words in Tibet
for all of these, no words
to fill the room, to blanket
the lumpy mattress on which I sit
staring at the blank screen
of the TV, reflecting the neon light
of the 24 hour diner that flashes
through the gauze curtains
of room 4218 of the Hyatt,
merely the echo of another plane
lifting out of the San Jose airport.

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.

IN LOVING MEMORY (17 this time)

Just what will the puppet king say
or will he simply run and hide
as we are left to mourn and pray

Seventeen more are dead today,
we know better than to abide
just what will the puppet king say

more hollow words, for which they pay
“only more guns can stem the tide.”
As we are left to mourn and pray

children ask why there is a day
on which so many good friends died,
just what will the puppet king say,

what false compassion he’ll display.
As broken parents stand graveside,
as we are left to mourn and pray

we know the king dare not betray
those who bought him. We can’t decide
just what will the puppet king say
as we are left to mourn and pray.

 


Out of cycle, but coping takes many forms.

AGING GRACELESSLY

To know the road ahead
ask those coming back.
— Chinese Proverb

I have progressed to the point
that I no longer mark time
in neat segments based on rotation
of this world about that, now I am
measured against those around me, I
seek those with whom I share an age.
It is best to walk at noon, although
the sun is hottest then, for my shadow
draws inward, less exposed, but
it slowly creeps outward as the sun retreats.
I am of an age with the sun, I see myself
reflected in my children, who call
in the night as I have fled
into my sanctuary, away from yapping dogs.
My sons were, just days ago, standing
jaws clenched, before the batting tees,
they would throw down the bat
in disgust after a swing as the ball
toppled slowly to the ground, now one
sits in his cramped office just out of sight
of the river and mulls that moment
of time before there was time, the other
finds structure in the randomness of thought.
I am of an age with that moment
of time before time
I am of an age with that random thought.


First Appeared in Alembic, Winter, 1999-2000.

MARKED

The oddest thing about being
Buddhist is what I once was,
and not just in a prior life.
Born, it turns out, and adopted
into a secular Jewish family, I
must still be Jewish even if I might
have lapsed back to secularity, they say,
because my Jewishness is a mark,
Cain-like it seems, though I always
lacked the nose for the role.
Some a bit more knowing remind me
that I can be both, though they
can’t imagine why anyone would.
I tell them I’m simply, only Buddhist
and not-think what that really means.

COGITO

She said, “I truly think
that a large part of your problem
is that you spend too much time
thinking about what other
people think of you.”
He wasn’t inclined to agree,
but she did think that so
he had to give it consideration.
“I don’t think so,” he replied,
“but if you think so, then perhaps.”
“What I think doesn’t matter,”
she said, smiling, “I remember
some of the best advice
I have ever been given,
‘What other people think of me
is simply none of my business.'”