WE COULD

We could, if you want,
sit in the park on our folding
chairs or better a folded blanket
and stare out over the pond,
its silver surface shirred
by a midday breeze.

We could picnic, sandwiches
of brie and apples, or for us
hummous with tahini and
a bottle of chardonnay, carefully
poured into plastic glasses
imagining themseles crystal.

The dragonflies would ignore us,
busy doing what we cannot see,
though we might draw the eye
of a great egret, for they like
nothing more than to stare
at the strangeness around them.

DRINKING TEA IN KABUL*

Rockets flash briefly
across the chilled sky,
plumes of smoke, ash
carried off
by impending winter.

Over the lintel of the entry
to the Inter-Continental Hotel Chicago,
carved deeply into the marble
Es Salamu Aleikum
staring implacably
through ponderous
brass framed doors
onto the Miracle Mile.
Countless guests
pass below it
unseeing.

My son and I
sit across a small table
spilling bits of tapas
onto the cloth,
laughing lightly
at the young boy
bathed in a puree
of tomato, his shirt
dotted in goat cheese.
My son explains
the inflation of the universe,
gravitational waves
cast off
by coalescing binary
neutron stars.
His words pull me
deeper
into my seat.
We speak somberly
of the jet engine
parked haphazardly
in the Queens gas station
unwilling to mention
265 lives
salted across
the small community.

We embrace
by his door, the few
measured hours run.
He turns to call
his girlfriend,
I turn my collar up
against the November night.

The Red Line train
clatters slowly back
into a sleeping city.
In my room
I brew a cup of Darjeeling.

*”We will drink tea in Kabul tomorrow morning, if God wills it.” – Basir Khan, Northern Alliance Commander, quoted in the Chicago Tribune, 13 November 2001.

First appeared in Hearsay, 2004 and in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008).

JUST ONE MORE HAND

My parents, well my father,
always felt is was necessary
to stop on the way to our summer home
in the Western Adirondacks
to visit Uncle Morris, who may
or may not have been an uncle
in the blood sense, it was never clear.
It was he who sold my father the cottage
near the small lake, he who now
lived in a nursing home  in Schenectady.

Morris was sweet, frail, but still
wanted my father to play 
a couple of hands of pinochle,
which drove my mother crazy,
but she loved the cottage, 
and Morris sold it to them 
for a song to keep it in the family.

I liked watching them play,
never understood the game,
and hated the name Schenectady,
but we’d always go for an early dinner
at the Chinese Buffet across
from the store Morris owned for years.

TOO MANY COOKS

I can still recall
the day my mother
was ecstatic on learning
that everything grew
out of a primordial soup.
It was proof, she
was certain, of a Jewish
God, even if he didn’t
do it all with his own hands.
And, with a broad smile
she said, I’m fairly certain
at the soup
was chicken, maybe
with kreplach on the side.

WAITING FOR HEAVEN TO CALL

He says he is waiting patiently
for the arrival of heaven on earth.

He is not sure what that will be like
and the descriptions he has seen
are too fantastical to be believed,
all clouds and angels and music

He is hoping the things he loves
most will be available in heaven,
a good Alfredo sauce and German
chocolate cake, for two, but
heaven should be Starbucks-free,
since he will be able to drink
espresso at any hour, for you have
no need of sleep in heaven.

Until that moment comes, he will
sit for hours in the neighborhood
Starbucks because of its free wifi
and search for the best top ten
lists of ways to avoid hell and where
you can get wifi and
a good decaf espresso.

NOT A DONUT

I have never made a bagel. I have never jumped off the roof of a house to see what flight was like. I have never run a marathon or a half marathon. I have never owned a Ferrari, Lamborghini or Maserati. Or a Porsche for that matter. I have never driven a car at more than 130 miles per hour. I have never parachuted out of an airplane. I have never been six feet tall in my bare feet. I have never undertaken studies for a PhD. I have never attempted to swim the English or any other channel. I have never been to either Mongolia. I have never sat through the whole of Gone With the Wind. I have few regrets, but living on the Treasure Coast of Florida I do wish I could make a good bagel. I miss them, and they are nowhere to be found.

NO BIALYS TODAY

No one looked up when the Buddha
walked into the deli and took a seat
at the counter, “Pastrami on rye, and
lean, with mustard on the side, and two
slices of full dill and a side of slaw.”

As he sipped the Dr. Brown’s Cream
Soda, the waitress smiled at him,
asked, “Are those robes comfortable,
winter isn’t all that far off, you know.”

Buddha smiled, and with a serene calm
said, “It all depends on what you wear
beneath, I prefer a silk-cotton blend,
but some I know want only organics.”

As he finished, a younger, swarthy
man entered, his robes bleached white
from the sun, his dark hair long,
sandals worn down, and came
over to Buddha, sat down with
a nod to the waitress, and instantly
a corned beef on pumpernickel
appeared, at which point Buddha
muttered “Christ, how do you do that?”

First published in Bengaluru Review: Spring, 2021
https://bengalurureview.com/bengaluru-review-spring-2021

BUDDHA AND HILLEL DINE TOGETHER

The meeting occurred by chance,
two old men sitting in the same park
staring at the same empty chess board
as the waves of the Stygian Sea
lapped against the break wall,
the ferryman now at the helm
of the great cargo ship.
“So,” said Hillel, “you come here often?”
Old, bent Buddha paused
“as far as I know, I have
always been here, or perhaps
I am not here now, never have been.”
“I know the feeling” the ancient Rabbi said
“I’ve been here so long, I too
have begun to doubt my very existence.”
Buddha rubbed his great girth
and smiled placidly as a black bird
alighted on his shoulder.
The Rabbi stroked his beard
the stood on one foot,
only to have two bluejays
land, one on each arm.
“Would you care to join me,”
he asked, “for a meal at Ming’s
or if you prefer, we can do take out
from the Dragon Palace,
whatever suits your mood,
in any event, my treat this time.”
The saffron robed old man
unfolded himself, and erect
and bowing, said
“It would honor me to dine with you
but if you wouldn’t mind
I’d much prefer a bowl
of chicken soup with kreplach
and a pastrami on rye.”

First appeared here April 24, 2016

WOODEN PILLOW 鐵笛倒吹 六十

If, sitting at your meal
you hear the song of a bird,
what do you do?
You may tap your chopstick rest,
and perhaps he will answer
and repeat his sweet song.
If you tap a second time
and there is only silence
is the bird rejecting you
or offering his song to another,
flown from your window.

Perhaps you should tap again
and hear the sweeter song
of silence that echoes
over the garden and zendo.
On a distant limb
the small songbird smiles.

A reflection on Case 60 of the Iron Flute Koans.