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.
You came, Harlan, to Rochester somewhere in an endless winter, “Ellison in Tundraland” you said. We all chuckled approvingly.
You said a short prayer climbing into the rusting Opel, sliding on the edge of oblivion, and the approaching snowplow.
You stood, hoarse, smelling of Borkum Riff and English Leather, a tweed jacket over a polo shirt and thinning jeans and told us of the insanity of television, a medium pandering to idiots. We nodded, hoping you would finish before the Star Trek rerun.
We sat in Pat and Sandy’s as you consumed two orders of fries, and a dwindling bowl of ketchup. Later we sat in the Rat, staring at the empty bottles of Boone’s Farm until you took pity and ordered two pitchers. You were our patron saint.
Solzynitsyn was exiled to a cabin in Vermont, staring as the leaves greened and fell under winter. You served your banishment in the land of lost souls, miles from any reality.
First published in The South Carolina Review, Vol. 33, No. 1 (2000)
We marched for hours, going nowhere really, but nowhere was the point of the marching so we achieved the goal the Air Force set. We didn’t even think it odd that they made us shave our heads, so we’d all look like fools, there was a war on and we were in the military, so we had already proven that point. We were the smarter ones, as it turned out, enlistees who’d spend our time on bases getting the pilots ready to fly into the danger we knew we had so carefully avoided, and for us the greatest risk appeared daily in the mess hall.
First published in As You Were, the Military Review, Vol. 13, 2020
Ice, he said, is clearly an invention of Satan, the ice cube a scaled down version of that corner of hell of which no one ever speaks, so little known.
And stop and think, we got by well for eons without a cube of ice, unless with blade we chipped it from a nearby glacier or left water out in the dead of winter, which never worked all that well in much of the world.
Whiskey, that was one of our best innovations, one of which we are rightfully proud, one which we have practiced for untold generations. We’ve been sipping it and drinking it from the word go, and each culture has come up with its own version, and it is only recently that the devil gave us the means of denigrating one of God’s greatest gifts to us.
God, mother told us, prefers things neat, as they were intended, so clearly ice is the Devil’s work. Turn away!
The birds look at us as though we had two heads. They cannot, they say, comprehend how we can stand to live in boxes, to travel in metal containers, to be stuck forever to the ground. They say that food should be picked then eaten instantly, not packaged and half thrown away. They say they cannot see how we are supposedly more evolved than they, for they have the sort of freedom about which we only talk endlessly. But most of all, and saddest of all, we know they pity us as we pity ourselves.
The Buddha said that any task you do if done mindfully is a sort of meditation. We assume he said it, we’ve been told he did, but no one I know was anywhere near that bodhi tree, so we take it on faith. When it comes to things like chopping large quantities of onions, or roasting coffee beans I totally get it, it does seem like meditation, and deep at that. Walking the dog makes the list, and perhaps convincing the cat to do anything she didn’t think of by out waiting her. I can even accept washing the car or the dishes, but washing the dog is only so on rare occasions and only if I medicate her first, and the cat, forget it. But even Buddha would have to concede that no matter how totally mindful you are, driving anywhere in either Broward or Miami-Dade counties is as far from meditative as opting to commit sepuku with a butter knife.
I admit I am an odd duck, odder for not being a duck at all. But the expression has a certain je ne sais quoi to it, as does that expression and I am all about language. All that is a long round about way of acknowledging that I have always wanted to use the word antiphonal in my writing. I’m not terribly religious, and what faith I had has long been shaken by a world gone mad. Or at least a country gone mad. And even when I had some faith, I subscribed to the syllogism that religions music was to music, as military food was to food. We won’t even mention military music, that is an abject oxymoron.
We were walking around Vienna, Wien, the river cruise boat arriving early, dropped off into the city center, told we had precisely two hours to wander, or we’d make our own way back, and risk missing lunch and the formal tour.
We wandered, following instructions, looking in vain for a café where we could get an Austrian cappuccino, and perhaps a pastry for which the city was famous, even though we swore off deserts, but before noon it could be still breakfast and well within our supposed rules.
After several wrong turns we ended up the Schauflergasse, still searching when we heard the rhythmic clopping of hooves and stepped quickly from the path of the regal white stallions, as they proudly pranced by back to their stables.
We asked the rider in the last rank where we might find a café and pastry, and he shouted back at us, “After seeing us, Vienna has nothing more to offer.
We did find a café shortly after and sharing an order of powidltascherl and sipping our melange, we begged to differ with the Lipizzaner rider.