In Hawaii I could stare for hours at a Taro field,
the bent back of a farmer, and the same a gentle fold
of spine I saw from the Shinkansen, Tokyo to Osaka
amid the fields of yellow shoots, later rice in
some bowl, perhaps even mine, or in Antwerp as the chef
patiently picked over the trays of mussels in the market
knowing just which would suit his needs, all having
a remarkable sameness to my eye and nose.
On a road just outside San Juan, near the beach
with surfable waves, the woman stood bent in the heat
over a 50 gallon drum turn stove, cooking the pork
tucking it into the dough and placing it in the fryer,
smiling through her few remaining teeth, offering pies
that we dared not resist, knowing the sea
would soon enough be our napkin.
This morning, as I took my slow walk
to the coffee shop, a jay sitting on a resting fence
stared at me for a bit, not unnerving,
persistent, and I imagine him the king
of Taro, rice and fresh pies.
The first time I heard Mozart,
I swore I was in a biblical garden
and I was content to sit and listen for eternity.
The serpent came along, as they do in such gardens,
as I recall, with the face of Beethoven, though now
I am convinced it was just Mahler trying to pass.
I still stop and eat from the fruit of Mozart on occasion,
but once the food was there for the taking, but
now it has to be purchased, and even here
you pay and never know until you bite into it
just how fresh and juicy it might be.
And lately, so much has been overpowering
that I cannot digest it,
and my growing deafness makes
each purchase agonizing, even though
I know if I went without, I
wouldn’t starve, save for my soul.
You search without end for a way
to precisely measure life in all of its aspects.
You will not be dissuaded by the fact that you can no more
control its span than you could control your need to breathe.
You say you picked the sperm and egg,
that their union you carefully orchestrated.
You believe all things can be measured,
if you can only identify proper metrics for the task.
You know precisely how tall you are, how much
you have shrunken over the years,
how much your waistline has grown.
You can count your good deeds, have a rating scale
that says your next life will be karmic payback hell.
You are taken with measurements of all sorts,
so much so that you often forget to fully live.
You say that this loss doesn’t matter much,
for living boldly, thoroughly, gives you
far too much more to measure.
The front of winter
slowly seeps up from the sidewalk
into the street unveiling
the last falling of autumn’s leaves.
A gentle fog rises
shrouding the fact
that winter, or the most of it
lurks just over the distant hills,
which mark the margin
of our vision.
Even the birds sing
in our confusion
they without calendars
not caring this day
is set aside to mark
the birth of a new year
and we, ignoring hours so we
need not admit we sit
in the heart of winter.
He waited patiently in the queue
until, after two and one half hours
he approached the battered metal counter.
The young, bored woman, chewing at her gum
asked the usual question, have you
looked hard for work this last week?
I stood in many lines, for hours on end
in my battered old shoes, that is
more work than you can imagine.
Each night I would soak my feet
for hours in the small sink
hoping the swelling would go down.
Each morning I would find another line
or two, if they moved quickly, but
at the end of each they would ask
the same question, what skills do you have
and I would tell them there are
few better than I at standing in lines,
and they would sheepishly smile
and thank me for my patience
and that is why, again this week,
I ask that you stamp my book
so I can stand in the other line
and wait patiently for my check
which I can take to the small bodega
waiting calmly in line to cash it
to buy what canned goods are on sale.
Then I will take my cans
and carefully line them up
on the kitchen counter, and marvel
at how patiently they stand in the queue.
First published in Pearl, Vol. 31, 2002
We greet as long lost friends,
having never before met
save sharing a place
a decade apart.
I strive to cling
to what was there
in that place, she,
fueled by the frustration,
has turned away
just because of it.
I go home to my words,
she to her art,
and we know
our paths will cross again.
The room is awash
in words, they pile up
in corners, form untidy stacks
that perpetually threaten collapse,
strewing consonants like shards
of ill broken glass.
It might not be this way, for
words need order, a rubric
in which they are forced to operate.
But here, in a room of poets,
anarchy is the sole grammar,
and in the face of order
someone throws a Molotov cocktail
as we are all consumed
in the flame of self passion.