FOR NOW

Tomorrow this poem will
most assuredly no longer be here,
though when during the night
it will slip away, never again
to be seen, I don’t know or perhaps it
will return in a form I would not recognize,
recrafted by the hand of an unseen editor.

It may take on a meaning unfamiliar,
or translate itself into a tongue
that I can neither speak nor read,
or perhaps, most dreadedly, assume
the shape of prose, accreting words
until the embedded thought is bloated
and wholly unrecognizable.

Even if I tried to stop it, watched
carefully, it would no doubt
remind me that poems have a life
of their own once cast to paper
or pixels, and I am at best only
another editor or reader, and it
takes kindly on most days to neither.

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

FORKED TONGUE

I can’t tell you how long
it’s been since I’ve seen
a snake around here, mostly
because my sense of time
has limits of a decade.

I read that they are plentiful
in the Everglades, hunted
as an invasive species, which
probably stands to reason
since our hatred is by now

of Biblical proportions, and we
have learned to love goats,
so, it is the snake that now
is consigned to be the source
of all our errors and failings.

And were that not enough,
you cannot trust what a snake
says for obvious reasons, but you
must ignore that the hummingbird
beloved by all, also has a forked tongue.

RETURN OF SCIENCE

During the Presidential debate the other night the inevitable question was eventually asked. I have to say the answers were much as expected, exactly as scripted, and while “correct,” each candidate missed a golden opportunity. “On January 21, what will be the first thing you will do as President?” Most of the world’s problems made the list, immigration, climate change, wealth inequality, you get the picture. It was never mind that almost none of the things listed could be solved by an executive order, their hearts were in the right place. But no one hit the real mark. Ask me and the answer’s simple. My first act as President is to appoint the official White House herpetologist. It is a two for one appointment, after all. I get someone who can help me deal with Congress, members of both the Senate and House. But better still, when it hits the fan, and we all know it will, repeatedly, I have an expert who can explain that yet again, it is all the snake’s fault. That one has worked since Adam, and even the evangelicals and Catholics must agree on that one.

SONGWRITER

Bob Dylan is, to the best of my knowledge,
the only songwriter to successfully rhyme
outrageous and contagious, which doesn’t
explain why I knew I could never be
a successful songwriter in this life.

The explanation is far simpler, it was when
Leonard Cohen served me tea and apricots,
said he hated the river even living in Montreal
and said I should pack off to Florida or
California if I wanted oranges, though he
said, if I ever visited China, if I’d see
where their oranges came from.

We’re all older now, Leonard is dead
and even Bob admits he’s not sure
he’s younger now, but he says, Bob that is,
that I need to get over keeping up
with the Joneses, because in the final
analysis, we are all Jones at the end.

HOGEN’S DRIP OF WATER 鐵笛倒吹 九十一

What are words
of wisdom
from the mouth
of the ancient ones.
I tell you
these are such words.
You may accept
or reject them
as you will.
Better still, tear
this page from its binding
crumple it
and cast it
to the four winds.
Let it be carried
off in ten directions.

A reflection on case 91 of the Iron Flute Koans

SONNETS AND SALADS

I would love to know the precise moment
when the consensus of critics reached
the tipping point, that lettuce was
no longer a green, but some lesser vegetable.

That would be around the time that
Arugula and romaine declared themselves
something other than lettuce, leaving
iceberg and Bibb as produce outcasts
while spinach, kale and chard openly

declared their superiority over all
of the others, shunning mustard,
if only for its name and seediness.
It is surprisingly like that with poetry,
literary free verse a critical darling now

even if intelligible only to those skilled
at self-aggrandizing, easily sold delusion,
and more run of the mill poetry, that
whose meaning is clear without resort
to layered metaphors left to rot on the shelf.

THINGS TO COME

One morning last week I decided
to plant myself at a busy intersection
and begin reading poetry, mostly
my own, I have to admit.

I was generally ignored, my usual
state, and that sadly of most poets,
when a scruffy, bearded young man
set up easel and paint next to me.

The morning seemed to relish
the stillness of this urban way station,
and we were easily ignored by the odd
pedestrian on her way to please not here.

As lunch hour approached, the streets
filled, and we were ready, this was
our moment, our world, until the
asylum escapee joined our duality

and preached loudly to those who
dared not avoid us, that the end
was nigh, and that we, artist and poet
were the living promise of heaven and hell.

DOG DAYS

Growing up my family always had dogs,
only one at a time, of course, since we
were a modern suburban family,
which may be why we had a dog.

It clearly wasn’t because they loved dogs,
they tolerated them on good days,
ignored them the rest of the time
and the good days were few if any.

I never asked for a dog, knew
the daily care would fall to me, for
my sort of brother and sister would
never lift a finger if they didn’t want

and they rarely wanted for other than
themselves, but I didn’t mind, for each
dog became my true family, we all
shared a common blood among us,

which is to say none, and we all said
in our own languages, which we all
understood while no one else did, that
we were orphans who beat the system.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

He only wants to know
my spiritual name, “your false
world name is of no matter.”

I tell him I have only one name,
the one my parents gave me,
and it has worked to this point

quite well, and no one has ever
suggested I might need another,
although my Jewish friends have two.

“No,” he says, “your spiritual name
isn’t given to you, not by family, but
by one who has tapped into

the universal harmonic, who flows
along its energy as that energy
flows through him or her and they

don’t so much give it to you as
listen to the voices and tell you
what they are calling you, that’s it.”

“Ah,” I said, “well I know my Native
American name so that’s something,
call me Doesn’t Buy Into Bullshit.”