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.

PRACTICE

It always seems odd that the teacher
asks me to think about my practice
when the heart of my practice is learning
how not to always think about things.
But the heart of practice is exactly
these oddities, for nothing is exact.
In the fourth vow I strive to attain
the great way of Buddha, but I know,
as the Heart Sutra reminds me, that
there is “not even wisdom to attain,
attainment, too, is emptiness.”
And so I sit in confusion each day,
and bits of delusion fall away,
like the hair on my ever balding scalp.

CACOPHONY OF SILENCE

There is one thing a poet hates
more than a page
that refuses to be filled –
it is coming across words
that profess
or are sworn
to silence.
I had a pen
I truly loved
until it announced
early one morning
it was taking
a vow
of iambic celibacy.
Poems once pregnant
with possibility
grew cloistered
and habitual.
As I turned
from Erato’s altar
she called after me,
“Your pen
is out of ink.”

TO ALLEN

Tell me more about death, I said
put it into words, that’s
your specialty so open your mouth
from amid your black jungle of a beard
now white, I want a noise, a howl.
Why the hell do I hear only silence,
I know it’s the sound
of one hand clapping,
but I demand more than a mere koan
Corso would at least bathe me in gasoline
but you, who wrote to be immortal
so why, now, only old words?
So I can complete the circle?
But they hit the floor like
so may peanut shells
washed by the spilt beer.
Come on, say something
even a simple kaddish
for your silence is killing me.

WORDS

“Suppose,” he says
“words may be used
only once, after that
they disappear.”
“You mean in a poem”
she replies, “or life itself?”
Even four stanzas
can challenge most
except perhaps Basho.
Haiku would replace sonnets,
villanelles, sestinas
suddenly gone,
anaphora is self-contradiction.
“Imagine,” the young girl mused
“sloganless politicians,
talking heads struck mute,
hushed generals
fighting silent wars,
all poets condemned
to write blank verse.”