RIVERS

I have never been
particularly one for rivers.
Like everyone, I’ve walked
along their shores, listened to them
gurgle under remote bridges
but otherwise never
paid them much attention.

There’s an old Buddhist saying
you can’t step into
the same river twice,
but that presupposes you
step into the river the first time.

I remember city rivers most
no banks, concrete walls from which
you cannot step
so much as fall.

Once rivers were different
they sounded different
calling out clearly
if you would only listen
but we were all
Siddhartha then.

Rivers are borders
easily crossed, the Genesee
walking the railroad trestle over
the Upper Letchworth falls
the girls faces frozen in fear
until we stopped, mid bridge,
and looked down
at the water careening
over the rocks, carrying off
the bravado and childishness.

The Schelde, with
great ships down stream
at its receding docks
leaving only Antwerp’s
waterfront bars
where it is easy to stumble
one drink or many
on the cobbled streets, where
the ancient words muttered
in the old Synagogue
are mummified, placed
in sarcophagi of religious fervor.

The Sumida, four blocks
from Senso-ji, and the incense
burner from whose joss smoke
I rubbed my heart,
bowed before the temple
and, at the saffron robed
monks urging, wrote her name
on a thin paper copy
of the heart sutra which
he folded into a crane
and dropped from the bridge
watching it drift slowly
toward the sea.

 

The Afon Dwyfor, more creek
than river, where I sat
next to Lloyd George’s grave
outside, barely, Llanystumdwy
overlooking the churchyard
and we’d laugh
at the absurdity of it all,
he long dead, I in love
with a woman whose lips
I could taste from a single kiss
on a second date, and
the river whispering “tell her.”

DHARMA

In Tibet there are
more than 80 words
to describe states of consciousness,
several words to explain
the sound of prayer flags
rustling in a Himalayan breeze
that reaches up to the crest
of the peaks that lick
at the slowly gathering clouds,
all of these words never uttered.
There are no words in Tibet
to describe the soft brush
of your lips across my cheek,
your hair pressed into my chest.
There are no words in Tibet
to describe the faint bouquet
of soap and morning coffee
as she dries herself slowly
in the mirror that runs along the sinks.
There are no words in Tibet
to describe the sound of her laugh
half giggle as we watch the kitten
roll on her back, paws up
reaching for the mote of dust
dancing on the heat rising
from the fireplace, pressed down
by the lazily spinning ceiling fan.
There are no words in Tibet
to describe her eyes as they dart
after the Monarch that flits above
the deep purple Sedum that stands
in silent prayer to the sun.
There are no words in Tibet
to describe how she cringes
at the sight of the buck
lying alongside the road
eviscerated by the fender
of the car, long gone, his horn
buried in the shallow dirt.
There are no words in Tibet
to describe the ripples of her spine
as I run my finger down her back
while she curls, grasping
at the margins of sleep.
There are no words in Tibet
for all of these, no words
to fill the room, to blanket
the lumpy mattress on which I sit
staring at the blank screen
of the TV, reflecting the neon light
of the 24 hour diner that flashes
through the gauze curtains
of room 4218 of the Hyatt,
merely the echo of another plane
lifting out of the San Jose airport.

DREAM WALKING

Tonight I will again
walk through my dream
scrapbook re-creating you.
For a bit longer, at least, I
have full creative expression
knowing now that you died
six years ago, never married.
I will search from
the carefully or inadvertently
dropped clue, your obituary,
bits and facts that could
never have come from the
adoption file, beacons
however faint that will
lead me into the harbor
of my true identity.
But for now I can imagine you
sitting in a corner at
the singles dance, looking
as your sisters pleaded
for a nice young man, long
past being fussy.
It didn’t take much
for him to sweep you
away, at least for
that one evening, away
from the teletype keyboard,
away from the cramped apartment.
I do wonder if your brother
finished college, was at
the same one you left
when the war made money tight.
I can fashion all of these things
into an ever shifting mural
of my own life, but soon enough
I will search, and with some luck
will find our shared name.
I may never see your face
save in the mirror or
the eyes of my granddaughter,
but in her smile, in the smile
of your grandson, I know
you better than you
could ever have imagined.

EXPECTATIONS

You say you appreciate occasional
gifts of symbols of love.
You expect me to bring you a rose
it’s satin petals gently curling
back at the edges, always
threatening to suddenly unfold,
alluring, drawing in the eye
promising warmth and release.
I bring you an onion, wrapped tightly,
it’s papered skin, the luminescence
threatening to break out but always
just one more layer down.
I help you peel back a layer,
it comes off reluctantly, as if
letting go of this secret
could be painful or exposing.
We, both of us, shed tears
and I wipe yours with the edge
of my thumb, you watch mine
roll down my cheek and hang
perilously on the edge of my jaw.
I bring you an onion and peel it
slowly, I lift the bit to your lips.
It is sweeter than you anticipated
but still it has a fierceness
that borders on passion,
and it will cling to your lips
long after this moment
has faded into memory.

THE AUTUMN OF SPRING

Spring has arrived, however begrudgingly,
and the young woman pushes
the older woman’s wheelchair
along the paths of the great park.
Neither speaks, but each knows
this could be the last time they do this.
That shared knowledge paints
each flower in a more vibrant hue,
each fallen petal is quickly
but individually mourned for,
its beauty draining back into the soil.
The older woman struggles hard
to fully capture each view for she
knows that it is possible
that it will have to last her an eternity.