PURSE AND WALLET

A woman’s purse is inviolable territory
she tells me, and no man dare look within
unless invited and that is as unlikey to happen
as a man is to fully understand a woman.

What she doesn’t say, but what time has
demonstrated to me repeatedly, is that
within that small space is the solution
to most of life’s pressing problems, a balm

for small emergencies, and a truth, the release
of which would loose upon those proximate
the sort of shock that Pandora only promised,
and I have more than enough problems of my own.

She asks what I keep in my over-fatted wallet
and I tell her it is not money, but thoughts
that haven’t come to fruition, and dreams
unrealized because they defy reality.

So, she says, your wallet is full of the stuff
that gets you through a day, that give you
hope for the next, and that marks your
ever present failure of irrational dreams.

CALL AGAIN

You called again this morning, and,
as usual, long before I was awake.
You left no message, but you never do,
and I do wish you’d stay in one place

just for a while, it would make finding
you to speak with you much easier.
This morning you were in Azerbaijan,
and last week you called from Belarus.

Later today you called from New York
and this time actually left a message,
but, of course, you left it in Mandarin
despite my repeated requests you not do so.

I’m sure you will call again tomorrow,
or if not, the next day, and I’ll be interested
in knowing where you are, but to save you time,
please rest assured that I will not be able

to help you recover that vast sum of money,
or send you, the cousin I’ve never heard of, the funds
you need to get out of jail or the hospital,
but feel free to call anyway and, do have a nice day

ISRAEL’S JUSTIFICATION FOR THE BOMB

Once it was fur hats
men on horseback
swords and torches
our villages casting a faint glow
falling into dying embers,
here, one whose skull
bears the mark of the hoof,
there an old one
who would go no farther.

Once it was a helmet
tanks for horses
flames contained in crematoria
cities taken for the deserving
we, merely ashes
shoveled into a pit,
here a tooth, its gold
torn free and cataloged
first the old ones
who could go no farther.

And so we have learned,
we in our kippot
we in our planes
and if you do not hear we
will give you the holy fires of God
you and your villages a faint shadow
and so much vapor, so much ash
carried on his holy breath
for we have learned well
and we have fused these words
in our minds, never again.

First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008)

WANDER WHY

The path meandered more than he remembered
but he was the first to admit
his memory was never his strongest suit.
It didn’t help that he had consumed
two margaritas at lunch, and even he
didn’t believe the excuse that this was
a slow day for him, still sober at two in the afternoon.
But he wandered the path, for that
is what paths were there for he was certain.
He had no idea where he was going, and realized
that he would have no idea when he got there.
Still he had great faith in mathematics, that
was his training, his brilliance,such as it was,
and he knew that if he merely wandered aimlessly
without thinking, he would eventually cross
his own path, bump into his former self
and they, together, could devise a plan
to find their way precisely they were intended to be.

WORDS, WORDS, WORDS

We are, he is convinced,
devolving into verbal neanderthals,
losing are ability to recognize
the linguistic tools that once
set us apart from other species,
or at least so we assured ourselves.
She knows that what truly sets us
apart from other species is the arcane
skill we have at being able
to convince ourselves that
delusion, firmly held, is fact.
Still, she cannot disagree with him,
simplicity is a too close cousin
to inanity, and nuance is the first
relative to be cast out. And so
with ever fewer words, we seem
to have ever more to say,
and speaking endlessly, say ever less.

SUNDAY NIGHT

It is almost midnight.
If this was Seoul, the Hilton,
I could walk down the hill
to Namdaeman Market
and wander around the shops
the smell of the city, of pigs heads
simmering in giant caldrons,
fish lying on beds of melting ice
and look at silk and stainless
flatware, watches and celendon
casting its faint green glow
in the fluorescent night,
but it is Virginia and there is
only a 7-Eleven four miles
down the road where I can
pick up a Diet Pepsi
and Hostess Blueberry pie
and stand at the counter
where the County Sheriff
stands talking to the owner
while browsing the Penthouse
magazine kept behind the counter
for long spring nights when
there is little traffic along route 7.

First published in The Iconoclast, Vol. 47 (1998)

THE CLUB

It’s jazz, it’s a club,
but there what once was
is no more, there are
no ashtrays on the table,
overflowing early into
the second set, no cloud
of cigarette smoke descending
from the too dark ceiling.
There is no recognizable odor
of a freshly lit Gaulloise,
in the trembling fingers of
a young man trying to look cool,
trying not to cough on each
inhalation, in the calm fingers
of a young woman who
you know speaks the fluent
French of her homeland.
It is none of those things
but it is jazz, it is a club
and in this city, now, it must suffice.

PELICAN

The pelican hasn’t been around
for a couple of days, and we miss
his akimbo dives into the pond,
surfacing and throwing his head back
to show he’s swallowing his catch
even though we suspect some of the time
he caught nothing at all, but knowing
we’re as gullible an audience
as he is likely to find any time soon.
We hope he is off breeding somewhere,
making little pelicans that will
be able to entertain us next fall
when we return, birds of our own sort,
not snowy egrets but snow birds nonetheless.
We don’t want to know any more
about the mating ritual, some
things ought to be private.
We learned that painful a few years
ago, when my brother thought it
was important we see thoroughbreds bred.
We prefer our breedings like
good French films, suggestive
but ultimately leaving it
to our memory, like so much of our youth.

FLIP IT

It would be an anathema to him
if he were a Pope or held deeply felt
opinions about anything, but he does not.
He denies being vacillating, rather, he says,
he is just open to a multitude of views,
never mind, she replies, that he
can never make any important decision
except by mere chance or luck.
He says he prefers life this way,
for he is disinclined to alienate anyone.
She says his unwillingness to take
and hold a position has alienated her,
and she points out that he has no friends
and few who would call him a true acquaintance.
He debates arguing with her, but he knows
she is possibly right and arguing
would do nothing, and so she walks away
and he can only imagine what might have been.

RIDING THE WASTELAND

We set out with bold ambition,
egos saddled and reined
across a landscape left barren
by our leaders who saw
only carefully stacked boards
and beams awaiting the master
carpenter, great floral sprays
dotting the lobbies of glass
and chrome edifices, created
in their own images.
We ride in search of
the promised land, and turn
a deaf ear to the windwalkers,
to the spirits of the children
sitting in the packed dirt streets
their bellies distended, crying
out for food, for justice
as the warlords sit in their cars
surveying the invisible parapets
of their armed fortresses.
We look quickly away
from the chindi of the young men
who rise from the neatly heaped soil
of the common burial mound, who
rise up in neat array and perch
on the edge of the freshly dug pit
waiting for the rat-a-tat rain
of death they know await them
unrepentant, unwilling to curse
Allah, bidding farewell to Tuzla.
We pause to chant the blessing way
but we have forgotten the words,
Arbeit Macht Frei, the gates
reduced to rust, the chimneys
no longer belching the sweet
smell of death into the winter morning.
We ride on oblivious to the faint glow
from the craters we have torn
into the earth, of the clouds
that only vaguely recall
the mushrooms of our progress.
We ride toward the horizon
where the great pillars of gold
and silver rise up, glinting in the sun
that once warmed them before
we cast them out into the desert
of our lust and craving.
We set out with bold ambition
but our horses have grown tired,
our canteens are empty
and the inferno threatens
to consume us.


First Appeared in Alchemy, Issue 2, Fall-Winter 1999.