FORGETTING

What they don’t want to see, or are
perhaps blind to, is that it always
came down to boats, and fear was
always overcome, the ocean tamed.

Today, it is trucks, trailers, and still
boats, and fear is still overcome
for the promise of better, for
the hope for life without terror.

None of the arrivals came invited
many were turned away repeatedly,
but if they still breathed they
would continue the attempts for

such was the value of freedom,
from tyrants, oppressors and fear,
but we have forgotten them, those
who are why we are here today,

we so willing to build walls, to turn
others away for they have no
invitations, for we offer none,
the country being ours alone

LADDER

You have to stop and wonder,
the child said, why people
can take joy in killing, why
people can scheme each other,
why people can cheat if they can.

Birds, the child added, only
try and scheme people for food,
why they cheat for the sake
of cheating, kill for pleasure,
yet we say we are the higher species.

Perhaps, the child concludes,
it is we who are standing
on our heads, looking up
the species ladder, and we
are actually on the bottom.

PATIENCE

Even a cat knows when the screen is on Zoom, you sit and wait. Or stick your head in the picture so all can acknowledge your presence. Either works, and you know patience is not a virtue, but at times a necessity. You are a cat, after all. Patience is for dogs, poor beasts, having to be walked regularly. There is no freedom being a dog, and when they call you bad, that day is shot for you and you slink off. But cats must sometimes be patient when they are on Zoom, but it gives you time to plot your revenge, which the humans will never expect, but always soon enough forgive.

YUN MAN’S EVERY DAY IS A GOOD DAY

Pause and consider why so many questions
require you, you feel, to consult your watch,
to call up a calendar, to appoint time.
Time has no appointments, time is not
an arrow, though we strive always to aim it,
to send it flying in our desired direction.
Time is a point in space, surrounded by
all ten directions, going toward none of them.
Ask why this moment is not enough, why you need
the next though it does not exist.
What are you trying to escape by searching
for tomorrow, lingering in yesterday?
Yesterday no longer exists, so why
do you assume tomorrow does, and what
of this moment, which exists only now,
and what of the red leaf sitting
in mid-air awaiting your awed attention?

A reflection on Case 6 of the Hekiganroku (Blue Cliff Record)

BEARDED

It is growing more common for men
of a certain age, one I have attained,
to grow beards, and that was before
the pandemic made them ubiquitous
among those of the male gender.

I noted this aloud and a young child
smiled at me and said, “of course,
you have to have a beard because
the hair inside your head has to go
somewhere other than your bald head.”

DRINKING TEA IN KABUL*

Rockets flash briefly
across the chilled sky,
plumes of smoke, ash
carried off
by impending winter.

Over the lintel of the entry
to the Inter-Continental Hotel Chicago,
carved deeply into the marble
Es Salamu Aleikum
staring implacably
through ponderous
brass framed doors
onto the Miracle Mile.
Countless guests
pass below it
unseeing.

My son and I
sit across a small table
spilling bits of tapas
onto the cloth,
laughing lightly
at the young boy
bathed in a puree
of tomato, his shirt
dotted in goat cheese.
My son explains
the inflation of the universe,
gravitational waves
cast off
by coalescing binary
neutron stars.
His words pull me
deeper
into my seat.
We speak somberly
of the jet engine
parked haphazardly
in the Queens gas station
unwilling to mention
265 lives
salted across
the small community.

We embrace
by his door, the few
measured hours run.
He turns to call
his girlfriend,
I turn my collar up
against the November night.

The Red Line train
clatters slowly back
into a sleeping city.
In my room
I brew a cup of Darjeeling.

*”We will drink tea in Kabul tomorrow morning, if God wills it.” – Basir Khan, Northern Alliance Commander, quoted in the Chicago Tribune, 13 November 2001.

First appeared in Hearsay, 2004 and in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008).

PLEASE TO FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS

At least some Chinese manufacturers
have seemingly grown tired of our
endless mockery of their instructions.

No longer do they tell me “please to be
inserting the extended aspect
of part A into part B in the slotted area.”

Now they give me wordless instructions,
a series of pictures with lettered parts
which seems easier until, after

unpacking the many pieces, laying them
out on th workspace I discover
that either I am short one or more screws

or worse still, but more likely, when I begin
I will discover that several of the part
labels are lying in the bottom of the empty box.

BODHIDHARMA’S VAST AND VOID

You want holy teachings
boiled down, synthesized
digestible in bites

so dine on the holes
nothing, emptiness
is sustenance
enough

look at me, at a window
as you do a mirror
no knowing,
a familiar face
but whose

the face will depart
yours or his
you will awaken
to endless absence

learn no
thingness
overflowing void

A reflection on Case 1 of the Hekiganroku (Blue Cliff Record)

JUST PERHAPS

You want something. Tell me what it is. Don’t hedge, be open and honest. I may not give it to you. I may not have it to give. I may have it and give it freely. I may have and not want to part with it. I may not have, can get it and give it. Or not. You will not know until you ask for it. I may seek a reason you want it. I may not care. I may seek a reason while not caring. That is my prerogative. I don’t expect you to like that. I may or may not care whether you like it or not. But first you must tell me what it is. I will not guess but I will wait. I am very patient. Or perhaps I am not and you have already missed your opportunity. Life is difficult. You didn’t ask for it to be.