MASKING

The Air Force shaved our heads, was it
because of the heat of a San Antonio
summer or that we’ll all look equally like fools,
and easier for Sarge to maintain unit
cohesiveness in his rag tag band
of semi-successful Army avoiders.

Now we all wear masks and assume
we all look equally foolish, knowing
the virus cares nothing for cohesiveness,
and normal is insignia only to dreams
and at times life is shit on a shingle now.

We want our childhoods back, before
the war, before the barracks and bad
food, before expectations, and those few
imposed could be ignored at minimal
parental retribution, we want what
never really existed, it is our right.

We marched and sang “Suicide is Painless”,
never believed it for a moment, but now
we consider it in passing as we walk
down the shortening pier
into the ocean of darkness.

First published in Circumference, Issue 4, June 2021

MARCH ON

We marched regularly, often carring placards,
this week against an insane war
in a place we had no busines being,
next week for the racial justice
promised for a century but never delivered,
and then for the ecology, trying to save
the world that our parents promised
for us as little children and failed
to provide, choking through the smog
and the teargas, scraping knees
on the concrete as we were pushed
back, pushed away, pushed into a corner.

Then we were marching in uniform,
across the pavement in Texas, Lackland,
Fort Sam Houston, sergeants always by
our sides, always willing to remind us
that we were dirt, incompetent, useless,
but they’d make us into soldiers, they
would find the cohesiveness we lacked.

Now we are struggling not to march,
not to be lemmings headed for the cliff,
not to give up the small victories
once won,not at war now, still searching
for justice for all, still chokng
on the air we have made putrid,
and we teach our grandchildren
how to march, how never to give up.

STONE

Just outside town
in the old dump is
a slab of concrete
its twisted edges pierced
by rusting rebar
once the floor
of the gazebo in the commons.
Etched into its surface
Jim + Marie
Janet Loves Eddie.
Their loves were undying
cast into stone to wear
slowly through the ages
not to fall victim
to the jackhammer.
Jim lies under
the simple stone
“Sgt. U. S. Army
Served Vietnam,”
Marie left for college
but came home,
a nurse at the Community Hospital
now divorced with two daughters.
Eddied married Sue,
three times runner up
for homecoming queen
and lives in a trailer
by the county line.
Janet waits tables
in the coffee shop
at Caesar’s Palace while
her husband, whom she met
at the truck stop,
deals blackjack in the casino.
Their son lives in San Francisco
with his lover, but
they haven’t spoken to him
in more years
than they can remember.
The old gazebo was replaced
years ago by the giant
steel play gym.

First published in Green Silk Journal, Spring 2020
https://www.thegsj.com/spring-2020-.html

WE COULD

We could, if you want,
sit in the park on our folding
chairs or better a folded blanket
and stare out over the pond,
its silver surface shirred
by a midday breeze.

We could picnic, sandwiches
of brie and apples, or for us
hummous with tahini and
a bottle of chardonnay, carefully
poured into plastic glasses
imagining themseles crystal.

The dragonflies would ignore us,
busy doing what we cannot see,
though we might draw the eye
of a great egret, for they like
nothing more than to stare
at the strangeness around them.

WE ARE IN KANSAS, TOTO

In my dream, the world
was at peace, and I was riding
across Kansas on a unicycle, towing
my car, packed to the windows,
my dog walking alongside urging
me to speed up because she
wanted to visit South Dakota.
I am due for a tricycle, I
remind the dog, “the grave
more likely,” she responds
with a sneer that teeters between
love and spite, always precariously
balanced, as is her food bowl
on the roof of the car. 
I could tell it was a dream
which is not often easy
from its midst, by the utter
lack of churches, synagogues
and mosques, none to be seen
and the Great Blue Heron
nesting in a scrub pine
on the shreds of Holy Books. 

First published in EKL Review, Issue 3, 2021
https://eklreview.com/issue_3/

MELODY

The melody arose from the most unexpected place.
They heard it deep within the woods
and even the birds fell silent
peering around, searching
for its unrevealed source.
It carried on for several verses
and then, as quickly as it came
it was gone, the final note
carried off by a spring wind.
No one entered, no one left
the woods that day
and though many searched
no instrument was found
and the trees of the woods
grew silent at the searchers’ approach.

WHY NOT

Today in odd places,
at the most unexpected moments,
a child will smile without reason,
a young girl will laugh,
the young boy will stroke
the neck of a wandering cat,
and in that place
at that moment
there will be a simple peace.
Only the children will notice this,
though it gives lie to those
who deem peace impossible.
A child knows that it is
only preconceptions
and attachments
that blind adults
to the peace that
surrounds them.

PRACTICE THIS

He is, he claims, a practitioner
of feng shui, and will, for
a nominal fee, arrange our home
in the harmony it requires.

His fee, of course, is nominal
to him only, and hardly one
we would incur with the expenses
of a new home, with two
of too many things, and none
of some necessities, which
our local merchants will provide
for their own nominal fees.

And I don’t know that I want
to pay to watch him move
two small pieces of pottery
and rehang our art so that
whatever Chinese gods
he channels will be pleased,
all while taking our home
away from us and leaving
a place of his we merely inhabit.

NIGHTLY PRAYERS

My mother always told me to say
my prayers before bed, which was odd
given that she never prayed, and didn’t
as far as we could tell, believe in a deity.

I knew, as my Rabbi taught, that you do not
seek something for yourself in prayer,
and world peace and harmony did not
seem on the horizon despite my entreaties.

Now I kneel, and face the wall before bed,
and listen to the prayers of the birds
in the wetlands, although it is not clear
if it is a deity or the moon to which they pray.

My mother is long buried now, I will join
her eventually, and there is still no peace
in the world, merely violence and poverty,
but the birds have greater faith than I ever did.

FOUR HAIKU

the morning dew smiles
the rising sun stares deeply
later a merger

the egret stands fixed
wishing he was a statue
the rippling pond laughs

clouds blacken the sky
the sun plays hide and go seek
we watch patiently.

winter is lurking
but swaying palms reject it
it retreats northward