Some, mostly of us, said we
were the chosen people, as if
wandering the desert for 40 years
was the grand prize, okay of Sodom
got the runners-up gift.
I didn’t buy it then, don’t now,
even after I sold my membership
as the price of final freedom.
No, we were, still are, the people
of the candle and oil lamp,
the latter far too sooty these days,
playing hell with our smoke detectors.
Two every Friday, and Hanukkah
is good for forty-four, and on
the anniversary of a death, just one,
but that to burn a full 24 hours.
So while our butchers fatten their thumbs
for the scales, and our bakers
tell their wives they won’t be home for dinner
on Thursday nights, busy braiding dough,
it is our candle makers who have
chosen us as their kind of people.
There is a reason for this
as there is is a reason for most things
whether we like it or not, I tell my son.
He gives me that smile that says
“I do not agree at all with that,
but you are my father, and so
I won’t disagree,” but I know
he means this only as
a Japanese hai, yes, I understand,
but I will take it as hai, I agree.
I don’t speak Japanese,
neither does my son, but we
both know that if we
were right now in France
the one thing he wouldn’t
be saying is d’accord, father or no.
There was a time
until, once again home,
you have hundreds
of prayers unanswered.
It was a Tuesday in October
or a Wednesday in March,
hard to say which, but evening.
We had taken a cab from the Hyatt
Embarcadero or the Fairmont,
it didn’t much matter,
and sat in the Chinese restaurant
on the edge of Chinatown, or
a pasta and seafood joint
in North Beach, and you said
it was a small earthquake, while I
was certain it was the waiter
who drained the half empty
wine glasses en route to the kitchen.
We walked slowly along the street
past the “World Famous Condor”
in all its tacky glory, and I said
it was the birthplace of silicon,
we had Carol Doda to thank for that
and you said I was perverted
and suggested we go across the street
to the club featuring nude dancers,
but I balked when I saw they were men.
Finally we compromised and walked
around the corner to the City Lights.
You wandered impatiently around
while I stood transfixed
in the poetry section, a warren
of shelves, a ladder on wheels
and corners, and held, almost fondled
a fresh copy of Coney Island of the Mind.
I read it slowly, a man stood
behind me shifting his weight
from foot to foot, “It’s not all that good,
adequate, but there’s Bukowski and Ginsberg.”
Without looking back, I reached for Gasoline.
“At least that’s a good choice,” he said
and in growing anger I turned
and sneered into the nose
of Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
First Published in Creative Juices, December 1998.
There is a reason for all things
and therefore there is a reason for this
although we cannot begin to fathom
what that reason could possibly be,
which may be reason enough,
for reason has a twisted soul —
now playful, now angry, now vengeful
in irregular turns without warnings.
The problem with seeking the reason
for things is deeply hidden, and not
as some imagine, that it is difficult; no,
the problem is that the search for the reason
has its own reason needing to be discovered
and so recursively back to the Big Bang
which still, to this day, has
the ultimate undiscovered reason.
The question, of course, is which
is Frankenstein, which his monster
a chicken and egg problem
that invites debate, denies solution.
They say, of course, it is you –
We sent you Lafayette, never assuming
quelle catastrophe would grow from our gift.
Freedom doesn’t make you a God
but somehow you never learned that
too busy writing rules for the rest of us to ignore.
Quite to the contrary, we say,
we sacrifice mightily to redeem you,
buried our own dreams to build
a foundation for yours, twice, and you
repay us not with the gratitude
we so deeply deserve from you,
but with derision, and that, only
if you are feeling beneficent. You are
the epitome of arrogance we each say
and we know that it is the glue that binds us.
When you speak the words
of the Buddha you are lost.
Light is everywhere in silence
but the tongue must hide
in the dark of the mouth.
Buddha’s words are flowers
unfolding in the dawn
by the side of the still pond,
the eyes hear the song
and respond in silent chorus.
A reflection on case 39 of the Mumonkan (The Gateless Gate)