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

DYBBUK

The evening slowly enters
Warsaw — along Aleje Solidarnosci
a lumbering truck backfires — some old ones
cringe — thoughts collapsing — into rail cars — lightening
bolts on stiff black wool uniforms — polished jackboots —
a wrought iron gate — Arbeit Macht Frei

The evening slowly enters
Warsaw along Aleje Solidarnosci
a truck backfires a sudden flock
of sierpowka Eurasian Collared Doves
rises gracefully from the trees
each carrying another lost
in the ghetto ’43 in the revolt ’44

Night settles on Warsaw – there is solitude

First appeared in Pitkin in Progress, Vol. 3, No. 1 (2002)

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.”

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.

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).

TODAY

Today we want very much to pray
but words fail us yet again, and we doubt
God would hear our entreaty anyway,
since this is a disaster of our own making.

This is the problem of free will, as so many
discovered across Europe during the second
of the wars to end all wars, as did the people
of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well.

If God listened we would hear a reply:
“You made this mess, it is up to you to fix it
so get on with it, but do wait until
the pandemic subsides a bit more if you would.”