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.
Its plump, dusty-white feathered body
sits atop the pond like an inverted
iceberg, as the lindens fringing the field
shed their seeds onto the hardened soil.
The swan lumbers across the surface
with no particular urgency or direction
slowed by the entropy of a late August afternoon,
the laughed shouts of children
plunging headlong to dinner,
diverted to bathrooms
for the cursory sprinkling
of unholy water,
the beast drags its haunches
straining against the gravity
of too many
moments pecking the grains
cast at it by the children.
Its head breaks the surface of the pond
and inches downward in through the green
glaze until snatching its target
at the end of the allotted moment,
like the child’s toy with its colored fluid,
it swings back up on its axis,
and inches away, its dive complete.
The young boy climbs gingerly aboard
the rusty metal seat, a lattice of
peeling enamels, telling the years
as rings of trees, and drops the bar
across his lap, a wave to cousins
denying the tingle in his bowels
as the wheel begins its rhythmic
interrupted rotation, and the sky
summer gray, approaches.
The wheel turns slowly,
the cacophony of little girls
rings false against the fading note
of a carousel.
He rocks gently, mindful not to lean
into the baleful eye of the operator,
and glances down counting those
awaiting their moments until
he hears the grating of metal
and he slides to the side,
as his cage
begins to dangle, the bar greased
by the sweated palms of a rider,
and then the shriek of agony
torn loose from somewhere beneath
his riveted eyes
fixed on the asphalt
rushing to break him.
He lifts his arms out
for the genetic memory of flight.
He strikes with the sound of the plastic
barrel striking a pier, his dive complete.
First Appeared in Twilight Ending, May 1999.
The phone is again ringing,
and the odds say it is someone
who wants to extend my warranty
on the car I no longer own,
or to lower my credit card interest
though I never carry a balance,
or to help me fix my computer if I
just hand over control to them.
I won’t answer this time, almost
never do unless I know the caller
and want to speak to them,
robocalls, despised as they are
do provide a convenient excuse
not to speak to the long lost friend
who only needs a short term loan,
or the charity always wanting more.
Many want the government to act,
to ban or limit these calls, and I
agree, but be prepared to answer
when I call about the money you promised.
When your mind is raging
thoughts flowing, eddying
when you enter the zendo
what do you do in sitting?
Do you take your stick
and measure the water
to insure a safe fording,
or do you sit amid the stream
and let the flood
wash over and around you
dry and silent within?
A reflection on Case 36 of the Iron Flute Koans
No one thinks it all that strange
that novels featuring James Bond
appeared well after Ian Fleming
again made acquaintance with the soil.
Nor are we shocked that Conan Doyle
has seemingly taken up pen again
and brought Holmes back to life,
although many find those efforts regrettable.
And yet when I take pen to paper
and cast line upon line of verse
upon the page, weaving intricate rhymes
and couplets of fine iambic pentameter,
I am called a fool or a charlatan for claiming
my work is merely a continuation of
Milton, Eliot and old William Butler Yeats
but homage is a tough game and I’m up to it,
and I toil away wondering just who
will strive to continue my tales when,
as draws ever closer to my chagrin,
I join the masters as further food for worms.
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)
I have two mothers, now both dead,
I have three fathers, one unknown, one buried
outside Washington and one lost
in a corner of his shrinking mind.
I am growing older, I have aches
and clicks and pops and groans,
which each remind me that I
am aware and alive and that
isn’t a bad way to start a new day.
As a child I lived next door to a calendar,
but not the kind mother always hung
on the wall next to the refrigerator, two,
one for school events and the obligations
attendant on parenthood and the other
for holidays, and adult social events,
the important one she’d say when
she thought we couldn’t hear.
My calendar was Mrs. Kanutsu,
the woman next door, or more accurately
the aromas that would waft from her kitchen
foretelling the Greek Orthodox holiday
about to arrive, only a few hours
after she insured that I approved
of her latest creations, all of which
were replete, redolent with spices
my mothers would never dare use.
I liked Christmas most of all, even
though I was wholly Jewish then,
for it meant she would let me help
make the phyllo, knowing I would
soon enough be rewarded with
a large piece of baklava that strangely
never seemed to make it all the way next door
In entering, do you arrive
or are you leaving.
In departing do you leave
or are you arriving.
Can the gate answer
or does it choose
to remain silent.
The mountain shouts
the answer but only
the river can hear it.
A reflection on case 30 of the Dogen’s Shobogenzo (The True Dharma Eye)