MANDATORY, FOR NOW

They were not optional in our family,
once a week, half an hour, that and
at least 20 minutes daily, the youngest
got the choice of times.

He quit after a year, his sister
was three years in and went on another
and I was eight years staring
at the 88 keys, so many of which
would never get used, useless
as were the pedals I couldn’t reach
at first and rarely needed later.

It was upright, as I was supposed
to be, but only was in sight
of my teacher, and I thought
Bill Evans had it right, leaning
over the keys insuring that they
wouldn’t make an escape.

I stopped when my parents realized
how much they had spent
on what they would never enjoy
and I would as soon forget.

NESSLESS

There are no monsters
in this lake I tell
my granddaughter, answering
her unasked question.
There are bears in the woods
around here and there
used to be an owl which made
an afternoon visit.
There are deer, certainly
and there could be a coyote
or two. If you don’t
believe me, ask the crows,
everyone knows that they
can never keep a secret.

First published in From the Finger Lakes: A Memoir Anthology, Cayuga Lake Books, 2021

PARKING

It is the difference I always notice
between small and large cities: the parks.

When you sit deeply within
Boston Commons or Central Park
you can feel the city always
threatening to encroach and
once again make you its prisoner,
smell and hear the city, traffic
and trucks rumbling, horns
played in a cacophonous symphony.

In small cities you can sit in a park
and wonder where downtown
could be, distant, a whisper perhaps
alwlays unseen, and you can
get lost in dreams of childhood
smell newly mown grass, and
listen unimpeded to the stories
the trees are all to willing to tell.

THE CLIMB

Life should be a like a mountain
although truth be told, we
prefer it more like a prairie
or at best a gentle, rolling hill.

There is a challenge to climbing,
hell maintaining a grip halfway
up most mountains, and
there are no maps, no
well worn paths, you just
go up until you cannot
go up higher then you
figure out how to come down.

Down is the hard part,
and you don’t want it to go
quickly for that is a prescription
for the undertaker, and when
you do finally get down, you
want to say I did it all,
there is nothig left
that I still need to do.

THREE WORDS ARE MIND

If you stare
at a large stone
and call it a mountain
the ant will agree with you.
If you gaze on a mountain
and call it a stone
there can be no argument.
If I call that tree
a toothpick
clean your teeth carefully.

A reflection on Case 112 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo (True Dharma Eye) Koans

COSMOS

As a child he decided,
after watching Cosmos,
that he wanted to be an astronomer.

He was six, we bought
a large telescope and I was assigned
the job of aiming it
according to his directions.

After a while he did
have a mment of panic, wondering
what he would do
during the day.

That soon passed
when he discovered the radio telescope
and time became of
absolutely no importance.

He is an adult now,
a theoretical astrophysicist,
much easier on the eyes
he says, and your hours
are your own
and the universe’s.

SENSO-JI

They crowd the stalls, searching
amid what the Japanese would have to call
tchotchkes if they were Jewish.

Few bother to see the great Buddha
peereing out of the Buddha hall
questioning their judgment.

They could buy their fortunes
for a mere hundred yen coin, but they
believe it better spent here,

This the marketplace forms
a phalanx that makes a visit
to Senso-ji a forced march

through waves of humanity who
have no need of jizo, those are for
the cats and children who parade

through the gate, hand in hand,
and stare up at the statues of Kannon
still teaching and offering compassion.

IF IT STICKS

It is the Italian season in the southeast. This has nothing to do with the country, its food or language. Well a bit to do with food. It is hurricane season here, and when a storm arises, you can be certain most of us begin to scan the web for information, for weather can quickly become our nightmare. But NOAA and others know we are thristy for information, and perhaps that almost everyone loves Italian food, so they feed us ever changing, ever shifting spaghetti models. Pass the red sauce please.

MUSING TOKYO

1

In Asakusa
amid the stalls
of trinkets and swords
why do the gaijin
all speak German,
Italian, Spanish and Swedish
and English is reserved
to a couple if Nisei.

2

In a small laundromat
in Akasaka
an old woman
clucks and shuffles
on wooden sandals
pulling kimonos
from the dryer.
My t-shirts
are still damp.

3

In Shibuya
there is a small
storefront pet shop,
its windows full
of cat ryokan
some with beds
others replete
with toys, balls.
In the largest
a tiger striped Persian
sleeps, her back
to the passing crowds.

4

At Meiji Jingu
I toss my coin
and bow in prayer
hopeful that the gods
speak English.

5

On the Ginza line
a young woman
all in black
carries a carefully
wrapped poster
of John Lennon.
In thirty years
she will look
like Yoko Ono.

First published in Around the World: Landscapes & Cityscapes, Sweetycat Press, 2021

EVENT HORIZON

Someone suggested that
it is certain if you fall
into a black hole you will be
crushed well beyond diamond.

Not exactly a fate I’d want,
but that person added
that time elongates as you
go through the event horizon.

If I understood him correctly,
death is instantaneous but
that instant will seem quite long
as you verge on your death.

I could live with that, I suppose
although with my luck I would
irritate my sciatica before entry
and suffer its pain with no Advil.