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).

POSTDICTIONS

In the beginning there was
a void, stasis, dimensionless.
I am a point, without size
taking form only in motion,
so too the seat on which
I sit on United flight 951
not going from point A
to point B for neither
can exist in motion
transcending time.

Each decision sets
one me on a path, into
a dimension, dimensions
while I tread a different path
and I a third, yet I have seen
the step ahead before
having been on its path
as all random walks
must cross endlessly.
The universe grows crowded
with exponential me’s
creating paths, and so
must expand, until we cross
and in some minuscule
amount contract the cosmos.

Often I seek pain to slow
the pace, or pleasure
to quicken it, always immutable.
I have learned all of this
in my endless search
for my paradoxical twin
who prefers the accelerated
pace, moving as quickly
as possible, who looks
younger at each intersection.
Good night Albert.

First Appeared in Afterthoughts (Canada), Vol. 2, No. 4, Autumn 1995.

I’LL BE SEEING YOU

We live in a zoom world, one we never imagined, and one for which we will never be prepared. But it is our life now, friends and family reduced to pixels, voices disembodied.  They tell us this is the new normal, although what is normal about it is beyond logic and comprehension. We believe deeply that we are interconnected, curse when that connection is dropped by our technology. We cannot survive without our electrons and pixels, for that is where people exist. Every man is an island now, isolation is a perpetual state. And, hey, we should get together soon. I’ll send a meeting number and password.

ANGLE OF INCIDENCE

Dusk reflects dawn much as
dawn reflects dusk, and it is
our fear of night and deep need
for direction that sets them apart.

Imagine a photograph of the sun
hovering just over the horizon,
compass-less we do not know
what preceded, what will follow.

We prefer day and dawn, for
it is then we feel in control,
our thoughts leashed, our fears
locked away from sight and touch.

Dusk promises only night,
the darkness where our fears
find corners in which to hide,
only to spring out unwanted.

So we turn away from the sky,
unsinged by its flaming beauty,
hide ourselves from and in fear
as nature laughs at our foolishness.

A HASTY BURIAL

They should have had
an altar, even Abraham
had one when he was ready
to execute Isaac, and the ram
interceded, to his ultimate peril.

They should have had
a funeral, that is just common
sense and decency, but they
wanted no such thing, just
be done with it, bury it away.

I still mourn the death
of science for I know that it
operates without spite, without
anger, with simplicity, making
our world ever more livable.

Perhaps there will be
a resurrection, it has happened
before, although at times
it does seem that it would
take a rather large miracle now.

First published in Pages Penned in Pandemic, 2021 

HISTORY

It was easier
having no history
of my own, borrowed
histories are easily discarded.

After a while, you
begin to think of the adopted
history as your own,
and no one doubts you.

I have a history now
countries woven into 
my DNA, always present
but never before seen.

It is mine, I passed it
along to my sons, and
although it grows weaker
it is a burden they cannot avoid

and one day, perhaps,
they will stop and consider
from where they came, and not
have to invent the answer.

MEMORY

We were told the average background color of the universe was turquoise.  She said “that’s because a coyote ripped it from the mountains outside Cerrillos.  But now they say it’s actually a shade of dark beige, drying mud colored.”  It was a glitch in the software, the astronomers said.  The coyote was unmoved.

She sits on the floor sorting coupons and roughly clipped articles on herbs and natural remedies.  Occasionally she looks down at the hollow of her chest, at the still reddened slash left by the scalpel.  “I’ve got no veins left.  I hate those damn needles. If they want to poison me, I’ll drink it gladly.  Socrates had nothing on me.”

I rub her feet as she slides into the MRI tube, and pull on her toes.  “I can pull you out at any time.”  I look at my wrist but there is no time in this room, checked at the door.  Just the metronomic magnet.  As she emerges she grabs my hand, presses it against my chest.  I cradle her head and trace the scar across her scalp, trying to touch the missing brain matter, the tumor it nestled, pushing aside the brittle hair.  “Lightly toasted,” she whispers with a weak smile.  She hates white coats and stethoscopes.  “They’re the new morticians.”  They take her in small sections.  She is a slide collection in the back of my closet, on the pathologists shelf.  I want to gather them all and reassemble her.  I want her to be a young girl of fifteen again.

Coyotes wander down from the Sandia hills.  They gather outside the Santo Domingo Pueblo, sensing the slow seepage of heat from the sun baked adobe.  There is no moon.  They know each star.  They stare into the darkened sky.  They see only turquoise.

Reprised from March 31 2016

ABIDING NATURE

The abiding Buddha nature
of birds is demonstrated
by their calm ability to carry
on conversations in the presence
of interacting humans, who
are too often deaf to the sounds
in which nature immerses them.

But when we speak to the birds
in a crude facsimile of their
native chirp, caw and trill,
they pause to listen, strain
to understand us, wishing
only to let us know their thoughts,
their love of nature, and just
how shocked and disappointed
they are at our inability
to exercise our stewardship.

INSIDE, UNSEEING

I’ve been trying to discover how
it is that those inside the beltway
elected to office, or working
for those who were elected,
have all sense of irony (and
in some cases. civility) erased.

How else to explain that for many
there can be no climate change
while the nation they serve
is bearing its cost, climatologically
and in discourse and diversity,
and still they won’t see that
baked Alaska is no longer just
a dessert at a Party or PAC dinner.

Or to be blind to the fact that
their parents or grandparents
once stared up at the Lady
in the Harbor, that they were
the tired and the poor yearning
for the freedom they would now
so easily deny others, that they
and theirs were the invading mob,
nonetheless welcomed in the
promise of an ever greater land.

Perhaps it is best I never learn
for in this world a finely honed
sense of irony may be our last,
best hope for salvaging our sanity.