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

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.

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.”

PLEASE TO FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS

At least some Chinese manufacturers
have seemingly grown tired of our
endless mockery of their instructions.

No longer do they tell me “please to be
inserting the extended aspect
of part A into part B in the slotted area.”

Now they give me wordless instructions,
a series of pictures with lettered parts
which seems easier until, after

unpacking the many pieces, laying them
out on th workspace I discover
that either I am short one or more screws

or worse still, but more likely, when I begin
I will discover that several of the part
labels are lying in the bottom of the empty box.

BODHIDHARMA’S VAST AND VOID

You want holy teachings
boiled down, synthesized
digestible in bites

so dine on the holes
nothing, emptiness
is sustenance
enough

look at me, at a window
as you do a mirror
no knowing,
a familiar face
but whose

the face will depart
yours or his
you will awaken
to endless absence

learn no
thingness
overflowing void

A reflection on Case 1 of the Hekiganroku (Blue Cliff Record)

JUST PERHAPS

You want something. Tell me what it is. Don’t hedge, be open and honest. I may not give it to you. I may not have it to give. I may have it and give it freely. I may have and not want to part with it. I may not have, can get it and give it. Or not. You will not know until you ask for it. I may seek a reason you want it. I may not care. I may seek a reason while not caring. That is my prerogative. I don’t expect you to like that. I may or may not care whether you like it or not. But first you must tell me what it is. I will not guess but I will wait. I am very patient. Or perhaps I am not and you have already missed your opportunity. Life is difficult. You didn’t ask for it to be.