JANUARY

It is an odd feeling, in the middle
of January, to no longer consider
becoming a bear, choosing
to hibernate until Spring arrives
demanding an awakening.

I did that for years, never
grew the heavy fur coat needed
and wasn’t much for digging dens
in the snow, so I sat inside
and dreamed of bearishness.

Living now among the birds
where we shiver when it is
in the 40’s, and I sweat and
complain when it is 90, I try
occasionally to remember

once wanting
to become
a bear.

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).

SNOW

At first it was just odd
to think of snow as merely
a concept, a memory softer,
more pleasant than its reality.

You can grow accustomed
to concepts, they are generally
somewhat neat and tidy, easily
filed and brought forth on demand.

The concept of snow has
its great advantages, snowmen
of perfect shape, never melting
and no one must shovel a concept.

But there are moments, a tree
decorated for Christmas, you
want to reach out and feel
the chill suddenly warm your heart.

QUESTION POSED, AWAITING A RESPONSE

I stooped and spoke
to a stone, asking the question.
I was here before you arrived
and I will be her long after you leave.
I held the sand in my hand
warm from the sun, asking the question.
I came after your arrived
and I will leave long before you are gone.
I held the winter wind on the tip
of a finger, asking the question.
I am not here now
and I have never been here.
I touched the waters
to my lips, asking the question.
I was above you when you came
and I will be below you when you go.
I saw the flames dance
before me, asking the question.
You were ashes once
and you shall be ashes again.
I stood mired in the clay
clinging to my legs, asking the question.
It is of me you were formed
and it is to me you will return.
I sat at the foot of God
blinding light, asking the question.
You cried to me at birth
and you will cry to me at death.

First Published in The Poet: Faith Vol. 1, Spring 2021
https://www.thepoetmagazine.org/spring-2021—faith

NO BIALYS TODAY

No one looked up when the Buddha
walked into the deli and took a seat
at the counter, “Pastrami on rye, and
lean, with mustard on the side, and two
slices of full dill and a side of slaw.”

As he sipped the Dr. Brown’s Cream
Soda, the waitress smiled at him,
asked, “Are those robes comfortable,
winter isn’t all that far off, you know.”

Buddha smiled, and with a serene calm
said, “It all depends on what you wear
beneath, I prefer a silk-cotton blend,
but some I know want only organics.”

As he finished, a younger, swarthy
man entered, his robes bleached white
from the sun, his dark hair long,
sandals worn down, and came
over to Buddha, sat down with
a nod to the waitress, and instantly
a corned beef on pumpernickel
appeared, at which point Buddha
muttered “Christ, how do you do that?”

First published in Bengaluru Review: Spring, 2021
https://bengalurureview.com/bengaluru-review-spring-2021

AUDITIONS DAILY

It should be easy, my friend said,
to imagine yourself a character
in a novel you particularly like,
like I’ve found myself in any number
of Tom Clancy novels, since I can
easily become a CIA agent, it fits me.

I know I’d shoot myself in the foot
or worse, and I’d keep no secrets
if you even threatened to torture me,
and the odds of me finding my own
Doctor Watson are slim, harder still
since I abhor even the thought
of opium, and I gave up my pipe
years ago when the girls found it
odd or disgusting, not the cool I sought.

So I’m left with being a young Japanese
woman negotiating life in modern
Tokyo, or the countryside, but I’m
nit sure Banana Yoshimoto would
buy me as her protagonist, so I suppose
I could do a quick deep dive into
ballet and try and pass for Shimamura,
but I know I’d opt for Yoko and that
wouldn’t suit Kawabata at all

Come to think of it, I have a hard
enough time being myself, and even
as my own author, I find that I
would never accept myself as my
protagonist, so that role is still
available if you would care to audition.

HAKUUN’S BLACK AND WHITE 鐵笛倒吹 十四

Like Hakuun
shun the city,
flee the towns
and find a home
in the forest only
in the deepest part
of winter, but
do not shun people
in your solitude.

Write verses
of total silence
and dig deeply into
newly fallen snow.
Let it drift over you
until you black hair
is all that appears
on an endless field of white.

A reflection on case 14 of the Iron Flute Koans

WINTER

As I stare out the window and watch
the snow slowly build on the limbs
of the now barren crab apple, painting
it with a whiteness that bears heavily,
giving the smaller branches a better
view of the ground in which their
fruit of the summer lies buried.

I am forced to wonder if the tree
continues to watch me, if its vision
is clouded by the snowy blanket
in which it wraps itself this day,
and if it does, what must it think
of someone so sedentary when it,
bearing its winter burden can still
dance gently in the morning wind.

FOUR HAIKU

the morning dew smiles
the rising sun stares deeply
later a merger

the egret stands fixed
wishing he was a statue
the rippling pond laughs

clouds blacken the sky
the sun plays hide and go seek
we watch patiently.

winter is lurking
but swaying palms reject it
it retreats northward