MACHISMO

He was fond of saying
that men need to toughen up,
show more fortitude, take
time for serious male bonding.

He would prattle on about
how so many men were
not true men anymore,
warped by modern society.

I tried my best to avoid him,
to quickly end our encounters and
when I could not, for he would
inevitably complain of loneliness.

Still, I would much rather be
in the kitchen, knives in hand
preparing a fine meal beside
the woman I so deeply love.

PURPOSES

Life, she said, is all about
finding purpose not things.

It was hard to argue with her,
as she overwhelmed with examples.

Rice filling a small bowl
holds an incense stick up

and catches the ashes
as they fall quietly down..

A cracked plate can sit
under a plant, catching

any overflow from its
careful daily watering.

And old fleece jacket can
be desleeved and become

the cat’s new favorite bed,
moved around for novelty.

He always wondered how
she would repurpose him

when the time came.

LIFE, ABBREVIATION

Arrival noted, 11:30 P.M.
delivery normal, baby
prepared for agency, mother
released in two days, baby
to foster care, then
to adoptive parents.

No memories, save one,
a fall, bathroom, head
bleeding, black and white
floor tile, radiator harder
than child’s skull.

Now 70, the same person,
a lying mirror each day,
a small cemetery, West
Virginia, a headstone
a mother finally,
a life of mourning.

WORDS, WORDS, WORDS

My mother surrouned me
with books, “read, read”
she would endlessly say.

And if I had a question,
“Look it up, it’s why we
bought the encyclopedia.”

I became a voracious reader,
skilled at finding answers,
never stopping to think.

Now, years later, I know
why I had to read, why
I had to look things up.

What she never said, but
what she clearly meant was
I can’t be bothered now,

can’t be bothered most
ever, so be self sufficient
so I don’t have to mother.

CASSANDRA IN FLORIDA

She is large, and largely immobile
and occupies the bench by the road
that encircles the property like a noose.

She does this each day, a crust
or more of stale bread tucked away
in a pocket of her always floral

housedress that envelopes her
and the bench she occupies
as a monarch on her throne.

The ibis see her coming and gather
at her feet like acolytes awaiting
words from their sage and goddess.

She doesn’t disappoint them, telling
them a tidbit of the world, more often
who was taken sick overnight, who

died yesterday, always a shock
she says, then whispers conspiratorially,
but actually expected, of course,

for everyone here has numbered days,
and then tells them stories of her life,
real and imagined, the veil between

her truth and her fiction now diaphanous.
They grow impatient, but a good queen
reads her subjects and reaches

into the pocket pulling out the crusty
bread, smiles at her flock, says see, I bring
manna and together we cross the desert.

First Published in Chantarelle’s Notebook, March 2019
https://chantarellesnotebook.com/2019/03/22/

KYIV

From the moment it began, we knew, it was
obvious that peace and freedom were under assault,
Russia had thrown societal norms to the wind.

Under gunmetal gray skies they attacked by air,
killing women, children, destroying hospitals, homes
raining hell on the innocents with nowhere to turn.
All we could do was watch, pray and offer paltry aid
in the hope that this proud nation could hold out,
negotiate some peace, maintain their freedom,
emerge like the phoenix slowly rising from the rubble.

SOPHIE

She maintained an aura of what she
imagined was elegance, a carefully
constructed persona carried out
in the most careful details.

Her furniture had slipcovers, lest
someone spill and mar the fabric,
a tea cart always at the ready
although I never saw her serve tea.

She spoke with carefully chosen
words, certainly not the vernacular
of the city, perhaps of London
where she had been born.

Those she met would never guess
that this was the same woman, who
on the death of her husband, wielded
a baseball bat in the liquor store
she operated in the heart of downtown,
one she had used on one occasion
once enough that the word got out.

LEILA

At the left click of the mouse
my granddaughter appears
barely a week old
and with a right-click
she is frozen into the hard drive.
I remember sitting outside
the Buddha Hall of Todai-Ji Temple
in the mid-morning August sun the
smiling at a baby waiting in her stroller
for her mother to bow
to the giant golden Buddha.
I recall the soft touch
of the young monk on my shoulder,
his gentle smile, and
in halting English, his saying
“all babies have the face
of the old man Buddha.”
In the photos, the smile
of my son is the smile
on the face of Thay,
the suppressed giggle that always
lies below the surface of
the face of Tenzin Gyatso.
There is much I want to ask her,
my little Leila, there is much
she could offer, but I know
that like all Buddhas
she will respond with a smiling
silence and set me back on my path.

Published in As Above, So Below, Issue 9, August 2022
https://issuu.com/bethanyrivers77/docs/as_above_so_below_issue_9

STORY

You are still there. You have a patience that I will not know in this lifetime. I know I can always find you, even though you never reach out to me except in my dreams. There I tell you my life story and you listen intently. You have no need to ask questions, knowing I will tell the whole story in due time, And time is one thing you have that I, increasingly, lack. So I’ll be back for another visit soon and you will be waiting for me, mother.