RESEARCH

She is a small woman
dressed in white, save for black
platform slingback pumps
and cherry red eyeglass frames.
She hunches forward in her seat
seeming as though she might collapse,
pouring over tables and graphs –
biochemical research papers.
You measure the depth of her attention
by the frequency with which she  pulls
single strands of hair from her banded ponytail,
strokes them gently, then, as if noticing they
have gone astray, tries to tuck them back in.
She pauses this ritual only to annotate
the paper’s margins in mechanical pencil
in a small, cramped hand, barely legible.
You know she has reached the paper’s conclusion
when she strokes that soft space
between those in upper lip
as though a teenage boy hoping
one day soon to grow a mustache.

HELL’S PRISONER

I am pressed into a seat
that would conform only
to the body of some alien creature,
or so it seems, for hours
into a flight that increasingly
seems eternal, particularly for the baby
two rows back, who, like me
would much rather be anywhere else.
The crew dims the cabin lights
the universal indicator of “Don’t
think of bothering us, we fed you
and will give you a snack in the morning,
only if you behave, so
off to sleep with you all.”
As my back and neck rebel, I
remind myself it could be far worse,
the food poisoned, perhaps, not
merely inedible, for this, despite
appearances, is only the second ring of hell.

ONE ROW OVER, TWO LIVES BACK

I am somewhere southwest of Alaska,

four hours outside Narita,

and I notice him, three seats over

and a row behind, a middle seat,

yet the Buddha doesn’t seem to mind.

He sits calmly sipping his Chivas

and rubbing his round belly,

his legs tucked neatly, lotus.

He smiles at me, lifting his glass,

“One should not blindly seek pleasure,

nor should one avoid it

when it is thrust before him.”

He giggles as the edited version

of Kundun plays out on the small screen,

“It was nothing like that,” he says,

“nothing at all like that, but that

is what they all want to see,

so that is what they will see.”

He pours another sip of Chivas

from the tiny bottle, then slides

it into the seat back in front of him,

“No doubt Richard Gere

will be waiting for me in Tokyo,

full of questions, always seeking,

never stopping to see that when

he stops inquiring, the answers

will all be clear to him, he could

as easily ride a snowboard to Nirvana.”

An hour later, my novel grown stale,

I glance back. He still sits there,

a small child sucking on a pacifier

with that same smile, that same

little giggle, and drifts off to sleep.