FORWARD

As a child I was quite fond
of staring into the future
for hours on end, when
my parents told me
to get my head out of books
and go outside to play.

I never could see much
in my staring, thought
I was probably myopic
but my parents said I
couldn’t need glasses, they
cost far too much
for someone my age.

I realize now, now that
that future is mostly
my past, that I wouldn’t
have understood anything
I might have seen, had
I ever seen anything at all.

CHATTER

The cat tells me that
long after we have gone
to bed for the night she
hears the arguments
of the authors of the books
lining our living room shelves.

The poets, she says, quibble
over rhyme and meter, claim
this one is academic, that
one merely skilled in doggerel.

And don’t, she adds, get her
started on the Buddhist
authors, who argue endlessly
over their solution to this
koan or that one, each
certain of his own wisdom.

So do me a favor, the cat
concludes, and mix them up,
for they will quickly drive
each other to utter silence,
as the short story writers
dominate the conversation.

IN MOURNING

I will soon enough be
in mourning for literature
and philosophy for the moment
is approaching when they
will be lost, or I suppose
simply subsumed, swallowed
up in a cloud appearing
momentarily then gone.

The day is rapidly approaching
and if you doubt it
for even a moment, go
to your local library, if
it has not closed, and note
the diminishing number
of books, replaced
by computers, where
everything can be found
while the power is on,
but just try and read there
when a candle is the only light.

INSTRUCTIONS TO MY ENGLISH LIT CLASS

First, read the syllabus
and buy the books we will read.
Note that I have carefully selected
works for which there are no Cliff Notes
or their equivalent, so if you were
counting on that consider yourself screwed.

When you write an essay, do not ever,
let me emphasize EVER, begin by saying
in my opinion, for if I wanted
an opinion on a great writer’s work
I would as soon stop and ask
my multigrain bagel what it thought,
although I admit its Everything cousin
did have some amazing insights into Hamlet.

Do not bother plagarizing quotes
from things you find on the internet,
for they will either be wrong or
you will have found them by using
Google or another search engine
and I discovered those when you
were still in diapers. And finally
if you ask for more time to write
a paper, I will give you a strong
recommendation to take my friend’s
Intermediate Composition class,
the one you tried to duck
by taking my class instead.

READING LIST

A good friend, who we had
not seen in COVID time, visited
and we smiled when we saw
that she was reading Heidi,
catching up she said on a too
abbreviated childhood, one
sacrificed to circumstance

My grandson, soon enough
ten, says he is reading
Beowulf, though not the Heaney
translation, so there are two
more books on my books
you must read before you die list.

Despite reading regularly,
the list grows ever longer,
and I am beginning to think
that if I must  complete it,
it may be my best shot, my
only real shot at immortality.

A TWISTED ROAD

Walking down the helical
road, untwisting as you go
you discover places
you never imaginged
visiting, nothing
like the path you
thought you knew well.

Stop and claim
your new heritage,
find yourself
on an alien map,
bury yourself in books
of new and ancient history.

Pause here and consider
a King of Scotland,
knights and lords,
in the far distance
know that you claim
a link to a man
so honored that he
died by hanging, but
was then beheaded
and drawn and quartered.

Too late to unswab
your cheek, so simply
enjoy your ride.

A LESSON TO TEACH

This is what 
I would tell my sons:
“You came from 
an ancient people,
a heritage of poets
and tailors, or thieves
and blasphemers,
of callous men
and slaughtered children.
I would give you these books,
written by God, some have said,
although I am doubtful
but driven by Erato, without doubt.”

This is what 
I would tell my sons:
“I didn’t go to war —
there were so many options
and I chose one where
my feet would touch
only Texas mud,
where the only bullets
were quickly fired
on the rifle range.
I wasn’t one of the 56,000.
I didn’t come home
in a body bag.
But I do stop at the Wall
each time I visit D.C.
and say farewell
to those who did.”

This is what
I would tell my sons:
“You have never known
the hunger for a scrap of bread
pulled from a dumpster,
you have never
spent a night on a steam grate
hiding under yesterday’s
newspapers from
the rapidly falling snow.
You never stood
nervously at the waiting room
of a dingy clinic
waiting for a young,
uncaring doctor to announce
that antibiotics would likely
clear up the infection
but you should avoid
any form of sex
for a couple of weeks.”

This is what
I would tell my sons:
“You come from 
a heritage of poets.”

First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press 2008

YAKUSAN SOLVES A PROBLEM 鐵笛倒吹 三十三

If you want to ask
of the path, do so,
only without breaking
the silence of the zendo.
Seek the answer
in a library without books,
take sustenance
from an empty bowl.

Bodhi is a glittering gem
that cannot be seen
that cannot be held—
do not stumble over it.


A reflection on Case 33 of the Iron Flute Koans

TODAY, ALAS

Too much of what passes
for literature in these days is really
no more lasting than the evanescent
pixels from which it is created.

Books fade, pages crumble to dust
but that requires the passage of time
that our electronic world avoids
or simply refuses to acknowledge,

for history is something that lives
in storage, perhaps recalled, if still
viable, be very easily forgotten,
and compressed to save space.

Still I have my library of books,
and not once in recent memory
have I had to halt my reading
to recharge the printed pages.

ADOPTION FOR DUMMIES

There is one thing that none
of the books on discovering
who you are when you are
adopted bother to tell you.

If they did, it wouldn’t change
anything, but it is a burden
you assumed you’d easily bear
that grows heavy with time.

What they don’t warn you is
that you will discover yourself,
and your heritage that was denied
to you for one engrafted on.

But you will not be prepared
for the hidden tax that is levied
with that knowledge, for your
mourning is too soon doubled.