As you walk through
this particular space
will you see a small
child perched on a stool,
crayons in hand, a small
rectangle of paper
on the top of the desk
a world you could
never hope to understand,
or an older woman, leaning
on her walker, staring
into the canvas, struggling
to see each brush stroke
and three workmen
white hard hats, retractable
rules and laser levels,
measuring the gallery
against the blueprint
which are artists —
which is art —
does it matter?
He’s all of three
but stare into his eyes and they say
I’m so much more, if
you dare go there.
Of course I do.
As we enter the path
to the rock garden
his small hand in mine
I point to the sign, say
do you know what grows
in a rock garden?
He looks, I can see
the faint hint of the knowing smile
He holds his finger to his forehead,
looks up questioningly,
and states clearly and precisely
“weeds” with a following giggle.
The oddest thing about being
Buddhist is what I once was,
and not just in a prior life.
Born, it turns out, and adopted
into a secular Jewish family, I
must still be Jewish even if I might
have lapsed back to secularity, they say,
because my Jewishness is a mark,
Cain-like it seems, though I always
lacked the nose for the role.
Some a bit more knowing remind me
that I can be both, though they
can’t imagine why anyone would.
I tell them I’m simply, only Buddhist
and not-think what that really means.
He appeared rather suddenly,
and didn’t seem to stay very long.
Some claimed they knew he was coming,
most never saw him arrive,
although some said they saw him clearly,
that he visited frequently, that
they knew his presence unquestionably
and spoke to him at some length.
She knew there was much wishful thinking
and a dearth of reality, but she
had come to accept that they got
what they seemed so badly to need
at no cost to her or any others.
But her daughter, seeing all this,
could only laugh, for though she might
be young, she knew he didn’t appear,
he was always there, they just wouldn’t
close their eyes and see
what every child did.
The small child peers through
the bamboo poles of the bridge
as he stares down at a turtle
who stares up at him with equal fascination.
His mother excitedly says, “see the turtle?”
Of course he can see the turtle
but he also sees an Ichthyosaurus
and giant whales and frightening fish.
Later, as she points out an iguana,
he will see the small lizard and all
manner of dinosaurs roaming,
a pterodactyl swooping overhead
mimicking a crow, for pterodactyl
have the same magical power as coyotes.
Tonight he will dream of all these beasts
the amazing lands he visited
while in the living room his mother
will tell his father, “Jonathan saw turtle today,”
for parents can only see with two eyes.
I called my mother the other day
and she did not answer, which
she would always do when I called.
The dead, I concluded, no longer
play by the rules they did
when they were still alive.
Of course she will call me soon,
disrupting my sleep, and chastise
me for not trying again.
But she will quickly slip into
reading the list of what
she expects from me, for
either living or dead,
mother’s expectations must
always be met, no matter what.
He will be 90 in a few weeks.
He doesn’t think this is possible.
He says he wasn’t supposed
to live this long.
He asks again how old he is.
You’re still 89, I tell him.
He has a relieved look on his face.
Then he smiles at me, says,
that means you are pretty old yourself.
I begrudgingly agree, though only out of necessity.
Two weeks ago he was certain
he was on the verge of death.
Today he says he is fine, says
he heard someone claim to be dying
but can’t imagine who it was.
Perhaps it was in his dreams, he says.
He goes back to watching television intently.
Tomorrow he won’t recall what he watched,
or perhaps that he watched.
But he knows he will be 90 soon,
or something like it.