SHEEPISH

As a child, when I
had trouble falling asleep
my mother would trot out
the ancient saw and tell me
to just count sheep.

I tried to point out
to her that we lived
in an upscale suburb
and there were no sheep
for miles for me to count.

This hardly deterred her
and she repeated her
directions, in a stronger
tone of voice that she thought
brooked no argument.

I did try counting sheep
but still couldn’t sleep
given my congestion
and sneezing from what
I learned was a wool allergy.

EGGMAN

When I was a child . . .
God, how many times have you
heard something prefaced by those
ever frightening words, not
scary themselves but what
painful story they promised.

When I was a child we had
a milkman who brought
the glass bottles twice a week,
took the empties and envelope
with his payment from the
shelf built in the wall
just for deliveries.

We also had an egg man
who’d leave a dozen eggs
in a little metal basket
on the same shelf. He
had a great mustache,
almost walrus-like, and he
may have been an eggman
but he was defnitely not a walrus,
goo goo gajoob.

A SEPTEMBER SKY

Lie back, I said to her,
just stare up that way
stare into the sky
without any clear focus.
Do you see him now,
the hunter with his bow
outstretched, the belt
cinched about his waist
locked in his eternal search
for the prey that would free him
from his nightly quest.
And there, I pointed
can you see the great bear
gamboling with her child
or there a goddess reclining
on her heavenly throne.
Now she said, that’s
not it at all, not even close,
look over there, don’t you see
a small child crying out
for her mother,
and there, two lovers
locked in an eternal embrace,
their lips barely touching,
hips pressed together
reclining as one,
and there, clear as day
a cat lying curled
as though sleeping
in the warmth of a hearth.

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

ENO DOESN’T UNDERSTAND 正法眼蔵 語十九

You ask me
if I understand
the precepts
and follow them.
You frown when
I say I do not.
Remember well
that the young child
has no understanding
of the precepts
and walks easily
along the Way.


A reflection on case 59 of the Shobogenzo Koans (Dogen’s True Dharma Eye)

OF THE CHILD

How many times have we
heard someone intone
the never ending expression:
“in the best interests of the child.”

Never, I imagine, has anyone
asked the child what he or she
thought was in their best interest,
for children, we assume, cannot
know what is in their interest.

A child would gladly tell you
but an adult would often disagree,
anchored to the memory
of their parents always deciding
what was in their best interest
whether or not they agreed,
and assuming that is how
things always ought to be.

LIONEL HAMPTON AND THE GOLDEN MEN OF JAZZ

Blue Note, pardon
our construction
black painted
plasterboard
a hanging
air conditioning duct.

Grady Tate
sneering at the skins
growling at a high hat
hands shifting
deftly reaching in
picking a beat
and sliding it
over the crowd.

Jimmy Woode
blind to the lights
slides his fingers
over strings
and talks to the bass
resting on his shoulder.
It sings back
begging , pleading
demanding as his head
sways with an inner vision.

Junior Mance
sways slowly fingers
tentative on ivory plates
crawling through the alley
scurrying for cover
and strutting down Broadway
ablaze in neon
dancing through Harlem
and sliding into the East River.

Pete Candoli
white against the night
smiles as his horn
cries out, a siren
piercing the dark
reaching up grabbing
your throat, throttling
then caressing your face
until you fall
into your seat, spent.

Harry “Sweets” Edison
wrinkled jowls suck in
the city, smooth ebony balloon
shouting from balconies
to revelers below
and mourning a love,
crying in the streets
dashing out of a basement
flat, a child crying
mother screaming in birth
a young man
groaning in orgasm.

Benny Golson
hair tied back
swaying, runs up the stairs
pauses, and leaps out
into the air
and flies off
laughing at the city
huddled below
its collar turned
against the wind
off the river.

Frank Foster
sits on the stool
and strokes
his sax, coaxing it
peering out around
a corner, slipping inside
then running down the street
dancing between taxis,
then striding down
Bourbon Street
the pall bearers
strutting behind.

Al Grey, stands
arm waving, a manic
conductor, it whispers
beckoning, then hums
droning, then slowly
it moves the fan
giving a glimpse
dragging the boa
drawing all eyes
as she passes into the wings
sticking her head out
smiling at the cheers.

Hampton leans
on the vibraphone
seeking balance,
and old man bent
from age, lost amid children.
Mallets slowly rise and fall
gaining speed
rushing out
glissando of sound
his hands flashing
the crowd rises
and there comes
silence.

First Appeared in Pointed Circle, Issue 15, 1999.

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.

RETIRED

God sits at his easel, brush in hand
and thinks about the butterfly
alighting on the oak.
This man would rather paint
the nightmare of hell, but
he has been cast out and
his memory has grown dim.
He remembers being a small child
amused by the worm peering
from soil in a fresh rain and how
when he split it, both halves
would slither away
in opposite directions.
Now he rocks in the chair
and watches night fall
and shatter on the winter ground.

First Appeared in Medicinal Purposes: A Literary Review, Vol. 1, No. 6,
Spring 1997.

EMERGENT

When I least expect it, one
may unfurl wings and lift
into a clouded sky searching
for the hidden sun, or

it may wander off, a child
momentarily free of parents
off to discover the real world, or

it may retreat back into
the pen, unwilling to be seen,
objecting to its misuse, or

it may sit in front of the TV
and watch soap operas
and game shows, not caring
what is on the screen, just
escaping from the damned page, or

it may sit still, be tucked away
and hope one day to be accepted
for all the world to see.

A PERFECT STILLNESS

You lie there, perfectly still,
the morning breeze slides away
leaving the sun to stare down,
and the birds fall into silence. 

I gently touch the stone, feel
your cheek beneath my finger,
see your face, the college yearbook
photo all that I have of you. 

I speak silently to you, telling
of my sixty-seven years, of your
grandsons and great grandchildren
and I sense your smile, and a tear. 

Your parents are here, your
grandparents, sisters, brothers
and cousins, and I know give
you three generations more. 

It is time for me to go, but these
moments are the most I have
of you, and as I place my small stone
atop yours, I now have a mother.

First Published in Culture & Identity, Vol. 2, The Poet (2022)