CURFEW

We sat in the cramped kitchen
huddled around the stove
the open oven door spreading
a faint warmth that barely
slid through the winter chill.
The bare bulb in the ceiling
strained and flickered
fighting to hold as the generators
were shut down, and darkness
enveloped our small world.
The sky was lit by the flares
and the odor of exploding shells
seeped through the towel
sealed windows covered
in the tattered bedsheets
too thin to afford warmth.
Ibrahim had been gone two weeks
sneaking out of the city
to join his brothers in Gorazde
or Tuzla, or wherever it was
that they were struggling
to save what little was left.
We huddled under the small table
and dreamed of the taste
of fresh bread, or even pork.
In the morning he would run
among the craters in the streets
in search of the convoy
and the handouts, which we
would raven as the sun set
over our war torn hell.

First published in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. XXX, No. 1 & 2, 2006

WINTER?

In the early morning, before
I open the blinds, before
the sun approaches rising,
I imagine the chill enveloping
everything outside, October
slipping quickly toward
November, to the possibility
of rolling snake eyes, to snow.

Winter always came that way,
unannounced, and at least
by me, unwelcomed, the
last of the crimson, flame
orange and ochre leaves
dragged to the earth
and buried ignominiously.

But I know when I do
open the blinds, even
while the sun is still in
its celestial witness protection,
I will see the shadow
of the palm trees and know
that here we measure winter
on a wholly different scale.

DINNER PARTY

Technology has effectively
destroyed the intimate
dinner parties that once
were the core of a social life.

You fretted over whether
the souffle would collapse,
if the wine was chilled
to the right temperature,
if the entree was back timed
sufficiently to allow time
for the hors d’oeuvres
and if the guests would
arrive at the scheduled time.

Now it is a fear that Grubhub
or Doordash will be late,
that you must remember
to hide the packaging from
the heat and serve appetizers
and if it will be nice enough
to eat outside, or if you will
need to check vaccination cards.

OF DREAMS

I am now of an age
where I can no longer remember
what terrors gripped my sons
in their dreams, causing them
to appear beneath our blankets,
I relegated to the bed’s edge.

Perhaps there were none
and I was destined to be
an edge sleeper, the boys
taking advantage as a joke
played out night after night.

I know what dreams now
can rip me from sleep, a
chill beyond that of the A/C
running down my spine like
nightmare sciatica, until I banish
the dream and wait to see
what its replacement offers.

A BUFFALO PASSES 無門關 三十八

Staring out, watch the bull
walk slowly past
along the old road.
Marvel at his horns,
the flare of his nostrils
in his massive head,
his breath hanging
in the early morning chill.

Mark each leg, its
muscles rippling, as it passes.
You feel you know the beast
but only if you close your eyes
can you grasp its tail.

A reflection on Case 38 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate Koans)

SNOW

At first it was just odd
to think of snow as merely
a concept, a memory softer,
more pleasant than its reality.

You can grow accustomed
to concepts, they are generally
somewhat neat and tidy, easily
filed and brought forth on demand.

The concept of snow has
its great advantages, snowmen
of perfect shape, never melting
and no one must shovel a concept.

But there are moments, a tree
decorated for Christmas, you
want to reach out and feel
the chill suddenly warm your heart.

ARIZONA IS A STATE OF MIND

Looking out the window, I
am reasonably certain this is
not Arizona and it is not just
the palm trees that suggest it.

Well, in part it is the palm trees,
although they have some there,
but here it is the variety of palms
and the limited number of lizards.

We have the occasional gecko,
and the iguanas have begun
to arrive, though they don’t
particularly like the morning chill,

but ours is a desert of strip plazas
half empty, abandoned,gas stations,
and fast food joints, and our sand
is carried off by the ocean, daily.

HOLY ARMY

1.

A millennium ago
the army of the lord
dressed in mail and rode
proud steeds across
barren lands, swords
flashing in a red roasting sun
washed in the blood
of the infidels.
They stopped for prayer
blessing the bodies
left along the dirt track
left by their hooves,
a common grave
for common faces
differing only in the color
of skin and hair.

2.

In this millennium
the army of the lord
slouches outside the mall
rubbing hands against
the chill, the bell bleating
against the night,
a barren moon reflects
off the red kettle.
As they locked the doors
he pulled the flask
from his hip pocket
and thought of the bodies
passing by, swerving
to avoid him, and the
forty dollars he would get
would warm
his frozen skin.

First Appeared in Lullwater Review, Vol. 9, No. 1, 1998. Reprinted in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 29, No. 1, 2005.

UNKO SENDS CLOTHES 鐵笛倒吹 七十八

If I receive warm under robes
to ease my winter meditation
I will refuse them.
If you ask me why, I will say
I was born with such robes as I need.
If you ask what I wore before birth
I shall remain silent.

In the deepest winter
there is no chill
that can reach
the empty mind
for it is full of a warmth
that cannot be replaced
and one needs no shelter,
for ashes know no temperature.


A reflection on Case 78 of the Iron Flute Koans

APPROACHING WINTER

The temperature falls, slowly at first
but gaining speed, as though
in the grip of winter’s gravity.
Winter has the potential to be
a black hole season into which
we enter and imagine we
will never reemerge into spring.
The wind whispers stories to us
of a time when this was all ice
when no one complained of a chill
for there was no one.
We turn up our collars to remind
the wind that we will remain here,
for nature has given us
an equal dose of stubbornness.