ADIOS, ARRIVADERCI, SO LONG

As he grew ever older he said
he wanted a sudden unanticipated death,
“In my sleep preferably” he added
with an unmeant chuckle.

It would be a good way to go,
I imagine, but it denies those
who will most mourn his passing
the chance to hope for a miracle.

And no matter when it happens,
if it is sudden it will always be too soon,
only the protracted death is timely
for those needing to say goodbye.

LEAD ME NOT

Strange as it may seem,
I was tempted to consider
Catholicism, not the Roman kind
but that of the breakawy churches
who accept all, gay or straight,
married or divorced, the whole
lot of mankind just because.

They do believe in heaven
which is a good alternative
to the Bardo, and having choices
is a good thing even in death.

I was truly tempted to give
it my all when I realized that
it was problematic, for it had
led me into temptation and that
is something you pray doesn’t happen,
and if I want a conundrum
Buddhism offers me plenty.

AN AVIAN MESSAGE

The birds departed one morning

which we believe may be how

they express displeasure, although

the destruction of the nests

and the death of the children

by predators may have had

something to do with the departure.

We wait patiently for their return,

the wetland still dry, but we hope

with the wet season that what

is now mud will again drop slowly

beneath the surface, the new 

growth will drown, and the birds

will sense a return to status quo

but that assumes that birds are

unlike humans, unbegrudging

and willing to forgive us our sins.

DŌGO WON’T SAY 正法眼蔵 二十九

I am the life
of a hundred million others,
you are the life
of a hundred million others,
a hundred million others
are my life, a hundred million
others arise from my death.
How many hundred million
are the same?
None of them will say.

A reflection on Case 29 of the Shobogenzo (Dogen’s True Dharma Eye) Koans

THEM, AGAIN

They say that you should
never approach or touch
a small bird, lest it he shunned,
perhaps to death, by your scent.

I’ve never been one to listen
to any “them” with whom I
cannot argue face to face,
and so seeing the small

bird on the ground curled
in its nest, staring up
at the branch from which
she parachuted groundward

I scoop her up in cupped
palms, a nested nest, and place
her gently back at her point
of departure, under the eye

of her mother higher up
in the tree, then walk back
as the mother returns
to the nest and child, and

with a sidelong glance
at me, appears to nod,
saying “this is why we dare
not listen to an unseen them.”

RECYCLED NEWS

The newspapers pile up,
their headlines scream
out, sections of business news
or the arts, and a half
completed crossword.,

They sit patiently, knowing
much has happened that we
ought to know, but we
have grown tired of death
and so each week we

place them in the bin
where they are taken
to the dump where
the lessons of the news
go to die forgotten.

STATISTIC

Today, now many,
yesterday, tomorrow, how many?

We have grown tired of counting
the mind cannot deal with numbers
of that magnitude, Stalin was correct,
it is all statistics now, and bodies,
always more bodies, never enough,
always too many, by violence
in the street, in the economy,
in the courthouse, in the COVID ward,
there are too many places now,
where the dead gather, and we
cannot bid them farewell, for we
do not want to be counted
among them, to join them, to admit
that we in some way have led them
into disease, into poverty, into death.

THE HOUSE ON PEABODY

It was brick, red I am told.
on a quiet street not far
from 16th Street and its traffic.
It was small, but a good home
for a couple with a child or two
in the heart of the District.

I have no recollection of it,
save the tile, black and white
in the bathroom, the radiator
on which I hit my head,
and the front stoop, and that
only in the picture of me
in his arms, my father,
the man who adopted me
and later a baby girl, then
dropped dead one morning
of a massive coronary.
I have no recollection
of him, of the sister taken away,
or the house, but I mourn then all.

A PRAYER UNANSWERED

When I was a child, a Rabbi told me
that I did have the ability,
to be used sparingly always,
to petition God for some good.

I filed this away with other stories
from the Torah, pillars of salt,
stone tablets, a flood worse than
the one that filled our basement.

At some point I needed something,
recollections are fortunately vague
now, and petitioned God in the most
humble terms I could imagine.

Nothing, happened, of course,
and when I asked the Rabbi, he said
either you didn’t need it, or perhaps
God was busy meting out justice.

I hope whoever was meted out
justice that day really deserved it,
because all the stories said God’s
justice was the end all of you.