BATTLESHIP

As a child I played Battleship
on a square grid, the ships marked
by hand, one for each of the players,
we were efficient by necessity.

My sons played Battleship, though
under a different name in deference
to my hatred of things martial,
on an electrically wired board.

My grandchildren haven’t yet
discovered the game, now played
on their iPads and iPhones, but it
is no doubt just a matter of time.

In Washington our president
plays the game with real ships
against China and Iran but it
is clear he doesn’t understand

how the game is played, and what
happens when you lose a ship,
but the sailors in the Navy know
all too well and dread the outcome

given his history in playing
against opponents who clearly
understand not only the rules
but also tactics and strategy.

CENTER SEAT

My friends have often wondered aloud
why I claim to be most creative when
I am stuck on an airplane for hours.

I have told them that the solitude,
the lack of It is an interesting quirk
of the internet, that birth
and death are disconnected.

Seeking out those born today
I found a long list, the dinosaur
among which is Judy Collins.

That I still remember seeing her
reminds me at once a sense of my youth
and my ever progressing age.

But seek out those who died
on this day, and you hear the strains
of the Slavonic Dance in E minor

or the Sabre Dance from Gayane
but Popes Pius V and Marcellus II
suggest neither of them matter,

Heathens both, they claim, which
brings a deep laugh from Cleaver
and Livingstone, both of who

deny the other, and each says
that only he truly found the black
panther, and I’m thankful to be alive.to distract me,
which includes any airline approved movie,

that allows my creative self to emerge, to
express itself fully without reservation,
a status that being earthbound denies.

Many laugh, uncertain of how creativity
expresses itself, but certain, they
assure me, that my efforts have not

gone unnoticed, that my time spent,
but most importantly my results so well
reflect the surroundings of their creation.

TICK TICK TICK

He awoke this morning to discover his mortality.

This was a concept he had never before
considered, it had never crossed his mind.

He had never been to a funeral, came from
a small family, an only child, his parents

and grandparents still living, not that he
ever saw them, he valued his solitude.

But this morning, while everything was the same,
something was radically different.

He had always recognized the passage of time,
but it was a finite measure backward only,

forward, time was an endless expanse
of possibility and uncertainty, nothing more.

Yet this morning he knew nothing had changed,
but he was mortal, that his time remaining

was not only finite, that was sad enough,
but it was ever so slowly shrinking.

He knew he had to get on with his life, so
he set about his day as though it were any other,

but he couldn’t get the thought of mortality
out of his mind, it was like a smothering shadow

that accompanied his every moment, he focused
on it obsessively even as he stepped off the curb.

UNANSWERED

As strange as it seems, I can
spend hours in a used bookstore
lost in the marginalia, and textbooks,

particularly those in psych and sociology
are generally the most fertile,
for those students, though they would

never admit it, pursued those fields
hoping to find answers to their own
problems without having to ask.

Yesterday’s visit was particularly fertile,
but it was a college introductory text
in biology that grabbed and held me.

In the margin of a short chapter mentioning
thoracic anatomy was a question
for which I have no possible answer:

Does the diseased heart in the metal
operating room basin curse the body
on the gurney who was supposed

to join it in the ground, and what of the
donor who goes back to the soil
heartless and utterly and eternally alone?

DUGO AND UNGAN MEET

 

When your mind is raging
thoughts flowing, eddying
when you enter the zendo
what do you do in sitting?

Do you take your stick
and measure the water
to insure a safe fording,
or do you sit amid the stream
and let the flood
wash over and around you
dry and silent within?

A reflection on Case 36 of the Iron Flute Koans

IMPENDING DEPARTURE

They finally used the word
or one near enough to it
and she was not surprised,
she almost welcomed it.
You can grow jealous of those
with a depth of faith
that a sentence of months
or perhaps less is received
with grace and a smile, a nod
and a statement “I’m more
than ready to go home now,
back to my husband.”
I hope I will show such equanimity
when I am told my time
is quickly drawing to an end,
but I am left with great faith
in myself, and that may not suffice
as I prepare to slip away
into oblivion.

SHARING

It wasn’t exactly what you wanted, but
you probably wouldn’t have been all that upset.
It was all about you, but not for you, that
comes later, and we know you’ll be pleased.
This one was for some of us who needed this
to be able to keep going, to keep from looking
only back, into the darkness that is our shadow.
He said it was a celebration, and it was that,
and we put on our best faces, hid our tears
as best we could, and as we stood in the cold air
in the cemetery, we only wished it over,
and when the sun appeared suddenly, we knew
you wished that as well, but in your case,
it was more likely that you wanted us working
on the party we will soon throw for you
and that one, too will be for us, but
among the things we miss you for,
was your willingness, you desire to share.

ANYWHERE BUT

I was twelve at the time, would have
chosen to be anywhere but there.
I hated visiting her at home, but this
took my disgust to a whole new level.
We were never close, never would be,
she so old, so old world, so unlike
anyone I had known, so like the women
sitting outside the old hotels on South Beach
waiting for a wave or death, whichever
first flowed in, life having long ebbed.
The room as I remember it was barren,
bleached to a lack of any color,
the bed a white frame, white sheets,
a small white indentation staring
up at the ceiling, up at heaven,
and everywhere what I imagined
were steel bars through which we
and the doctors and nurses could pass,
but which held her tightly within,
serving out what remained
of her ever shortening life sentence.

HAIL AND FAREWELL

On very dreary days
I like to drive through the cemetery
meandering among the stones
until I find a freshly dug grave.
I stop, under the vigilant eye
of the caretaker and carefully place
a cassette of Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances
or Smetana’s Die Moldau into the player.
As the melodies spill forth
I hope they lift the spirit
of the resting, bringing them a moment
of unabashed joy, a memory to carry
into an eternity, a lingering riff, sweet
as the juice of the strawberry trickling
down the chin, a chocolate
slowly melting on the tongue.
Night will come soon enough
bringing a darkness in which they can see
their dreams take form
and seep away to mingle in the void.

First appeared in Aura Literary Arts Review Vol. 26, No. 1 (2000) and reprinted in Legal Studies Forum, Vol 30, Nos. 1-2 (2006)

RIDING THE WASTELAND

We set out with bold ambition,
egos saddled and reined
across a landscape left barren
by our leaders who saw
only carefully stacked boards
and beams awaiting the master
carpenter, great floral sprays
dotting the lobbies of glass
and chrome edifices, created
in their own images.
We ride in search of
the promised land, and turn
a deaf ear to the windwalkers,
to the spirits of the children
sitting in the packed dirt streets
their bellies distended, crying
out for food, for justice
as the warlords sit in their cars
surveying the invisible parapets
of their armed fortresses.
We look quickly away
from the chindi of the young men
who rise from the neatly heaped soil
of the common burial mound, who
rise up in neat array and perch
on the edge of the freshly dug pit
waiting for the rat-a-tat rain
of death they know await them
unrepentant, unwilling to curse
Allah, bidding farewell to Tuzla.
We pause to chant the blessing way
but we have forgotten the words,
Arbeit Macht Frei, the gates
reduced to rust, the chimneys
no longer belching the sweet
smell of death into the winter morning.
We ride on oblivious to the faint glow
from the craters we have torn
into the earth, of the clouds
that only vaguely recall
the mushrooms of our progress.
We ride toward the horizon
where the great pillars of gold
and silver rise up, glinting in the sun
that once warmed them before
we cast them out into the desert
of our lust and craving.
We set out with bold ambition
but our horses have grown tired,
our canteens are empty
and the inferno threatens
to consume us.


First Appeared in Alchemy, Issue 2, Fall-Winter 1999.