You want to yell at him, tell him
to stop, that it is too soon, that he
is not ready, cannot be, won’t be
for months to come, but you know
he will not listen to you
standing, gesticulating, imagining
a stone in your hand, shattering
the glass walls, the crackling
gaining his full attention
causing him to realize what is
so very obvious to you.
But you cannot do so, wishes aside,
there are no stones to be found
within the house in which you stand
and if there were, there still are
very clear rules against your throwing one.
You read the obituaries every day
not only for the confirmation that you
are not listed among them.
The key five words there are
not only for the affirmation, particularly
upon hearing the gentle man you liked,
but you also valued as a friend and craftsman
is gone, and you didn’t say goodbye,
that you thought “better him than me,”
that you hated that thought,
that you hated yourself for thinking it,
that nonetheless you are glad
it wasn’t you, was someone else,
just not him, just not someone you knew.
You weren’t in the obituaries today
and when you are gone, you won’t
be there to read it anyway, and you want
think “better him than you,”
and you promise you
will forgive those that think it.
To a parched man
sitting along the roadside
a picture of the ocean
will provide him nothing
to quench his thirst
and even if he jumps in
the salt will lead
to his imminent death.
But give him
the idea of a pond
fed by a pure stream
and he will be
a content salmon
A reflection on Case 86 of the Iron Flute Koans.
Oddly I have a photo
of my grandmother’s grave,
but not one of my mothers,
either of them actually, and
we’ve yet to have a funeral
for the one who raised me.
I forgive the one who gave me life,
for she gave me to one she felt
could care for me well and
she slipped away into death
before I found out her name.
I do have a college yearbook
photo of her, and that will
have to do every day, and
especially on Sunday when she
will have been lying
in the soil of West Virginia
for sixteen years, and I will
be mourning her passing for four.
They come to her in the dark
the voices whisper, she hears them
from behind half lidded eyes
they sound like the children
that once ran across the open field
chasing the ball, a too slow bird
a mortar shell whose fall
outpaced them all, left them
scattered, shattered, marked
by simple wooden crosses
that were taken for heat.
She strains to answer them
the words thick on her tongue
clogging her mouth
like a gas soaked rag
stuck into the thin neck
of a bottle, lit, they explode
inside her mind, the shrapnel
tearing at her eyes
red, only red, the sky
seems aflame yet the sun
has long since set
behind the smoke of the fires.
They hover around her
gently touching her cheek
like a demented butterfly
seeking nectar long dry
she caresses the thick scar
were her breast once stood
proudly, but there is no feeling
only numbness of too many bodies
strewn on tables, across chairs
which are broken to feed the flames
which dance away into the snowy night.
She can see their masks
hiding sneering lips
spitting vitriol for what once was
she curses them, faceless
her eyes pressed shut
by their tiny fingers, kneading
the soft dough, pulling it
taught, letting it snap back
released by the sated mouth
of the devil child who runs
laughing up the hill
chasing a dragonfly
into the dawn.
First Appeared in Arnazella, 2000.
It was draped over the fence,
a bridge for squirrels who
would otherwise would go through the chain.
There’s a sadness to its needles, many
burying themselves in the accumulated snow,
cast off by the great Spruce as extraneous,
an old coneless branch, “that is the reason”
the trunk whispers in the wind
“why I am rid of it, why now
you are free to take up lopping shears
and make of it what you will
or just haul it to the curb, it is of no matter to me.”
There is a cynicism in the old tree’s voice,
as if saying, “Look, I was here before you, long
before any of this,” knowing it will go unchallenged.
But I remind it of the fate of the Austrian Pine
that one stood two dozen yards away
and the Spruce sheds another cone
and lapses into silence.
She isn’t used to the cold,
she never will be, and she hates it
with the sort of passion she once reserved
for people of a different
political philosophy than hers.
She grew up here, but she left.
She has never regretted the departure.
She visits only in late spring
or in the heart of summer, or early autumn
and is here now only for a funeral, which she hates
more than the cold this winter.
She wishes that the death could have occurred
in late spring, early autumn, the heart of summer.
She is certain she will die in one of those seasons,
or at least in the deep enough south
that no one attending a funeral
will have to freeze and curse the winter.
She has no intention of dying anytime soon,
for she has a great deal left to do
and some of that clearly involves
cursing winter and hating the cold with a passion.