A CHILDHOOD

I have fond memories
of a childhood I never lived.
Those are the best childhoods
from for they reflect life as you
meant it to be lived.
In this life my father
is in his late nineties,
still smiles when he sees me, not
didn’t clutch his chest
sixty-one years ago,
didn’t fall to the floor,
didn’t leave me half
an orphan again,
doesn’t live only
in the periphery
of my dreams.

UNTO EACH GENERATION

Years later on, having walked
calmly away from my former faith,
I am left still pondering
where you find the words
to describe, to teach the unspeakable,
and how you use them to reach
children who have no right to know
the unspeakable, but who must,
lest they later speak it.
It was a generation ago for me, two
for them, three now for my own
grandchildren but the losses
they know are staggering: Las Vegas,
9/11, Manchester, Sandy Hook,
and on and on and on and on
and how do you help them grasp
the number six million, 10 million, when
they have but ten fingers,
shielding their eyes from the horror.

RINZAI PLANTS A PINE 鐵笛倒吹 十八

If you have a seed
in your pocket
what will you do with it?
Even a small seed
planted carefully
in the middle of a forest
may take hold and grow.

Tamp the soil with your toe
three time, three times again
secure in knowing
this tree will never
provide you shade.


A reflection on Case 18 of the Iron Flute Koans

IN TRANSIT

Mom died, the text
message read, similar words
we’ve been hearing too frequently
but always leaving us
with the same hopelessness.
The words my brother, estranged
now, estranged then, come
to think of it, said two years ago
in a quickly left phone message.
I thought of confronting him,
but when he never answered,
I knew I couldn’t say what I
needed in a text message.
When my mother-in-law died
my wife and I were there, watched
as she took her final breath,
easy, calm, as if to say, this
passage is easier than I thought
given all the time I asked God
to let me take it. We didn’t feel
helpless that day, more like
silent observers, standing
on the pier as the ship slipped into
a vast ocean on the maiden voyage
a very new sort.

WAITING ROOM, WAITING GAME

They are arrayed like so much stacked
cord wood, pressed against walls
indifferent to their presence.
They watch the double doors leading
to the examining rooms with trepidation,
wanting to be next, wanting more
not to be here at all, knowing the options are none.
He isn’t bothered by it all, this is
old hat to him, he knows them, several
of them know him by name.
He will no doubt be here again
and that doesn’t worry him, for here
he knows he will walk in and walk out,
the alternatives are far less pleasant, some
involved simple pine boxes or urns
suitable for a mantle, but none
of his family have fireplaces and he
would hate to be lost for eternity amid
the toys and tchotchkes that so
define their lives and homes.
While others stare nervously, he hears
his long dead grandmother whisper
“Remember, boychik, pain is God’s way
reminding you that you’re alive.”

AROUND EVERY CORNER

They hide in corners, and you think
you can see them, but you cannot be certain
for they are vague and could be no more
than wishes, but belief is sufficient.
As you grow older, the number of corners grow
and a universe of but eight corners
is now itself tucked in a corner of memory.
One corner hides the face of the man
who adopted me, watched for two years,
before departing suddenly, and the only item
I have is his diploma rolled up in a tube
where my own accomplishments are rolled.
In another corner the day I met the man
I now call father is so deeply buried
only his present, increasingly absent
aging face is all I can see.
Memories are elusive, appearing
and disappearing without warning
day by day the oldest evanesce
and that corner is filled
by another memory grown vague.

IN THE BEGINNING

You so very want
there to be no ending
but there must be, just
as there had to be a beginning
and you had no say about that.
Endings are hard, they remind you
of small deaths, all but one,
but each is also a birth of sorts,
and like you know, they arise
and you have no say about them.
These few lines will
soon enough draw to an end
although that may be one
you don’t so much mind.
But as you put them away
they are the beginning of a thought
you never imagined would arise.