ON MORTALITY

Death was never something we considered,
until that certain, ill-defined moment when
our immortality suddenly disappeared, and
in its place was a reality to be avoided.

Even once death became a shadow, always
lurking around us, we kept our face
toward the sun, so that death might
not be seen in the bright light of day.

When a sibling dies, it is always before
their time, before we are ready and
the death is anomalous, and one we grieve,
but as a cruel twist of fate not to be repeated.

Later death becomes a companion,
infrequent we hope, but ever present, and
all that is left for us is to consider which
is the less painful, the sudden departure
without warning or farewell, just gone,

or the slow erosion, a death mourned
during its process, a death of a thousand
goodbyes, until the last, and in the end
it becomes a distinction with no difference.


For Something Different, a new bird photo each day, visit my other blog:
Bird-of-the-day.com 

A SUDDEN DEPARTURE

You sneaked away one night.
You were there, but while
sleep claimed me, you were gone
without notice or warning.
Where should I look for you?
In these barren hills
where the spirits of the first nations
roam, looking for their ancestral land?

Where should I look for you?
Wandering these verdant fields
where a hundred generations
have been sacrificed
to the will of power mad men
who know no satisfaction?

Where should I look for you?
In these filth ridden streets
and narrow alleys where
the rats scamper in search
of a meal, where a child
at play would be a fine repast?

Where should I look for you?
Across these wind blown sands
where brother has hunted brother
for three generations, each
laying God’s claim
to the birthright of the other
while wives and mothers
wail in mourning?


First published in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press (2008)

NIGHT

In the end, it always comes down to night,
regardless of the moon, if any, it’s faint light
drowned by the city’s oppressive glow,
headlights, streetlights and once,
spotlights painting the sky, traceable
down to that new place we don’t wish
or can’t afford, would never dare to go.
Death is omnipresent, his shadow is at least,
but at night he has greater freedom of movement
his reaches longer, less random
and we claim not to fear the night, the sun
assumes we mourn  its absence, and this
is true at some level beyond our comprehension,
but it isn’t the dark, that is their origin and
destination, it’s the hour at which we
cede control, and that, like the roller-
coaster in freefall, is what we so deeply fear

THE GIFTS

They brought him myrrh
on a flaming salver and all
he could do was say
“This is something I would expect
from a butcher or a carpenter,
and the camera angles
would never work, so bring
me napalm or punji stakes
that we have proven to work.”
They brought him ripe oranges
and the sweet meat of the pineapple,
its juice dripping from his chin,
and all he could do was tighten
his grip on the AK-47 and dream
of night on the edge of the jungle.
They brought him Rodin, Matisse,
Rembrant van Rijn, and Blake,
but all he would see was
Bosch and Goya, and then
only by the light of fading candles.
They brought him the String Quartet
in A Major played on Strads
and Guarnaris, but he
wanted the retort of the howitzer
the crump of the mortar,
the screams of the child.
They brought him his child
wrapped in bandages
missing fingers and toes,
and all he wanted was
the nursery, a newborn
in swaddling, suckling her breast
as he stroked her head
and remembered the moment
of her creation.


First published in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press (2008)

ER

They are arranged like so much
ill-stacked cordwood, pressed against
walls that are 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 that
the options are none or fewer.
He isn’t bothered by it all, this is
old hat to him, he knows them
and several of them know him by name.
He will no doubt be here again
and that does not worry him, for here
he knows he will walk in and walk out,
and too many of the alternatives are
far less pleasant, some he is certain
involve simple pine boxes or ceramic urns
suitable for a mantle, but none
of his family have fireplaces, and he
would hate to get lost for eternity amid
the toys and tchotchkes that so
utterly define their lives and homes.
While others continue to stare
at the doors, he hears his long
dead grandmother whispering to him,
“remember, pain is God’s gentle way
of reminding you you’re still alive.

BAGHDAD VILLANELLE

We enter, the conquering heroes,
drive quickly through the city’s core.
We leave a crude division in our throes.

We expected flowers, not blows
of an angry mob, to be adored.
We enter, the conquering heroes.

An old man sits in a small café, he knows
what will come of this, a festering sore.
we leave a crude division in our throes

that builds, wells up. We depose
a tyrant. You’re a new tyrant they roar.
We enter, the conquering heroes,

at home, on TV we watch the blows
rain down on the prisoners, huddled on the floor.
We leave a crude division in our throes.

We do not see bodies arrive, only rows
of new headstones, the President will say no more.
We enter, the conquering heroes;
we leave a crude division in our throes.


First appeared in Thema, Vol. 20, No. 1 (2008), and later in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press (2008)

KEMBO’S TRANSMIGRATION 鐵笛倒吹 六十七

Awakening in the morning
when you first see the sun
and the dew resting on the leaf
which eye are you using.
When you stare into the mirror
through what eye do you see,
and what eyes stare back at you.

When you see the deer
lying in the road
which eye do you use.
In a nightmare, when you slip
into the deeper, darker world,
what eye is used then.
When you fade into death
what eye sees your departure.
Think carefully on this
for only one eye can see
the answer lying within.


A reflection on case 67 of the Iron Flute Koans

DEPARTING

We now live in a strange world where nothing is as it was mere weeks ago. I am blessed to live on a small nature preserve and have been spending my afternoons with camera in hand. So if you want something other than words (which follow) you are welcome to visit https://www.flickr.com/photos/98342503@N00/, my Flickr site, which is updated daily. A sample of what you will find:

 

IMG_0363

and now:

 

DEPARTURE

It seems odd how often
our fathers depart suddenly, our mothers
make a slower retreat, slipping away while
always still present, a death
by 1000 days, the cuts inflicted
on our psyche, small wounds
that never fully heal, but fade, so the scars
are only seen and felt from the inside.
My parents never did things as expected,
so my mother complained bitterly
of the small difficulties of life,
until the morning she suddenly departed,
at the stroke of 6:15 while
my father lingers, still happy
in ever shortening increments, both
of us knowing he is fading away
and I may never know he has departed
after he is gone.

STATELESS

I suppose it is oddly fitting that
I was born in the continental U.S.
but can claim no state as home.

I was a Federal child, and that
meant nothing at all to me, a child who
left town at two after a father’s death,

a sister reclaimed by the government,
which was no State, just a Federal
enclave, and we all know how bad

things are inside the Beltway, those
trapped there are denied even the small
joy of self governing, waiting for Congress.

But I was an adoptee, stateless
in heritage from birth, so that was
a familiar condition, until the moment

my DNA took voice, and I suddenly
had two heritages, fully mine and
my mother’s cherished Mountain State to boot

MINNESOTA

The night fully settles
over northern Minnesota
in the sky grows dark
as the stars make
their reluctant appearance.
Peering through the tall grasses
of the wetlands abutting the road
1000 stars are born
and die in an instant
only to be reborn again
repeatedly, until
they are replaced by
the beetles that accompany
the slowly rising sun.