By hour six, the plane was just a lumbering beast dividing the sky, halfway from God knows where to nowhere special. His body cried for sleep but he knew he had to deny it. That much he had learned from prior trips. For when he landed, made his way painfully slowly into the city, it would be early evening when he arrived at his hotel. He knew he needed to be on the edge of exhaustion. Only that way could he grab a meal from the 7 Eleven down the block, and finally get to sleep, reasonably fresh in the morning. It would be a long day. Each day in Tokyo was a long day of endless meetings and negotiations. It was mind numbing, but he was paid well to suffer it. And he knew that on his last day in the city he would have time to board the subway for Asakusa. There he would wander slowly down the line of stalls, to the great gate of Senso-ji Temple, its giant lantern shedding no light, and peer at the Buddha Hall in the distance. There would be school children in neat uniforms, always hand in hand, and pigeonss, flocking around them and anyone who looked gaijin, easy marks for photos and handouts. And the orange tiger cat would huddle at the base of the nearby Buddha seeking enlightenment. For that hour or so he was in a different world. The giant city melted away. His thoughts grew placid as he placed his incense into to giant earthenware jokoro then washed its smoke over his face and shoulders. He bowed to the young monk carefully writing the prayer sticks. He stood silent at the foot of the Buddha Hall, a conversation no one could hear, one that everyone here was having simultaneously. Time does not yield, and as it ran thin, he headed back to the subway knowing his fortune without purchasing it for 100 yen. A simple fortune really, a return visit on his next trip to Tokyo and maybe a side trip to Kyoto, and as the icing on his taiyaki, a trip to Nara, to again wander the grounds of Todai-ji and commune with the deer at first light, in the shadow of the Daibutsu. On the flight home he thought of the moments in Buddha’s shadow, the resounding of the great bell. He smiled recalling the red bibbed jizo, knowing they gave up Buddhahood to help those like him, still lost on the path. He is saddened knowing he will soon be back in his world, the daily grind, this trip shortened, as all return trips are. And when he lands, goes through Immigration and customs, when they ask if he has anything to declare, he may say “just a moment of kensho.”
There comes that one moment for each who lives
when he steps out onto the silent stage,
speaks such of the lines as he recalls, gives
a half-intended bow, and in his rage
curses his lost youth like over-aged wine,
that is now a shadow of its promise
and he knows that somehow this is a sign
not of what he was but what he now is.
In the evening mirror he doesn’t know
the white bearded face that stares back at him,
a far older man who hates the coming of night.
He searches in vain for a way to show
that the spark that once burned did not grow dim
but holds even more tightly to the light.
First published in Grand Little Things ,Vol. 1, No. 1l, July 2020
The evening slowly enters
Warsaw — along Aleje Solidarnosci
a lumbering truck backfires — some old ones
cringe — thoughts collapsing — into rail cars — lightening
bolts on stiff black wool uniforms — polished jackboots —
a wrought iron gate — Arbeit Macht Frei
The evening slowly enters
Warsaw along Aleje Solidarnosci
a truck backfires a sudden flock
of sierpowka Eurasian Collared Doves
rises gracefully from the trees
each carrying another lost
in the ghetto ’43 in the revolt ’44
Night settles on Warsaw – there is solitude
First appeared in Pitkin in Progress, Vol. 3, No. 1 (2002)
Last night the actors
trod the boards
carrying us on their backs.
This wasn’t Pittsburgh
but we believed it so.
We’ve never been to the Hill
but we walked its blighted streets.
In the mirror we are white,
but not last evening.
He is five years dead
but last night
August Wilson escorted us
to a place
we had never imagined,
and we were all
too glad to visit.
The clouds this evening
are the deep gray that so long
to be black, but the retreated
sun just below the horizon
lingers long enough to deny them.
The space, shrinking, between
the clouds, is the gray of promise
that the night will soon deny,
and the birds who take over
the preserve, chant their vespers,
each in his or her own language,
uncommon tongues singing
their hymn punctured, punctuated
by the flapping of wings, as the night
encloses us in a cocoon that will
carry us into the coming morning.
The clouds well up
over the foothills
casting a gray pall,
bearing the angry spirits
of the chindi who dance
amid the scrub juniper.
Brother Serra, was this
what you found, wandering
along the coast, tending
the odd sheep, Indian
and whatever else
crossed your path?
The blue bird
hopping across the dried grasses
puffing its grey breastplate and cape
sitting back, its long tail feathers
a perfect counterbalance.
It stares at the oppressing clouds
and senses the impending rain.
The horses wandering the hill
pausing to graze
on the sparse green grasses.
The roan mare
stares at the colt
dashing among the trees
then returns to her meal,
awaiting the onset of evening.
The chindi await
the fall of night
when they are free to roam
and steal other souls.
Was your water rite
than the blessing chants?
Did you ward off their evil
and purify the breeze
of the mountains?
First published in Progenitor, Vol. 55, 2020
My mother always told me to say
my prayers before bed, which was odd
given that she never prayed, and didn’t
as far as we could tell, believe in a deity.
I knew, as my Rabbi taught, that you do not
seek something for yourself in prayer,
and world peace and harmony did not
seem on the horizon despite my entreaties.
Now I kneel, and face the wall before bed,
and listen to the prayers of the birds
in the wetlands, although it is not clear
if it is a deity or the moon to which they pray.
My mother is long buried now, I will join
her eventually, and there is still no peace
in the world, merely violence and poverty,
but the birds have greater faith than I ever did.
the dangling green orbs
hang beneath the verdant leaves
dreaming of summer.
sweat rolls down my back
the noon sun stares angrily
evening sky darkens
is it the approach of night
or simple summer rain?
It begins lowly
quietly, then grows
until, all players
together, it hits
a point where
you hope it is
but it still grows
and you retreat
from the club,
of wine on the table,
when you reach
the back door
your evening is over.
The sun is preparing
still another departure.
He moves with a ponderousness
that you wouldn’t expect of him,
he who should be all passion
consuming the sky, painting clouds.
We expect his return by morning,
he has never yet disappointed
but Luna, lingering at the horizon,
a diva making her slow entry,
shines fully as if saying
tonight you won’t miss him —
the day may be short, but I
will make the long night bright
and mine is one you need
not look away from.