SHE

You were a young beauty
to my middle aged eyes
that knew, despite the mirror’s
lies, that I too retained
some large measure of youth.

Even that is now behind us,
and I can no longer deny
the mirror’s sad truth,
my face unable to belie what
I knew time had wrought.

And yet your beauty has
not diminished, rather grown
as does a fine wine richer
for time’s passage, and I
swim ever deeper in love’s sea.

SMALL REFLECTION

It is that moment when the moon
is a glaring crescent,
slowly engulfed by
the impending night—
when the few clouds give out
their fading glow
in the jaundiced light
of the sodium arc street lamp.
It nestles the curb—at first a small bird—
when touched, a twisted piece of root.

I want to walk into the weed-strewn
aging cemetery, stand in the shadow
of the expressway, peel
the uncut grass from around her headstone.
I remember
her arthritic hands clutching mine,
in her dark, morgueish apartment, smelling
of vinyl camphor borsht.
I saw her last in a hospital bed
where they catalog and store
those awaiting death, stared
at the well-tubed skeleton
barely indenting starched white sheets.
She smiled wanly and whispershouted
my name—I held my ground
unable to cross the river of years
unwilling to touch
her outstretched hand. She had
no face then, no face now, only
an even fainter smell of age
of camphor of lilac of must.

Next to the polished headstone
lies a small, twisted root.
I wish it were a bird
I could place gently
on the lowest branch of the old maple
that oversees her slow departure.

First published in Rattle #23, Spring 2005

FACING

The face in the mirror
was surprisingly older today,
and I can’t imagine that I
will ever look that old,
at least not for quite some time.

I wanted to ask him how
he had aged so badly, but knew
that it would be bad manners
to comment on his appearance,
so I smiled and he in returm.

I suppose one day I will look
much like he did this morning,
but I know that day is far off
in the future, and I just felt sad
for his older man’s face.

OLD HOTEL, NARA

Stepping into the hotel, it was like being dropped into a truly alien world. Nothing shiny, no excess of glass and marble. A simple dark wooden reception desk, a clerk in black with a white vest. A bow upon approaching. Your room is simple, no internet, a single light on a small desk. A tatami mat in the corner. A hard wired phone. And you know, in the distance, the Daibutsu awaits you in the morning. Here there is no CNN International, nothing that isn’t Japanese. Your computer is essentially useless, a fax machine in the office for emergencies. And the nearest business center, sorry closed, is in the city. The Internet is coming soon, they promise . But on your morning run, as you catch your breath on the step outside the Todai-ji Daibutsu-den, a deer comes up to you and licks your face and you know this morning Daibutsu is smiling.

ODE TO THE HOUSE CAT

I have concluded that God created the cat
in a moment of exhaustion or of extreme pique.
How else to explain such a soft fur covered creature
capable at once of a gentle caress and a claw
lunging out at a hand or face deemed too close.
Why else this projectile constantly launched
only at those places it was not to be,
fine wood tables etched with reminders
of its sudden presence and rapid departure.
What else to explain this shedding ball
of multihued fur that always curls in sleep
in the one place you wish to sit
and even when it cedes a seat to you, smirks
in the realization you will soon
an unexpectedly be half covered in fur.
Why this package of fluff and terror crawls
beneath your blanket as you verge on sleep
curls tightly against you and begins its gentle
rhythmic purring that draws you deeply
into a world of fur filled dreams.

First Published in ZOOANTHOLOGY, Sweetycat Press, August 2022

LEILA

At the left click of the mouse
my granddaughter appears
barely a week old
and with a right-click
she is frozen into the hard drive.
I remember sitting outside
the Buddha Hall of Todai-Ji Temple
in the mid-morning August sun the
smiling at a baby waiting in her stroller
for her mother to bow
to the giant golden Buddha.
I recall the soft touch
of the young monk on my shoulder,
his gentle smile, and
in halting English, his saying
“all babies have the face
of the old man Buddha.”
In the photos, the smile
of my son is the smile
on the face of Thay,
the suppressed giggle that always
lies below the surface of
the face of Tenzin Gyatso.
There is much I want to ask her,
my little Leila, there is much
she could offer, but I know
that like all Buddhas
she will respond with a smiling
silence and set me back on my path.

Published in As Above, So Below, Issue 9, August 2022
https://issuu.com/bethanyrivers77/docs/as_above_so_below_issue_9

MIRROR MIRROR

The person I see each morning
looks vaguely familiar, perhaps
someone I once met in passing,
or maybe a distant relative.
But he was so much older
so he was difficult to place.

I do say hello each morning
but get only a nod, a gesture
in response, as if the person
is mute, for he smiles back
so it is not a silence born
of anger or displeasure.

I will of course keep trying
for I know that I will
one day recognize his all
too familiar face, and I
need to act now for he is
aging quickly so my time
is limited, and in any event
the mirror does need cleaning.

MAGIC MIRROR ON THE WALL

The face in the mirror this morning
was not mine, perhaps it was
that of my grandparents, all
I never met, having only
old and faded pictures that vaguely
resemble the mirror’s face.

It might be my parents, both
dead before I found them only
yearbook pictures and just possible
a vague similarity to the face
that i see in the mirror each day.

I tried to ask the mirror who
it was hiding in the glass, but
like most mirrors it was silent,
a sad reflection of its ilk, so
the old man peering out will
continue to be someone
that I have never met.

HE WHO LAUGHS LAST

The moon was kind enough
to linger this morning,
knowing that I wanted
a photograph, and that
I needed sufficient ambient
light to allow me
to fully capture her visage.
Sometimes she rises early
and shows her face
before the sun retreats.
I suppose it may just
be vanity on the moon’s part,
showing off for her brighter
sibling, certain I will never
pause to photograph Sol.
Tomorrow it will be cloudy
most likely, and on that day
the sun will get the last laugh.

SENSO-JI

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.”