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.

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.

SITTING WATCHING

Of course when we lived
up north we wouldn’t
have imagined this, sitting
on our lanai watching the sun
set the patchy sky ablaze
sipping small glasses of port
and wondering if a light
jacket might be in order,
as the beaver moon
of November waxes slowly.

The cat, curled at our feet
cannot imagine the icy wind
howling down the street,
the foreboding clouds offering
their first flakes, knowing
this is a small taste of what
nature will bring forth
before we could again sit
in shirtsleeves on our porch.

THE LOBBY BAR AT MIDNIGHT

Ann Arbor a certain diffidence
Butte born of three rum Collins
Carmel the Gucci show windows
Duluth darkened, foreboding
Erie escalator rattle
Fairbanks a sound coffin
Grapevine grand piano
Hilo the restaurant empty
Ithaca seeking diners
Jacksonville by the exit signs
Kalamazoo conventioneers drool
Lincoln and slobber
Memphis over the ankh necklace
Natchez girl cross legged
Oakland engulfed in smoke
Providence the ficus droops
Rehoboth in the shade of the bar
Salem laughter turning
Toledo into controlled sobs
Urbana highball glass slips
Vidalia off the table edge
Wausau and falls
Xenia dropping slowly
Yuma through the night
Zanesville into sleep.

WE ARE THE PEOPLE

We are the people,

Who heard the glass breaking
that night as we huddled at home,

Who inhaled the smoke
of the Holy books as they burned,

Who tried to flee but had
nowhere to go, always turned away,

Who visited cosmetic doctors
to reshape our noses to look like the others

Who adopted names to help
erase a potentially painful history to come,

Who now turn a blind eye to those
who expel others from a land we claim
is ours by divine right from a God
of all people, just as specially chosen.

APPROACHING

The perfect time of day
occurs only as the dead
of night approaches, that
moment when the heart
of the city falls almost silent.

In smaller cities this moment
is protracted, arising as the moon
reaches toward full expression
and such as pass for tall
buildings settle into sleep.

In the great cities, those
that claim never to sleep,
the city reverberates, echoing
off the endless walls of glass,
and silence never fully
arrives, so we cling
to moments that approximate
what we imagine
silence sounds like.

MIRROR IMAGE

Each morning when I look
into the mirror I imagine
I see me, but of course that
is impossible, for in that moment
only the mirror sees me
and I see the mirror.

How deluded I must be
to assume that I look at all
like the mirror, but it is,
I know, just such delusions
that enable my sense of self,
and that is the grandest illusion.

A morning will come when I
look into the glass and nothing
is there or a face I have never
before seen and the mirror
will laugh, as will I, at this
game we have played for years.

A NIGHT AT THE ROSE

Three beers over two hours
and, giddy, I want to sing
along with the Irish house band
in my horribly off key voice,
just two choruses
of Irish Rover or Four Green Fields.
It’s beginning to snow outside
and it’s a four-block walk
to the Government Center station.
I suppose it would sober me up
but a couple of more songs
couldn’t hurt, I’ve got two hours
before the last train and we can
walk across the campus
through the tunnels
once we’re back in Cambridge.
I probably should have gone
with Coors or Bud Lite
but Guinness is, all said,
a meal in a glass.
I would stand now,
but my knees seem
comatose, so let’s sing
to Auld Robbie, a verse or two
of Scots Wa Hae, it’s damn
near Irish anyway
and from this seat
in the Black Rose
Cambridge is a world away.


First Published in Celt at Aberffraw (Wales, UK) 2000

ADAGE

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 us.
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.