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

POLISH

Mother made a point of reminding
me to polish my shoes, she said
untidy shoes are the mark
of a poor man, one to be avoided.

I noticed she never wore shoes
that needed polish, never had wax
and brush in hand, and when her shoes
showed wear they were replaced.

I learned early not to talk back
to her, the penalty too stiff so I
never asked why any reasonable
person would be staring at my shoes.

SURGERY

Preparing it to undergo
the knife, its core excised,
stem cast aside, sliced
then cut into pieces
I pause to consider that
this pear was once
a blossom, a delicate
white flower, its cranberry
red anthes soon to turn
black, picked carefully,
cradled into a bushel,
by a knowing hand,
washed, and gently
packed for shipment.
For me it was just
plucking it from the bin
at the market, holding
it in the harsh lighting
looking for blemishes,
and then placing it
in the cart, then the bag
hoping it would not
bruise before undergoing
its final surgery.

LIONEL HAMPTON AND THE GOLDEN MEN OF JAZZ

Blue Note, pardon
our construction
black painted
plasterboard
a hanging
air conditioning duct.

Grady Tate
sneering at the skins
growling at a high hat
hands shifting
deftly reaching in
picking a beat
and sliding it
over the crowd.

Jimmy Woode
blind to the lights
slides his fingers
over strings
and talks to the bass
resting on his shoulder.
It sings back
begging , pleading
demanding as his head
sways with an inner vision.

Junior Mance
sways slowly fingers
tentative on ivory plates
crawling through the alley
scurrying for cover
and strutting down Broadway
ablaze in neon
dancing through Harlem
and sliding into the East River.

Pete Candoli
white against the night
smiles as his horn
cries out, a siren
piercing the dark
reaching up grabbing
your throat, throttling
then caressing your face
until you fall
into your seat, spent.

Harry “Sweets” Edison
wrinkled jowls suck in
the city, smooth ebony balloon
shouting from balconies
to revelers below
and mourning a love,
crying in the streets
dashing out of a basement
flat, a child crying
mother screaming in birth
a young man
groaning in orgasm.

Benny Golson
hair tied back
swaying, runs up the stairs
pauses, and leaps out
into the air
and flies off
laughing at the city
huddled below
its collar turned
against the wind
off the river.

Frank Foster
sits on the stool
and strokes
his sax, coaxing it
peering out around
a corner, slipping inside
then running down the street
dancing between taxis,
then striding down
Bourbon Street
the pall bearers
strutting behind.

Al Grey, stands
arm waving, a manic
conductor, it whispers
beckoning, then hums
droning, then slowly
it moves the fan
giving a glimpse
dragging the boa
drawing all eyes
as she passes into the wings
sticking her head out
smiling at the cheers.

Hampton leans
on the vibraphone
seeking balance,
and old man bent
from age, lost amid children.
Mallets slowly rise and fall
gaining speed
rushing out
glissando of sound
his hands flashing
the crowd rises
and there comes
silence.

First Appeared in Pointed Circle, Issue 15, 1999.

REAL TIME

He can spend hours on the wooden bench in the small square in the center of the village. There he is but a statue, staring up at the giant clock face that looms over the square from the turret of the Village Hall. He likes to watch the long hand, arrowlike, make its slow, but inevitable movement, circling the blank outward gaze of the numerals. He does not care much for time, has too much of it some say, too little left, he knows. But here, as he stares fixedly, it stops. There is no motion in that instant, there is only the instant of time. It is no longer real, it is a thought lost or forgotten, and there is only the single moment in which he sits on the wooden bench in the center of the village.

COUPLING

Walking through the art gallery,
she frequently pauses to look
at paintings of couples in a bar
or a cafe, engaged in conversation.

I tell her they seem sad, as though
whatever romance they had
has waned, they having grown
apart, this a parting of sorts.

She laughs and says that I mistake
wistfulness for sadness, men
so often do, and adds they are
lovers falling ever deeper in.

She takes my hand gently, with
a look I might have deemed sad,
but knowing better. I realize
that I, too, am continuing my fall.

GENTO’S AXE 鐵笛倒吹 八十二

You sit before him
an axe in his hand.
He asks a question and says
if you answer I will cut off
your right hand,
if you do not respond
I will sever your left.

There is no sound
from the clock in the corner
as you silently grab his axe
and he smiles
in deeply shared knowledge.

A reflection on Case 82 of the Iron Flute Koans

A NOVEL IDEA

If I were a character in a novel, say
by Kawabata, that evening we met
twenty years ago, I would have
placed my hand lightly on your shoulder,
and I would have felt a heat,
embers of a passion that would,
in hours, leave me consumed by it.

I was a middle-aged, soon to be
divorced man on his first date
in thirty years, imagine a teenager
knowing what not to do, but with no
idea of what to do save chatter
and periodically gaze at his shoes.

I was, as the evening progressed,
bold enough to take your hand,
and hoped that my fear and anxiety
might be mistaken as romantic,
or bold and daring, anything but
the reality that was consuming me.

We’ve been together twenty years,
and as I read Kawabata again, I
recall those first moments, but
in this revised edition it was
your passion I felt in that first touch,
a flame that consumes me to this day.

GHOST SITTING

I sat with the ghost again
this morning, the one who inhabits
the body that was once my father.
Ghosts find it difficult to speak
from within living bodies, so mostly
it squeezed my hand and offered
an occasional weak smile or nod,
said I looked good, but ghosts do have
trouble seeing out of human eyes.
He slept quite a bit, curled up
the better to contain himself
against the lights and prodding,
for ghosts want only silence and peace.