ELLIPSE

He lies on the steam grate
under a thin blanket and plastic
garbage bags, sleeping soundly
lulled by vibrations of a passing car,
back to the Ellipse and grand white house,
oblivious to footfalls of tourists and joggers.
Steam seeps upward through his tattered clothes,
he is back in-country, lying at the fringe
of the jungle, awash in sounds, neat
cast up from furnace earth, cutting
through fatigues and the heavy canvas
and steel toes of the boots, into skin,
to pool on muscles held taut, twitching
at the first heard whoop of chopper blades
or stirring of branches and flora
in still summer air which hangs, a shroud.
Sun rises slowly, bathing the obelisk
in a faint peach glow, he rolls, crushing
the fading, wrinkled photo of three boys
lost, from a different world, standing
in beer soaked mirth, leaning on rifles.
One night, trees oozed forth
shadows, black angels, and his hand
resting in a pool of blood and viscera
with whom he had roamed the bars
of Saigon and Bangkok, invincible knights
before their armor turned to rust.


First appeared in Luna Negra, Spring: 1997

SATORI

The empty wine bottle
nestling the foot
of the postal box
wants nothing more
that to speak its mind
but it is forsworn
to silence, and stares
into the old Maytag box
tucked in the alley
next to the dumpster.
The bedraggled man
sits against the wall
and debates the meaning
of knowledge with
the Buddha lying
in a fetal ball
on the soggy asphalt.

TEINEI-SA 丁寧さ

He crawls out from under the blue tarp
strung between two trees and a park bench
with the first light of morning breaking
over Shinjuku Chuo park, slowly erasing
the shadows cast by the Metropolitan Government Building.
He neatens the surrounding concrete,
ready for the soon to be arriving crowd
that appear each morning for Tai Chi.
As the elderly men and women pass,
he bows slightly to each and each
gently returns the bow with a smile.
He goes off to visit friends by the
Kumano Shrine, knowing that when he returns
he will likely find the empty covered tin
that sits on the stone that marks his
blue plastic home replaced with another
with sticky rice and bits of dried fish
or pickled vegetables, for in this
always teeming city, there is
even a great civility to homelessness.

TENT CITY

From my window
on the twenty-sixth floor
they appear as so many
blue roofs, arranged
in small villages in
Shinjuku-Chuo Park below.

At 6:30 in the morning
many older Japanese gather
in sweater vests and hats
despite the humidity to
perform the tai chi ritual.

Nearby hands and feet
emerge from blue tarp
tents crammed with all
manner of belongings.
From a nearby tree a young
man reaches for a shirt left to
dry overnight, a young women
crouches by the fountain
brushing her teeth, another
older man carefully shaving
to bare the last vestige of pride.
They go about lives, one
cutting hair, an old office chair
his salon, another stands over
a pot on a steel drum stove
scooping tea for those who want.
He pauses, as I bow slightly
and he returns the gesture
with a smile.