MY RABBI (PART 2)

I tell him I am thinking of becoming
a rabbi, someone just like him,
a man who saw so many through
all manner of crises, joyous events.

He sits back in his unsteady chair,
one he refuses to replace, this one
finally broken in, he says with that
gentle smile that melts anger, anxiety.

You would do well at it, I know, he says,
and I will gladly write you a recommendation
but think about this carefully, it is
not the life you might imagine it to be.

But before you decide, he adds,
reaching among a stack of books,
read these, handing me two volumes
that I did not imagine would change my life.

And somewhere, I have my own copies
of Alan Watt’s “Beat Zen, Square Zen and Zen”
and “The Book:On the Taboo Against
Knowing Who You Are?”, and I then knew.

SHOPPING

One of the hidden joys
of being a vegetarian is that
for us the grocery store is
smaller than it is for many.

There is no meat counter
to visit, no butcher to engage,
and the smell of fish is
weaker at even a small distance.

I do eat cheese, but not
the sliced sort at the deli
counter, I don’t want cheese
shaved from a massive block.

We all meet in produce,
but I tend toward the organic
which makes my visit shorter
and far more productive.

AFOOT, A CITY

As you walk the streets
of a city like New York,
you hear a polyglot of languages,
and closing your eyes you
might have no idea where you were.

Listen carefully, eavesdrop
on conversations, imagine the stories
they are telling, the joys
and heartbreak laid bare before you,
half heard, half filled in
to make the story palatable to you.

Life in the city is life in a wholly
parallel universe, one in which
the characters speak only sound bites
and all meaning is transient
in the ear of the beholder.

A WELL REHEARSED SILENCE

Of course there is something I ought
to say, moments like this require it,
it goes without saying, painfully.

I practiced lines for hours, rehearsed
in my dreams for weeks, knew
for years I’d be rendered mute.

My tongue swells, threatening
to escape my mouth or take refuge
deep within my esophagus.

Your silence is only compounding
my anxiety, how can I, a man
of words, be rendered silent

by the thought of speaking to you,
of telling you that I finally now
joyously have what I feared I wouldn’t ever.

A wife and lover deserves
better than this.

TOO SOON

The leaves will soon begin
their descent from the small tree,
already brown, their beauty
departing before they do so.

They are bilobular, an odd word,
but one that belongs in a poem,
even this one it seems, and it is
their shape that you first notice.

The tree will all to soon be naked,
branches sticking into the air
as if searching for a breath
that refuses to arrive.

But we know that soon after
the small buds will open
and orchid-like flowers will appear
to our all too temporary joy.

BASO’S WHITE AND BLACK

I know you have
a single question for which
an answer will enlighten you.
Neither Baso, Chizo nor Kai
are here so you are asking me.

The answer is simple:
cover your ears tightly
and listen while I speak
with closed mouth,
watch my feet dance
in joy as they do not move.
If the answer is not apparent,
ask Chizo, Baso and Kai
to speak from beyond the grave.

A reflection on case 6 of the Book of Equanimity Koans

THE TIE’S LAMENT

I still have the tie
I wore to m grandmother’s
funeral, one I conducted,
but the suit from that day
is long gone, and just as well,
for it would be several sizes
too large for the present me.

I’ve only worn the tie once
since that rainy day in Maryland
and then to a wedding
to balance out the sadness
with a bit of joy, the tie
deserved at least that
for standing with me
in the downpour, urging me
to recite the ancient prayers
as quickly as possible.

FAMILY

You ask me to define what family is
and I tell you that I may be
the last person you want
answering that question, I
an adoptee who felt like
an orphan supplanted
by siblings who knew her womb.

But I do have an answer,
family is that insane person
who will drive six hours
to spend an hour with you,
family is the joy and aching
of your heart as they leave,
a bit of themselves remaining
deeply within your soul.

LADDER

You have to stop and wonder,
the child said, why people
can take joy in killing, why
people can scheme each other,
why people can cheat if they can.

Birds, the child added, only
try and scheme people for food,
why they cheat for the sake
of cheating, kill for pleasure,
yet we say we are the higher species.

Perhaps, the child concludes,
it is we who are standing
on our heads, looking up
the species ladder, and we
are actually on the bottom.