REAL TIME

Reality is clearly something to be avoided
to be dressed up in tattery, tied in ribbons,
perfumed, yet its fetid stench
is always lurking in the background
waiting to pierce your nostrils
in an incautious moment until you retch
and bring up the bile that marks
the darker moments of your life,
the kind that lingers in the throat
which no chocolate can erase.
Reality is often ugly, so we ignore it
or hide it behind masks, or offer it
willingly to others, a gift in surfeit.
It sneaks up on you, and sets its hook
periodically, and thrashes you at will,
the barb tears through new flesh,
setting itself deeper, intractable.
You and I are dying, as I write,
as you read, an ugly thought
particularly lying in bed
staring into darkness,
no motion or sound from your spouse,
mate, paramour, friend, significant other
or teddy bear, where God
is too busy to respond at the moment
and sleep is perched in the bleachers,
held back by the usher for want
of a ticket stub, content to watch
the game from afar.
I cast ink to paper, an offer of reality
as though the divorce from the words will erase
the little pains and anguishes of our
ever distancing marriage, while
holding vainly onto the warm and sweet,
the far side of the Mobius of reality
(the skunk is at once ugly and soft and caring).
We write of pain, of ugliness, of anger
at terrible lengths, or weave tapestries
of words to cover the flawed, stained walls
of our minds, like so many happy endings,
requisite in the script. Basho
knew only too well that truth of beauty
should be captured in few syllables.

First Appeared in Chaminade Literary Review, Vols. 16-17, Fall 1995.

CEILI

He liked nothing more than slipping out the back of the Ritz Carlton and heading down Nonhyeon-ro, more alley than street, past the small bulgogi restaurant, and winding his way to Gangnam-daero 106, finally arriving on the great avenue, Gangnam-daero. It was buzzing with life at all hours, but in the early evening the Virgin Megastore was quieter. He’d slip in, ignoring the rock blaring on the first floor, the insane K-Pop on two and finally, passing through classical, arriving at the international section tucked away in a third floor corner. He’d rummage for Celtic CDs, certain he’d find things he never could get at home, for while Korea was so greatly influenced by America, Virgin, a good U.K. company, brought its CDs from England and sold them at surprisingly low prices. A bit of the ould sod in Korea, and hey, kimchi was once green right?

WANDERING NO MORE

In my dreams I wandered
the alleys of Lisbon searching
for a familiar face, and many
came close, but no man stopped me
and asked if I was, by chance
his son, for he dreamed I
was what a son of his
would look like.

Now I have no need to wander
for I know he is in
a military cemetery
in Burlington, New Jersey,
and I doubt he had any
idea in life he had
another son, or a daughter
in Italy, for weekends
were quickly passed
when you had to be
back at the base
by midnight on Sunday.

THE FROG

I can still smell the formaldahyde,
see the frog pithed to the board
as I went about dissecting it,
taking copious notes on what
I found, identifying organs,
both of us hidden in a corner
of our fourth grade classroom
so the other students didn’t
feel like they had to vomit.

This Yom Kippur, even though
I no longer practice the faith
of my youth and early adulthood
I shall seek the forgiveness
of the frog who thought
he was giving his life
in the early training of a doctor,
not one who ended up practicing law,
and know he will probably
forgive me for even amphibians
have compassion for us,
despite our obvious shortcomings.

A QUESTION OF TIMING

Umberto Eco, I believe,
intending to or not,
has found the perfect way
to bring classic plays
back to life, to enable us
to reinterpret these
old works, to hold their
reincarnated selves dear.

All you need do is decide
whether you are one
who prefers beginnings
or finds ends more satisfying.

Go see Hamlet, but miss
the first act or so, and muse
on why he is anguished,
why his familial bonds
have all so badly frayed.

And make the late arrival
a staple of your Shakespeare
dramas, you’ll thank me
later, no one needs
that much bloodshed
and there is bodycount
enough in real life anyway.

PERSPECTIVE

It will soon enough be time again,
I am an old clockface on a tower
at which no one but the truly bored
bother to look, tucked in a corner
of a village half empty, its life
moved away to places cooler,
less stormy. So I sit and watch
what life remains around me,
the few children wishing they
could be elsewhere, some parents
wishing they had used birth control.
No one looks, no one really cares
but I have little choice, it is my fate
to mark passages, entrances,
but my hands are growing tired
and at some not far off point
they will stop moving, and I
wonder if anyone will care.

THE LETTER

Today I should receive the letter
that I sent to myself twenty years ago,
telling me what I should be, where I
should be, who I should be, for the me
of twenty years ago was, by his own
admission, far smarter than I am, although
I am here and he is nowhere to be found.

If the letter does not come, I will sit down
and write to myself twenty years ago,
expressing my disappointment with him,
with his lackadaisical manner, ignoring
his epistolary obligations, content with
what, who and where he was without
though for where he was going, who
he would be, what he would do in life.

Ultimately, I will forgive him of course,
much as he did twenty years ago when,
on the day he expected to receive
a letter from me, the me who is
he twenty years hence, the letter
did not arrive for I have more
important things to do today than
to sit down and write to him, he would
not appreciate what I have to say,
so, it is time to get on with my life.

First Published in Cerasus Magazine (UK), Issue 3, 2021

DŌGO WON’T SAY 正法眼蔵 二十九

I am the life
of a hundred million others,
you are the life
of a hundred million others,
a hundred million others
are my life, a hundred million
others arise from my death.
How many hundred million
are the same?
None of them will say.

A reflection on Case 29 of the Shobogenzo (Dogen’s True Dharma Eye) Koans

IN HIDING

It slipped away. He had no idea where it had gone, but he knew he had to find it. It could have been accidental, an errant passer opening the gateway and off it went. But he was so reliant on it that he knew he could not do much of anything without it. And he couldn’t get help finding it without endless waiting, a waste of time that put him even farther behind. But it was stealthy, and could easily hide in plain site. He hadn’t wanted to adopt it, but he had, and it had consumed him. It was that simple, life without broadband was unimaginable.

IF ONLY

As I have aged, I hope
I have gotten smarter
or at least more able
to adapt to life’s issues.

But there are still areas
where knowledge fails,
where you cannot hope
to attain what you want.

World peace is one such,
honest politicians another,
and the list could go on
but you get the picture.

The ultimate failure however
is imagining that you can get
Adobe or Microsoft programs
to do what you want and need.