As we walked slowly through the Forum
the Coliseum receding into the late
afternoon, the Virgins stood patiently
as befits a priestess trained to avoid
the stares of passing men, even tourists
such as we were, the columns staring
down reminding us of our youth
despite the birthdays that we celebrated
with the joy of togetherness, and
the nagging knowledge that we were
another year closer to that moment
we refuse to acknowledge, aware
always of its growing proximity.
We stare back at the Coliseum,
as the sun slides behind its walls,
and as the vendors selling all manner
of items the buyer will regret
in mid-flight home pack up for the day,
I imagine Caesar pausing in thought
then, sneering, turning his thumb down.
She says the shortest distance
between two points is a straight line.
He doesn’t have the heart to tell her
That on a cosmic scale space is curved
and no one wants the short straw anyway.
She can, of course, read him, a skill
she knows is reserved for women
and is one of frustration to men.
She laughs, and adds as if an afterthought
there is a wormhole in the neighborhood.
He has no idea what to make of her,
and this is how she wants it for
she and he both know so very well
that the shortest distance between
the male and female mind is a leap
of logic only the most daring would attempt.
The wisest of men
when asked at what time
it is best to pursue the Way
will answer when a thousand stars
have made their presence known.
The wisest student will say
when cleaning myself
by bathing in the mud.
This will become clear
when the frog
consumes the dragon.
A reflection on Case 38 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo
blood of streets
laughter of old men
on a spit valve
e l e c t r i c
onto a page.
Along the river this morning, the gulls
stood on fence stanchions watching
the parade of walkers, runners, bikers
like them ignoring the river, intent
on logging the daily miles, oblivious
to the panorama that lies just beyond
our closely focussed eyes.
The gulls offer a piercing commentary,
and that is something we notice,
and so unlike the Egyptian Geese
of our Florida home, who chatter
incessantly along our walks,
like so many old men sitting
much of the day in Riverside Park
staring out over the Hudson River
trying to clear phlegmy throats.
She stares at you, unwavering.
You find this strange, wanting to see
something more in her looks,
but you get nothing from her,
as you have gotten nothing
from so many others before her.
You know men are as capable
of such stares as she, but you
don’t tend to see them, your own
gender blindness perhaps, or just
that men are less interesting
and more seldom seen
in these surroundings, usually
standing, posing, looking away.
You want to know what she
is thinking in this moment, what
she sees in your face, transfixed,
but the artist didn’t reveal that,
and so she will stare as well
at the next viewer throughout
the gallery’s open hours.
It is always odd
watching older men gather,
talk about their lives,
about how much they
no longer remember,
of last year, and
a decade ago, about
the infinite details
they can clearly recall about
the time they spent
in the Army, Navy, Air Force,
the smell of Slop-on-a-shingle,
of field stripped butts
in a small container
in their olive drabs,
of the base or post exchange
where you could buy
the mandatory Ray-Ban aviators,
the Sergeant’s grimace,
the body count in the war
they never wanted, only
wanted to end quickly,
how they were once brothers
in arms, now just old men
sharing painful memories.