DUST AND ASHES

Between Scylla and Charybdis
they cower amidst the ruins
fearful to look skyward
lest they encourage
the rains of hell.

Now and then they visit
the corpses, hastily buried
grief drowned by the sound
of the laugh of the gunner
peering down from the hills.
It is always night for the soul
and lookout must be kept
for Charon, who rides
silently along the rivers of blood,
that flow through her streets.

In the great halls,
far removed from the horror,
self-professed wise men
exchange maps
lines randomly drawn,
scythes slicing a people.
They trade in lives as chattel,
reaping a bitter harvest,
praying there may only be
but seven lean years.

They offer a sop to Cerberus,
three villages straddling the river,
but the army of the hills
knows they will take that and more
and waits patiently for the winter
when the odor of sanctity
no longer arises out of the city
to assail their nostrils
and Shadrach is
no more than a ghost.

First Appeared in Living Poets (UK), Vol. 2, No. 1, 2000.

AGING

We live in the cell phone age
and there are hidden advantages
that the young, exchanging
last year’s model for this,
will never fully understand
until they, too, are much older.

With the push of a button,
held in for five seconds,
the phone will go off at night,
and since no one any longer
has a landline, you are assured
that no one will drag you
from sleep to announce
they are able to extend
the warranty on a car you
sold two years ago,
or to say that a friend
or relative has died,
and denying death night hours
is the closest thing
you can do to feel that you
are in control of anything.

POWER

In my dreams, I have
infinte power and a hint
of omniscience one minute
and am impotent, deaf
and dumb the next,
and there is no predicting
which moment will
be which or when
a shift will suddenly happen.

I generally stay out
of trouble, and when disaster
looms, and I am powerless,
I can awaken, reset
the projector and try again,
although I do have
a nagging fear that one night
I won’t be able to awaken
and I will fall fatal
victim to the disaster
offered up by my
own darkest fears

WAR

I have yet to wander the medieval battlefields
of Europe and it increasingly seems I never will.
I have visited my share of castles in Ireland and Scotland,
but the acoustics there are not good, and I did not
hear the anguished cry of soldiers falling in battle,

I have seen rivers, quiet now, where the blood
of the vanquished must have flowed in this war
and that, for Europe is a place of wars,
the perpetual gameboard for the greedy
and those who imagine themselves emperors.

I come from a distant place, where three wars
on its soil was deemed sufficient, but who will
freely give others the wars they have grown
altogether too used to fighting, and we gladly
offer up our sons to aid in the combat so long
as we only receive their bodies in the dark of night.

And perhaps that is our failing, for we know
war well, but we keep ourselves clean, and marvel
at the destruction we will never know first hand.

NIGHT APPROACHES

The clouds this evening
are the deep gray that so long
to be black, but the retreated
sun just below the horizon
lingers long enough to deny them.

The space, shrinking, between
the clouds, is the gray of promise
that the night will soon deny,
and the birds who take over
the preserve, chant their vespers,
each in his or her own language,
uncommon tongues singing
their hymn punctured, punctuated
by the flapping of wings, as the night
encloses us in a cocoon that will
carry us into the coming morning.

FOOTHILLS

The clouds well up
over the foothills
casting a gray pall,
bearing the angry spirits
of the chindi who dance
amid the scrub juniper.
Brother Serra, was this
what you found, wandering
along the coast, tending
the odd sheep, Indian
and whatever else
crossed your path?

The blue bird
hopping across the dried grasses
puffing its grey breastplate and cape
sitting back, its long tail feathers
a perfect counterbalance.
It stares at the oppressing clouds
and senses the impending rain.
The horses wandering the hill
pausing to graze
on the sparse green grasses.
The roan mare
stares at the colt
dashing among the trees
then returns to her meal,
awaiting the onset of evening.

The chindi await
the fall of night
when they are free to roam
and steal other souls.
Was your water rite
more powerful
than the blessing chants?
Did you ward off their evil
and purify the breeze
of the mountains?

First published in Progenitor, Vol. 55, 2020

ON THIS NIGHT

On this night
he walks silently
into her dream uninvited,
but she is used
to the incursions.
On other nights it
is she who sidles
up to him in the depths
of dreaming, each
slipping away
ahead of dawn.
On rare nights each
enters the dreams
of the other, paths
crossing at
the synaptic border.
On those nights
she looks for him,
he for her, each
grows fearful
the he or she
will be trapped,
alone, when dawn
arrives and the body
gently wakes, she
or he wandering lost
in a familiar
alien reality.

First published in The DIllydoun Review, Issue 1, December 2020 (Current Online Issue – the dillydoun review)

HEART OF DHARMA

A single snowy egret sits
on the lowest branch of a long
barren tree, where hours from now
a thousand birds will arrive
for still another evening and night.

He stares at me as I am mindfully
vacuuming, watching carefully.

I pause and ask if by chance he
is a Buddha and he lifts his long neck
and peers around in all directions.

I repeat my question, and he
lifts one wing, which I know
to be his way of saying, “I,
like you, am imbued with Buddha
nature, and I with mother
nature as well, and if you doubt me
ask one of the countless
Bodhisattvas who will arrive
in hours to study the Dharma
well into what will be a wet night.

EYES HAVE IT

It is the eyes that fall in love,
the heart that follows like
an always faithful shadow,
and the mind and reason that
are bound to darkness and silence.

That is what I learned in my dream
last night, or my recollection of it, for dreams
may fade in the sharp light of morning.

But dreams have a potent magic, a holiness
really, for there I can resurrect the dead
and if the mood is right, bend back
the arrow of time, render it dimensionless,
all the while I remain constant, but certain
with any luck, in someone else’s dream, I
may be a child, a young man, or any
of a thousand other roles I cannot imagine.

INTIMATIONS OF MORTALITY

It is easier to think about death
on a wintery evening, when so much
of life slips into stasis, and there is
nothing to do but concede your mortality,
and with good fortune, then slip
into sleep before being lost
in a sea of depression.

I must be thankful for my dreams
for they keep the night from becoming
the little death of the ancient philosophers,
and on awakening in the morning,
the mantle of snow that has painted
the world in a glittering white, does
not demand the shovel as yet, but
celebrates the world’s rebirth,
and with a nod to the sun, my own.