My first inclination, in fact
my strong desire, when he asks me
what time it is, is not to consult
my watch, but to say that we live
in an age of unprecedented uncertainty,
an era of division and incivility,
and days fraught with risk that
each might be the last.
I know he wants to know the hour
and the minute, but if he is late,
the moment wasted in knowing
just how much so merely adds
marginally to the problem.
And if the question lacks
that import to him, then time
is no more than a human construct,
malleable despite our demand
of rigidity, and subject to
the whims of Popes and politicians,
and all the rest of nature
can only marvel at our absurdity.
It would be an anathema to him
if he were a Pope or held deeply felt
opinions about anything, but he does not.
He denies being vacillating, rather, he says,
he is just open to a multitude of views,
never mind, she replies, that he
can never make any important decision
except by mere chance or luck.
He says he prefers life this way,
for he is disinclined to alienate anyone.
She says his unwillingness to take
and hold a position has alienated her,
and she points out that he has no friends
and few who would call him a true acquaintance.
He debates arguing with her, but he knows
she is possibly right and arguing
would do nothing, and so she walks away
and he can only imagine what might have been.
She said “now what they’ve taken away limbo”
sounding a bit depressed,
“not that you proceed express
to the ferry dock, but
that was a snap, all
you were carefully taught
is suddenly wrong or irrelevant.
“It would be like Isaac,”
I say, “climbing Mount Moriah
with Abraham finding a ram
tethered to a waiting altar.”
My mother wants to know
how I can claim to be once Jewish
as though the moyel
also took my freedom of religion.
“We have no hell” she reminds me
“at least after death.”
I silently respond
and try to tell her that
I still don’t have a hell,
at least not as she conceives it.
“But I read,” she says, “the Tibetan
Book of the Dead, and hell
is very, very real.”
I tell her my Buddhism is Chinese
through a fine Japanese filter
and it is the next life
in which I will pay for this one.
She says “I wouldn’t want
to come back again,” and
on that point we find
the beginnings of common ground.