ON ARRIVING

They arrive after a long flight
from tyranny, from oppression
from the nightmare of endless
fear, from hunger, from faith
denied, from the bottomless
depths of poverty, scarred
memories etched in their souls,
hoping for an ending as much
as wishing for a new beginning.
They have been here, a new
generation, raised on the stories,
versed in the painful history,
still residual anger born
of love for those who fled,
without the pain of experience,
who can forget when it is
others who now wish only
to arrive to the freedom they
have known since childhood

First appeared in Circumference, Issue 5, June 2022
https://poetryatpi.wordpress.com/

THE RIGHT WAY

In a world beset
by poverty and pandemic,
global warming and hunger,
there are a myriad
of questons urgently
requiring answers.

Among them
is not the question
of the proper way
to eat with a fork,
or more precisely
how to hold it
when bringing food
to the mouth
from the plate.

I was taught to hold
it like a pen, but
tilted so I looked
down on the tines
bent in concavity.

But in watching
too many European
films and TV shows,
it seems I should
look down on
the tines’ convexity.

This conundrum
is easily solved
by using only
a spoon.

STATISTIC

Today, now many,
yesterday, tomorrow, how many?

We have grown tired of counting
the mind cannot deal with numbers
of that magnitude, Stalin was correct,
it is all statistics now, and bodies,
always more bodies, never enough,
always too many, by violence
in the street, in the economy,
in the courthouse, in the COVID ward,
there are too many places now,
where the dead gather, and we
cannot bid them farewell, for we
do not want to be counted
among them, to join them, to admit
that we in some way have led them
into disease, into poverty, into death.

RECALL

As you sit in your suburban homes,
by the pools at your country clubs,
in your vacation resort villas, try
for the sake of the patriarchs
and matriarchs of our faith, to remember
that we were the poor, we were
the huddled masses, we yearned
to breathe free, we the tempest tossed.

Remember the tenements
of the Lower East Side,
the sweat shops, the struggle,
remember all of this, remember
where we came from, from the sthetl,
from the pogrom, from poverty,
recall we were the wretched refuse
for whom a door was opened.

Remember all of this now, as you
so willingly wish to slam the door
to those whose only wish is
to follow in our now dusty footsteps.

NIGHTLY PRAYERS

My mother always told me to say
my prayers before bed, which was odd
given that she never prayed, and didn’t
as far as we could tell, believe in a deity.

I knew, as my Rabbi taught, that you do not
seek something for yourself in prayer,
and world peace and harmony did not
seem on the horizon despite my entreaties.

Now I kneel, and face the wall before bed,
and listen to the prayers of the birds
in the wetlands, although it is not clear
if it is a deity or the moon to which they pray.

My mother is long buried now, I will join
her eventually, and there is still no peace
in the world, merely violence and poverty,
but the birds have greater faith than I ever did.

A SUDDEN DEPARTURE

You sneaked away one night.
You were there, but while
sleep claimed me, you were gone
without notice or warning.
Where should I look for you?
In these barren hills
where the spirits of the first nations
roam, looking for their ancestral land?

Where should I look for you?
Wandering these verdant fields
where a hundred generations
have been sacrificed
to the will of power mad men
who know no satisfaction?

Where should I look for you?
In these filth ridden streets
and narrow alleys where
the rats scamper in search
of a meal, where a child
at play would be a fine repast?

Where should I look for you?
Across these wind blown sands
where brother has hunted brother
for three generations, each
laying God’s claim
to the birthright of the other
while wives and mothers
wail in mourning?


First published in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press (2008)

Maximum Exposure

She carefully hangs her life
on the tautly stretched line
across her small back yard.
A sun faded floral housedress
a pair of bib overalls
knees worn white on
the kitchen linoleum,
cracked and dingy.
She waits patiently
for Humphrey Bogart to arrive
and carry her up
the river of her memory.
The chicken threatens
to burn in the cramped oven
and she is again without napkins.
He will be home soon
his six pack chilling
in the old Kelvinator
and she feels the slap
on her bruised cheek
as she fluffs her pillow
where she will soon hide
her purpled face.


Recently appeared in Aurora, Down in the Dirt Vol. 167 (2020)

EARLY IN THE SECOND BOOK

She wrapped him carefully
in an old blanket and several
sections of the Times and put him
in the basket with the broken handle
she found out behind the Safeway
near the culvert that was home
until the rains came.
She placed him among the weeds
and beer bottles, where the river’s smell
licked the wicker, and she hoped
he would be found quickly.
She envisioned him at the right hand
of Kings, holding forth on all
manner of life and death,
princes seeking his insight,
hanging on his words. He
would not be like others
dying at the hand, whim of wealth.
He was found a week later
lodged against a grate
at the intake of the power station
and placed in a far corner
of the city cemetery under
a simple stone “Baby Doe.”


First Published in Backchannels Journal, Ed. 2, 2019
https://www.backchannelsjournal.net/edition-no-2-2019

RINZAI’S TITLELESS MAN 鐵笛倒吹 語十七

If you come upon
both beggar and nobleman
see neither wealth or poverty,
smell neither the fine rosewater
or the crying need of a bath,
hear neither the ravings of one
or the philosophy of the other,
taste neither the fine curry
of the moldy bread crust,
feel neither the tattered rag
or the purest silk.

In the mirror of Zen
both men have your face
and there is no one
standing in front of you.


A reflection on case 57 of the Iron Flute Koans.

GOD HAS COME, OR NOT

It is the wet season
when the rains wash the village
carrying off the detritus of poverty.
On the adobe wall
of the ancient town hall
some villagers say
a face appeared one morning.
To some it was
the face of Christ
to others that of an old man
a former mayor, perhaps,
to most of the tourists
from the nearby resort
no more than random discoloration
of the aging plaster
that clung to the beams
by the force of will.
They arrived by bus
and rusting pick ups,
bowed to the wall
and reached out gingerly
like children touching
the flame of a candle.
To the mason it was
a job that would feed
his family for another week.


First appeared in Erothanatos, Vol. 3, No. 3 July 2019, Pg. 40