She sat us down this morning for a heart to heart conversation. We had mentioned the neighbors’ new dog, their second, this one little smaller than a pony. She smiled at us, but we could tell it was a false smile, something was hiding about to be set free. “That is the problem with dogs,” she said, “they come in all sizes and temperaments. You never know what to expect, except that in any weather, but mostly the kind you hate, you have to walk them, or they walk you. And loud, they all seem to come without volume controls. So be thankful you have me. Now excuse me, my litter pan beckons.”
It was the moment they said, we picked you, that I knew they had not. They thought they had to say it. They knew they shouldn’t. I was the next gumball down the chute. You put in your nickel, move the lever and wait. Actually it wasn’t quite like that. If you don’t like the color or flavor of gumball, you throw it out or give it to someone else. Spend another nickel, simple. In adoption, there was no do over. In my case as well. Well there was, actually, but if you give one back, you don’t get another unless there was a really big and hidden problem. Read the fine print, the lawyers say, adoptees come with no warranty, and you take us as is. You wouldn’t buy a car that way, would you.
As strange as it seems, I can
spend hours in a used bookstore
lost in the marginalia, and textbooks,
particularly those in psych and sociology
are generally the most fertile,
for those students, though they would
never admit it, pursued those fields
hoping to find answers to their own
problems without having to ask.
Yesterday’s visit was particularly fertile,
but it was a college introductory text
in biology that grabbed and held me.
In the margin of a short chapter mentioning
thoracic anatomy was a question
for which I have no possible answer:
Does the diseased heart in the metal
operating room basin curse the body
on the gurney who was supposed
to join it in the ground, and what of the
donor who goes back to the soil
heartless and utterly and eternally alone?
The great minds in Transportation have decided
that the answer to all traffic problems
is simple, you replace troublesome intersections
with traffic circles, but you call them roundabouts.
They know that the young and wish they were
in their muscle cars will avoid them like the plague,
for even they cannot defeat centrifugal force,
and inertia is one thing they never lack.
And for the old, the plodding, either they won’t
enter the circle, or will revolve around its center
like a small planet bound tightly to its star
marking the center, and then only after they
have paused for an indeterminite period, trying
to figure out how to get in, where to get out
and wishing they had called Uber to begin with.
And I, behind them know, I can take this time
to get in a day’s meditation counting my breath.
Between now and eventually lies all of history. We are unable to see it
though it lies in our field of vision. That’s the problem, we only know
how to look backward. We are barely able to see where we are. It isn’t
that we don’t want to be here, merely that here is difficult to see, for
we have a tendency to block our vision. Imagine a map with an X or other
marker saying “You are Here.” Yet seeing that we know we are not there for
in that instant we will look down and see where we truly are. But the better
statement to the “you are here” sign is not to call it wrong, but rather
to simply ask it, how did you know. It will answer, your visit was history
lying between my now and my eventually.
The single greatest problem
In writing about death
Is that everybody does it, dies
Sooner or later, so it’s hardly
All that special unless, like Twain,
it happens more than once.
But perhaps multiple deaths are not
All that uncommon, for Buddhists,
Among whom I count myself
It happens all the time, karma demands it.
And if I had any doubt, Google will confirm it.
I, for instance, died the seasoned lawyer
in Calgary in 2009, the trade I practice for 36 years,
And I ironically died on my birthday
In 2011 in Palm Beach Gardens, though
I’ll be damned if I felt 84 then, and
I kicked bucket in 1754 in Orbach, France
But I’ve never been a real fan of the French
although it is my next best language
And when the wine is good, it’s great.
The problem with youth
isn’t that you misspend it,
or even don’t appreciate it
as it is happening, or even expect
it to go on forever, for those
would be the simplest hurdles
to leap even at your now advanced age.
The true problem with youth
isn’t even those around you,
grandchildren, high schoolers
that overrun the Starbucks near campus
are caught in the midst of it
while all you can do is jealously watch.
The ultimate problem with youth
is that you recall it so well,
the sights, sounds, the textures
but what you did last Thursday
you can’t recall for the life of you.
There is a reason for all things
and therefore there is a reason for this
although we cannot begin to fathom
what that reason could possibly be,
which may be reason enough,
for reason has a twisted soul —
now playful, now angry, now vengeful
in irregular turns without warnings.
The problem with seeking the reason
for things is deeply hidden, and not
as some imagine, that it is difficult; no,
the problem is that the search for the reason
has its own reason needing to be discovered
and so recursively back to the Big Bang
which still, to this day, has
the ultimate undiscovered reason.
Christmas is a day
that demands silence
and a certain solitude
that we no longer allow.
Some say you need
your inner child,
isn’t it at all
and maybe more
the problem, since
we all forget that
we celebrate an infant
and all infants know
Stuck in traffic yet again
my mind wanders, unimpinged
by the need to pay careful attention
to the car on front also frozen in place.
I am back in school listening carefully
as the teacher explains the problem:
“You are at point B and I am at point A.
The points are 100 miles apart and we
each leave for the other point
at exactly the same time, 10:00 A.M., you
driving at a constant 40 mile per hour,
I at a constant 30 miles per hour.
At exactly what time will we
be able to wave to one another?”
The car in front begins to move,
ending my revery, so I cannot
tell the teacher that we’ll never
wave to each other because
I am far too young to drive.