SHEEPISH

As a child, when I
had trouble falling asleep
my mother would trot out
the ancient saw and tell me
to just count sheep.

I tried to point out
to her that we lived
in an upscale suburb
and there were no sheep
for miles for me to count.

This hardly deterred her
and she repeated her
directions, in a stronger
tone of voice that she thought
brooked no argument.

I did try counting sheep
but still couldn’t sleep
given my congestion
and sneezing from what
I learned was a wool allergy.

CAT’S GAME

The cat is sleeping on the lanai, on the plant table among the bromeliads. The cat spends hours sleeping on the lanai when she isn’t walking on tables. There are tables on the lanai she walks on regularly. Walking on tables is forbidden we repeatedly tell her and we know she understands, but the cat reminds us that forbidden in a transitory term when you are a cat. Cats, she says, must go where they want, consequences be damned. And, she adds, I know you will always forgive me.

FOUR WETLAND HAIKU

Apple Snail shell
bleached by the sun, empty
happy Snail Kite

Great Egret sitting still
waiting, simply waiting
then flying off

Red-shouldered hawk
staring into the distance
endless patience

Pig frog croaking
but the moon will not answer
we fall asleep

ODE TO THE HOUSE CAT

I have concluded that God created the cat
in a moment of exhaustion or of extreme pique.
How else to explain such a soft fur covered creature
capable at once of a gentle caress and a claw
lunging out at a hand or face deemed too close.
Why else this projectile constantly launched
only at those places it was not to be,
fine wood tables etched with reminders
of its sudden presence and rapid departure.
What else to explain this shedding ball
of multihued fur that always curls in sleep
in the one place you wish to sit
and even when it cedes a seat to you, smirks
in the realization you will soon
an unexpectedly be half covered in fur.
Why this package of fluff and terror crawls
beneath your blanket as you verge on sleep
curls tightly against you and begins its gentle
rhythmic purring that draws you deeply
into a world of fur filled dreams.

First Published in ZOOANTHOLOGY, Sweetycat Press, August 2022

A PRAYER

Last night, as I sat poised
on the edge of sleep, I asked
God for continued blessings,
for I have been blessed more
than I likely deserve.

I heard Her reply that I
would always have Her love,
on earth and heaven, and I
knew my request, selfish
for certain, had been answered.

But now I wonder if it was
truly She or your voice I heard
in that moment, but I know
which voice would not matter
for you are the blessing I sought.

SENSO-JI

By hour six, the plane was just a lumbering beast dividing the sky, halfway from God knows where to nowhere special. His body cried for sleep but he knew he had to deny it. That much he had learned from prior trips. For when he landed, made his way painfully slowly into the city, it would be early evening when he arrived at his hotel. He knew he needed to be on the edge of exhaustion. Only that way could he grab a meal from the 7 Eleven down the block, and finally get to sleep, reasonably fresh in the morning. It would be a long day. Each day in Tokyo was a long day of endless meetings and negotiations. It was mind numbing, but he was paid well to suffer it. And he knew that on his last day in the city he would have time to board the subway for Asakusa. There he would wander slowly down the line of stalls, to the great gate of Senso-ji Temple, its giant lantern shedding no light, and peer at the Buddha Hall in the distance. There would be school children in neat uniforms, always hand in hand, and pigeonss, flocking around them and anyone who looked gaijin, easy marks for photos and handouts. And the orange tiger cat would huddle at the base of the nearby Buddha seeking enlightenment. For that hour or so he was in a different world. The giant city melted away. His thoughts grew placid as he placed his incense into to giant earthenware jokoro then washed its smoke over his face and shoulders. He bowed to the young monk carefully writing the prayer sticks. He stood silent at the foot of the Buddha Hall, a conversation no one could hear, one that everyone here was having simultaneously. Time does not yield, and as it ran thin, he headed back to the subway knowing his fortune without purchasing it for 100 yen. A simple fortune really, a return visit on his next trip to Tokyo and maybe a side trip to Kyoto, and as the icing on his taiyaki, a trip to Nara, to again wander the grounds of Todai-ji and commune with the deer at first light, in the shadow of the Daibutsu. On the flight home he thought of the moments in Buddha’s shadow, the resounding of the great bell. He smiled recalling the red bibbed jizo, knowing they gave up Buddhahood to help those like him, still lost on the path. He is saddened knowing he will soon be back in his world, the daily grind, this trip shortened, as all return trips are. And when he lands, goes through Immigration and customs, when they ask if he has anything to declare, he may say “just a moment of kensho.”

THE LOBBY BAR AT MIDNIGHT

Ann Arbor a certain diffidence
Butte born of three rum Collins
Carmel the Gucci show windows
Duluth darkened, foreboding
Erie escalator rattle
Fairbanks a sound coffin
Grapevine grand piano
Hilo the restaurant empty
Ithaca seeking diners
Jacksonville by the exit signs
Kalamazoo conventioneers drool
Lincoln and slobber
Memphis over the ankh necklace
Natchez girl cross legged
Oakland engulfed in smoke
Providence the ficus droops
Rehoboth in the shade of the bar
Salem laughter turning
Toledo into controlled sobs
Urbana highball glass slips
Vidalia off the table edge
Wausau and falls
Xenia dropping slowly
Yuma through the night
Zanesville into sleep.

REAL TIME

Reality is clearly something to be avoided
to be dressed up in tattery, tied in ribbons,
perfumed, yet its fetid stench
is always lurking in the background
waiting to pierce your nostrils
in an incautious moment until you retch
and bring up the bile that marks
the darker moments of your life,
the kind that lingers in the throat
which no chocolate can erase.
Reality is often ugly, so we ignore it
or hide it behind masks, or offer it
willingly to others, a gift in surfeit.
It sneaks up on you, and sets its hook
periodically, and thrashes you at will,
the barb tears through new flesh,
setting itself deeper, intractable.
You and I are dying, as I write,
as you read, an ugly thought
particularly lying in bed
staring into darkness,
no motion or sound from your spouse,
mate, paramour, friend, significant other
or teddy bear, where God
is too busy to respond at the moment
and sleep is perched in the bleachers,
held back by the usher for want
of a ticket stub, content to watch
the game from afar.
I cast ink to paper, an offer of reality
as though the divorce from the words will erase
the little pains and anguishes of our
ever distancing marriage, while
holding vainly onto the warm and sweet,
the far side of the Mobius of reality
(the skunk is at once ugly and soft and caring).
We write of pain, of ugliness, of anger
at terrible lengths, or weave tapestries
of words to cover the flawed, stained walls
of our minds, like so many happy endings,
requisite in the script. Basho
knew only too well that truth of beauty
should be captured in few syllables.

First Appeared in Chaminade Literary Review, Vols. 16-17, Fall 1995.

Santa Cruz Wharf, September

The quieter you become
the more you can hear.
— Baba Ram Dass

Orion lies over the wharf
staring at the moon, dangling
like an unyielding eye, barring sleep
while below the waves wash
onto the shore, licking the pilings
and tasting the sand, a calming roar
broken only by the barking
of the harbor seals.
It is not a night for hunting
the bear has fled over the horizon
preparing for the coming winter
and the hunter tires from the chase.
A gull nips at his heels, and plunges
back into the swells, he must be
content with the odd fish and scraps
from the strange ones who mass
on the wharf each day and retreat by night
until there is only the hunter
and the goddess and two young men
curled into the sand.
I stand on the balcony
and stare at the hunter
wishing that sleep would come,
that the white eye would blink,
but the waves wash in
and the harbor seals bark
and the stars beat
a slow retreat.

First publshed in Lighthouse Weekly, January 17, 2022
https://www.lighthouseweekly.com/post/geography-and-santa-cruz-wharf-september

AS INSTRUCTED

As I was leaving the surgical center
they handed me the sheet
with my post-procedure instructions,
a sign of faith perhaps, that I
was sufficiently out of the sedation
to know what I was given.

I tucked them in my pocket, anxious
to get home, to get coffee
and the food I’d been denied
since midnight the night before
just in case something went wrong
and they had to put me fully under.

I did get relief from my pain
but I tossed and turned in bed
my sleep coming in fits and starts,
for no apparent reason, and when
I read the instructions this morning
I checked off the side effect insomnia
and gave a half check to irritability.