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.

EMPTY SACKS WILL NEVER STAND UPRIGHT

There are nights
when the song
of a single cricket
can pull you away from sleep.
She says that she has heard
that not all Angels have wings
and neither of them
is sure how you would know
if you met a bodhisattva.
He searches the mail
every day, for a letter
from unknown birth parents
but none of the credit cards
he ought to carry
offers to rebate his dreams.
Each night they lie
back pressed to back
and slip into dreams.
She records hers
in the journal she keeps
with the pen, by the bed.
He struggles to recall his
and places what shards he can
in the burlap sack
of his memory.

First Published in Where Beach Meets Ocean, The Block Island Poetry Project, 2013

ADIOS, ARRIVADERCI, SO LONG

As he grew ever older he said
he wanted a sudden unanticipated death,
“In my sleep preferably” he added
with an unmeant chuckle.

It would be a good way to go,
I imagine, but it denies those
who will most mourn his passing
the chance to hope for a miracle.

And no matter when it happens,
if it is sudden it will always be too soon,
only the protracted death is timely
for those needing to say goodbye.

OF DREAMS

I am now of an age
where I can no longer remember
what terrors gripped my sons
in their dreams, causing them
to appear beneath our blankets,
I relegated to the bed’s edge.

Perhaps there were none
and I was destined to be
an edge sleeper, the boys
taking advantage as a joke
played out night after night.

I know what dreams now
can rip me from sleep, a
chill beyond that of the A/C
running down my spine like
nightmare sciatica, until I banish
the dream and wait to see
what its replacement offers.

OF DREAMS

Last night in my sleep
I though I heard an angel
althougn I could not, for trying,
understand what it was saying,
and it is odd since I
do not believe in angels.

Perhaps it was the cat,
but if so she has come up
with a new voice, using words
not formerly in her vocabulary,
but you put nothing
past a cat, ever.

I did ask the cat if she
had called out during the night
but she said it was not her,
and she wondered who
was in my room singing
in voice far sweeter than mine.

BLESSED

Barchu, for the slugs of the Chinese
knockoff AK47 which tore
through his legs, twisting
to avoid the artery and nerves.

Barchu, for the moon hanging
in the frosted night
seeking shelter in the mist
cutting into me, lashing me
to reality.

Barchu, for their memory
the small circle of candles
that burn eternally
in the rain.

Barchu, for the sleep
that slides over him
and sets him free
if only for an hour.

Barchu, for the evening
and the morning,
another day.

First Published in AGON Journal, Issue 0, 2021

DIFFERENT TODAY

The air we breathe is different today,
and we inhale more deeply
with the energy of our youth.

The tears we cry today are not
solely tears of loss and sorrow,
but also of promise and hope.

The wine that we drink today
will be the same as before, but
now sweeter on the tongue.

The sleep that we sleep tonight
will be deep, nightmares banished,
dreaming of a brighter future.

The songs that we sing today
we have sung a thousand times
but on this day the words have meaning.

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.