INJECTION SEAT

Another day, another needle,
it is the cost of growing older,
I suppose, and does beat
the alternatives, but still,
I am growing tired of feeling
like an underappreciated pin cushion.

And please, it is not necessary
for you to smile while pushing
the needle into whatever
body part wins the prize
as that day’s recipient, leave
me to decide whether to smile.

And I’m not a child, so feel
free to dispense with the
“this is for your own good,”
if I didn’t know that do you
think I’d be sitting in this chair
having the imagined conversation?

THE WRITER

Why do I write, you ask.
I’m a writer, so I should have
a good answer, or at least a glib one.

I could say I write for others
but you would ask who
those others are, and smile knowingly
when I have no answer.

I could say I write for myself,
and that would be true enough,
but rather sad and egotistical,
for the thoughts alone should suffice.

I will probably choose
not to answer you, and I will
suffer that sneer you will adopt,
but I am a writer, you know,
so being sneered at
is hardly anything new.

TOO MANY COOKS

I can still recall
the day my mother
was ecstatic on learning
that everything grew
out of a primordial soup.
It was proof, she
was certain, of a Jewish
God, even if he didn’t
do it all with his own hands.
And, with a broad smile
she said, I’m fairly certain
at the soup
was chicken, maybe
with kreplach on the side.

THE TALK

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.”

WHY NOT

Today in odd places,
at the most unexpected moments,
a child will smile without reason,
a young girl will laugh,
the young boy will stroke
the neck of a wandering cat,
and in that place
at that moment
there will be a simple peace.
Only the children will notice this,
though it gives lie to those
who deem peace impossible.
A child knows that it is
only preconceptions
and attachments
that blind adults
to the peace that
surrounds them.

LESSONS

The most important lessons he taught
were in those moments when he was
absolutely silent, the smile across
his face shouting across the background
din of everyday life, his eyes wide
with a sort of childish awe that I had
long since given up as adolescent.

The child sees everything for the first time
regardless how many times she has
gazed at what we adults are certain
is the same scene, a pure iteration,
hears each call of the cardinal as
a never-before-heard song, not
the now boring chorus of a too long
repeated lyric, its melody now painful.

His lessons too easily slipped away,
as he did a few years later, mourning
a poor substitute for memories that
eased into the damp ground with him,
but the smile of my granddaughter
at seemingly everything and nothing,
her laughter at the squirrel inverted
from the crook arm of the bird feeder
defying the shield below to stop
his constant thefts, the giggles
at the clouds filling the sky with
characters I could not hope to see,
brought him back, and with him
the joys of my childhood long suppressed.

MONA

Of course, she’s sitting there,
calmly, staring off onto space.
She has to know something
is amiss, no one has come
to visit her in days, but she
knows that whenever, if ever,
whatever it is that is happening
is finally over, that they
will once again return, stare
at her, wonder aloud and silently
why she is smiling, and she
will as always say nothing, for
she was once told that it is better
always to leave them wanting more.

Tomorrow Paris will count
its newest dead, and the hospitals
will pray the tide of bodies
has been stemmed, or diminished
and none of those in the battle
will pause and consider DaVinci’s
lady imprisoned forever in her
sterile room, an eternal prisoner.

First published in Dreich, Issue 20, Autumn 2020 (Scotland)

MOST WONDERFUL THING 鐵笛倒吹 六十語

Which is more beautiful,
the fragile flower
or the stone set in the road?
And which is the uglier?
The stone, washed in a stream
may shine like a diamond,
the flower picked
soon withers to dust.

Each contains beauty
each contains ugliness.
When you see this
you may smile
until you feel
the blow of the stick
and your eyes are forced shut
blind for that moment.


A reflection on Case 65 of the Iron Flute Koans

TOZAN’S THREE BASKETS 鐵笛倒吹 四十一

Tozan said
the whole of knowledge
can be expressed
in a single letter.
Hakuun, the great Master
set to writing verse.

You, who hold the brush
with shaking hand,
what will you write
in answer to Tozan.
Think carefully
of each stroke
and imagine
Joshu’s endless smile.


A reflection on case 41 of the Iron Flute Koans