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.

WE ARE THE PEOPLE

We are the people,

Who heard the glass breaking
that night as we huddled at home,

Who inhaled the smoke
of the Holy books as they burned,

Who tried to flee but had
nowhere to go, always turned away,

Who visited cosmetic doctors
to reshape our noses to look like the others

Who adopted names to help
erase a potentially painful history to come,

Who now turn a blind eye to those
who expel others from a land we claim
is ours by divine right from a God
of all people, just as specially chosen.

DRINKING TEA IN KABUL*

Rockets flash briefly
across the chilled sky,
plumes of smoke, ash
carried off
by impending winter.

Over the lintel of the entry
to the Inter-Continental Hotel Chicago,
carved deeply into the marble
Es Salamu Aleikum
staring implacably
through ponderous
brass framed doors
onto the Miracle Mile.
Countless guests
pass below it
unseeing.

My son and I
sit across a small table
spilling bits of tapas
onto the cloth,
laughing lightly
at the young boy
bathed in a puree
of tomato, his shirt
dotted in goat cheese.
My son explains
the inflation of the universe,
gravitational waves
cast off
by coalescing binary
neutron stars.
His words pull me
deeper
into my seat.
We speak somberly
of the jet engine
parked haphazardly
in the Queens gas station
unwilling to mention
265 lives
salted across
the small community.

We embrace
by his door, the few
measured hours run.
He turns to call
his girlfriend,
I turn my collar up
against the November night.

The Red Line train
clatters slowly back
into a sleeping city.
In my room
I brew a cup of Darjeeling.

*”We will drink tea in Kabul tomorrow morning, if God wills it.” – Basir Khan, Northern Alliance Commander, quoted in the Chicago Tribune, 13 November 2001.

First appeared in Hearsay, 2004 and in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008).

SENSELESS

You place the shroud
over my head,
it is dark, but I
can still touch her cheek.

You cut off
my fingers, leaving
only stumps, but I
can still taste her tears.

You pull out
my tongue, there is
only bitterness, but I
can hear her morning laugh.

You drown me
in a sea of noise
nothing breaks the din, but I
smell her sweetness.

You fill the room
with the acrid smoke
tearing at my nostrils, but I
can remember her love.

Publshed in Mehfil Issue #8, August 2020
https://medium.com/mehfil/two-poems-2f60ad081ee7