DEAR ERASMUS, DIE

Today we welcome the rain, hope
that the wheaty winter lawn will
show some other color under its care.

The birds ignore the clouds,
accept the rain, care little how
our lawn looks, their next meal
of always greater importance.

I am losing the vision in one eye,
know I may soon be king
of the country of the blind,
and sadly curse Erasmus
for his gift of proverb, one
that slipped off the tongue
when my eye could still see it.

We will welcome the sun tomorrow
or the day after, for too much
rain or sun demands change
and nothing is really ever
wholly within our control.

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.

LIGHTS

For eight days each December
they call out to me as the flame
of the candles flickers out,
“Remember me” they say in unison,
“remember me”, in the voice of the child,
an old woman, in Yiddish,
in Polish, German, Czech, Latt.
I want to remember but I cannot see
a face reduced to ash, blended
into the earth of a farm field outside Treblinka,
the winter wheat remembers.
I want to remember but I cannot stroke
the head of a young man whose bones
mingle with his brother’s, countless others
sharing a mass grave, his skull
and brains painting the trunks
of a nearby stand of trees.
I want to remember but cannot hear
the sweet tenor of the cantor
whose tongue was torn from his mouth
for refusing to speak of the tunnels
beneath his once beloved Warsaw.
I want to remember the lavender scent
of the young woman, fresh from the showers
but there is only the stench
of putrid flesh and Zyklon,
of bodies crammed into the converted boxcar.
I want to remember the taste
of a warm challah on Shabbat eve
that she lovingly shaped
into a braid and pulled from the oven,
but her arms were neatly removed
by the surgeon before she
was cast naked into the Polish winter.
I want to remember them all,
their names in a memorial
but they are only numbers
tattooed onto endless arms.
The candles die and their voices
fall silent for yet another year.

First Appeared in Rattle, Issue 7, Summer 1997. Reprinted in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 29, No. 1, 2005.

TAKING

You can take my sight,
but my mind will still see what it must,
and my fingers will become eyes.
You can take my hearing,
I will imagine what I must,
and my eyes will become ears.
You can take my tongue,
but my body will shout what I must,
and my hands will speak volumes.
The only thing you cannot take
is my words, for without them
my prison would be complete
and I would be rendered mute,
deaf and blind, and that is a fate
from which I could never hope to emerge.

Reprised from March 28, 2016

FORKED TONGUE

I can’t tell you how long
it’s been since I’ve seen
a snake around here, mostly
because my sense of time
has limits of a decade.

I read that they are plentiful
in the Everglades, hunted
as an invasive species, which
probably stands to reason
since our hatred is by now

of Biblical proportions, and we
have learned to love goats,
so, it is the snake that now
is consigned to be the source
of all our errors and failings.

And were that not enough,
you cannot trust what a snake
says for obvious reasons, but you
must ignore that the hummingbird
beloved by all, also has a forked tongue.

HAIKU

I picked up a book
off the shelf this morning
one hundred haiku

it was like sitting down
a word starved man, tired
of searching for an always
denied sustenance, and here
laid out before me, a repast
of the sweetest grapes,
bits of sugar caressing
a tongue grown used
to the often bitterness
of ill-considered prose.

As midday approached
I knew that this was a meal
to which I’d return.

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

LATTE

At the coffee shop they chatter as if in some foreign tongue, conversations overlaid one on another on another, until all I can strain are snippets of words, stray syllables. This is true everywhere I have visited, and it promises good coffee, for I have found that when I can easily eavesdrop on others at nearby tables, it is because the espresso maker has gone silent too long, there are few present, and I will regret the coffee shortly after drinking it.

ECHU EXPELS A DISCIPLE 鐵笛倒吹 語十三

If you come upon Echu napping
do not disturb him
but retreat to the zendo
or walk in the small garden
where enlightenment may be found.

If the search is successful
leave quickly, tell no one,
for it is very fragile
and the tongue
is sharper than the sword
and infinitely more deadly.


A reflection on case 53 of the Iron Flute Koans