AFOOT, A CITY

As you walk the streets
of a city like New York,
you hear a polyglot of languages,
and closing your eyes you
might have no idea where you were.

Listen carefully, eavesdrop
on conversations, imagine the stories
they are telling, the joys
and heartbreak laid bare before you,
half heard, half filled in
to make the story palatable to you.

Life in the city is life in a wholly
parallel universe, one in which
the characters speak only sound bites
and all meaning is transient
in the ear of the beholder.

WEBBING

The giant spider in its black shroud
sits irritated in the center of its web
wishing it ever larger, demanding
that others enter, become enthralled
until it defines the parameters
of the universe the spider imagines.

The giant spider silently seethes
at the once gardener who, having
tasted the forbidden fruit,
has closed the screened door
as he reluctantly departed the garden
diminishing the web’s attraction.

The spider dreams of his new world,
knows his old one, the simple web
may be replaced, so he presses on
spinning all his resources in the hope
that others will come to accept
his crafted reality as their own.

THE ANCIENTS

Night and the ancients retreat
to a dark corner of their celestial prison
from the promised arrival
of the yellow dwarf from which
they know we demand a presence.

We ignore the ancients now,
ignore those who cast them
into their prison, ignore
the acts for which they were
banished, care only to name them,
and they know that our recognition
is their only grasp on existence.

Each day their tiny cousin
demands our full attention,
defies us to look deeply at him,
pleased that he is, for us,
the center of our universe.

CELESTIAL RHYTHM

It was a certain rhythm that he loved,
one he felt it in total silence, yet it faded
in the presence of sound, a doumbek
of the soul he would describe it.

He remembered how it was before
their one god rendered him and his kind
mere mythological creatures fit only
for poetry and dusty library shelves.

He would have his revenge some day,
would condemn their God to a corner
of the heavens, an eternity to reconsider
the rashness of his narcissism, but

in the meanwhile he would continue
to rest in the heart of this constellation
hoping to go unnoticed, happy just
to listen to the rhythm of the universe.

DEEP

Deep beneath the Arctic ice
the whale songs shimmer
in the harsh light
of a frozen sun.
We strive to hear them,
hear nothing, hear only
our thoughts echoing
through cavernous memories.
With thoughts of what was,
what we wish had been,
we are ambient noise
in a universe which
cradles hope, craves silence.
Dolphins dream of days
when the sea was theirs,
lives lived in a slow paradise
a world the land- bound
would never comprehend
even as they laid waste to it.

First published in Zephyr Review, Issue 1, May 2022
https://zephyrreview.com/issues/

UNGAN’s NOT ANY SINGLE WORD

The youngest child,
her mind uncluttered,
can answer any question
unburdened by words,
her answers rebound
across the universe.
If you stop struggling
to hear her, let
the silence surround
you both, you cannot
escape the answers

A reflection on case 84 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo Koans (True Dharma Eye)

COSMOS

As a child he decided,
after watching Cosmos,
that he wanted to be an astronomer.

He was six, we bought
a large telescope and I was assigned
the job of aiming it
according to his directions.

After a while he did
have a mment of panic, wondering
what he would do
during the day.

That soon passed
when he discovered the radio telescope
and time became of
absolutely no importance.

He is an adult now,
a theoretical astrophysicist,
much easier on the eyes
he says, and your hours
are your own
and the universe’s.

BLACK HOLE

The universe is populated
by an as yet unknown
number of black holes,
points of hyper-
density whose gravity
is so great that
anything getting
too close can
never escape,
or so we were
originally told.

Hawking suggested
there is hope
for escape, some
energy close
to the event
horizon may
radiate back
into the universe.

In the black
hole that was
my family,
I, luckily, proved
to be that
escaping energy.

BACK LOOKING

On the worst day, of the worst
week, or even just a day, like most
that did not go the way you want,
step outside at night if the sky is clear
and stare upwards at the universe.

Realize that you are seeing
more than a monumental collection
of celestial bodies, that you are
experiencing so much history,
and moments older than
mankind itself, and in that moment
you are in the midst of eternity.

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).