MID MORNING SONG

He leans against the wall
outside the Prêt à Manger
witting with his dog
on the old Mexican blankets
that look uniquely out of place
on a cool London morning.
He sips the now fetid coffee
in its Styrofoam cup,
its Burger King logo
and temperature warning.
His hair is long, mostly
gray with streaks of white,
his beard white
with swaths of blond, he
looks as though he
just stepped down the plank
of the great sailing ship,
returned from a voyage
save for his tattered, stained
Manchester United sweatpants.
I put 50p in his metal box
against my better judgment
and stroke behind the ears
of the placid dog.
“May you be many times praised”
he sputters, through teeth
stained tobacco brown,
“for with more like you,
Rufus here, and I shall later
enjoy a fine repast.
May Saint Dymphna be praised.”
In the taxi to Paddington Station
I wonder who my patron
might be, if Jews
only had Saints.

First published in Sideways Poetry Magazine, Issue Two
https://sidewayspoetry.files.wordpress.com/2019/09/london-issue-2-1.pdf

EGGMAN

When I was a child . . .
God, how many times have you
heard something prefaced by those
ever frightening words, not
scary themselves but what
painful story they promised.

When I was a child we had
a milkman who brought
the glass bottles twice a week,
took the empties and envelope
with his payment from the
shelf built in the wall
just for deliveries.

We also had an egg man
who’d leave a dozen eggs
in a little metal basket
on the same shelf. He
had a great mustache,
almost walrus-like, and he
may have been an eggman
but he was defnitely not a walrus,
goo goo gajoob.

SAY CHEESE

The meeting drags on. Time is frozen. The space between a smile and a grimace is the edge of a fine blade and the width of a canyon. And you maintain the smile hoping it is not seen as the rictus you feel. Politeness requires a smile, your heart requires a fast escape. So you stay and tweak all of the little facial muscles to maintain the semblance of a smile. You don’t watch the clock on the wall, for it is only a source of frustration. When you leave for home, your face feels almost sore around the lips.

Bodhidharma’s Mind 無門關 四十一

Walk slowly up to Bodhidharma
but do not pull him away
from the wall before which he sits.
Keep your arms close about you
lest you cannot grasp
what he will ask.

Hold tight to your mnd
for it will grow still only
as it slips through your fingers
When you see it fade away
Samadhi bathes you.

A reflection on Case 41 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate) koans.

THE WALL

The wall is black granite,

highly polished be an unseen hand

and the fingers of countless thousands

present but each unseen by the others.

At first glance you want to count

the names, but you lack fingers

enough for the task and others

are quickly withdrawn as are their eyes.

You know where the names are,

Willy, who they now call William,

Little Joey, who was so large in your

memory, climbing into the cockpit.

You wonder if things had been different,

if you hadn’t enlisted, chosen

the Air Force, if the Draft Board

anointed you cannon fodder, who

would trace their fingers along

the cold unfeeling stone that has

been washed by untold tears bidding

you farewell or thanks, rarely both.

We have grown so good at wars

we no longer need etched walls,

bronze statues, for before a design

is complete, the next must be begun.

First published in The Parliament Literary Magazine – Issue 5- Masks and Manes 

WALLS

It is one thing
to build a wall
that others
stop and admire,
yet make it
high enough
they don’lt think
of climbing over it.

Walls are meant
to keep, in
or out is never
clear, and actually
it is always both,
for a wall
takes no sides,
a silent sentinel.

And no wall
is impenetrable
and unscalable
save that surrounding
the heartless ones
who are destined
to die alone
in anger.

GYOZAN CAN’T SAY IT

The true artist,
when asked
to draw a perfect tree
will lead you to the garden
and have you sit
under the great maple.
The true master
asked to speak of Dharma
will silently
face the wall
in zazen.

A reflection on case 118 of the Shobogenzo, Dogen’s True Dharma Eye Koans

ON THE WALL

Each morning, once I have completed
the often unpleasant task of dragging
myself from the womb of blankets, I make
my appearance in front of the mirror.

I stare closely into it, and am unsurprised
to find it returning my stare,
and on every occasion, I notice
that the mirror has once again
chosen to wear the same clothes as I,
albeit not as well or stylishly, no doubt
the result of its limited sense of dimensions.

It is odd that I know so well what
the mirror looks like, how it masquerades
as this or that until it can no longer
hope to avoid me, and yet despite
its familiarity, I have no idea at all
what I really look like anymore.

FORMAL PROOF

First Proposition: You were put up
for adoption because your birth
parents couldn’t or didn’t want to raise you.

Second Proposition: We or I adopted you
because I wanted you and not another
and to give you the good life you deserved.

Argument: Given all of the possible
alternatives, you ought to be thankful
that we saved you from that other life.

First Fallacy: My birth mother feared
rejection for getting pregnant but would
have been a loving, educated parent.

Second Fallacy: My adoptive mother
had two children with her second husband
after they married, her children at last.

Opinion: You will he told that you are
one of the family, a coequal part inseparable
from and of the others, and the same.

Fact: You were made an orphan and
always will be one, and the best you can
hope for is to be just like family, a simile

that you know will always be a transparent
wall that you can never hope to climb
and which keeps you always separate.