MORTALITY

Before you wish for immortality
carefully consider all the consequences.
It’s true you will avoid the fires of hell
and the lawyers and politicians who
make up a surprising portion of the populace,
but you’ll also never pass through the pearly gates,
to languish in the esteemed company
of poets and musicians who will,
at the drop of a request, regale you.
And those wars you so often decried,
you’ll have those of generations without end,
for the one skill mankind has mastered is war.
But worst of all, you must realize
that you will be subjected to an infinite
number of wait staffs gathered around
your table doing off-key but well intended
renditions of Happy Birthday to You
as other diners wish you had never been born.

MAL ANNEE

On the anniversary
of the start of a war
one feels almost compelled
to speak to its horrors,
its cause, its effect.
But we live in an age
where wars are plentiful,
when peace is the exception
and war seems to loom
around every corner.
So on this anniversary
I watch the snowy egret
stare into the pond
outside my window,
the great bird calmly
imagining that
in her world
all of the people
are merely fish.

HARMONY

Lao Tse, venerable one
you would be pleased
as I sit here
drawing closer
to the center
quested for my Buddhahood
be not seeking it
amid the rain of fire
from the hills
above the blood
congealing in the streets.
I know not to ask
and am unseen
by the child and mother
running through the street
and untouched by
the hail of ammunition
biting at their heels.
I smell the lotus
mixed with the cordite
giving scent to the morning
and in the clouds
see the approach
of understanding.

WORDS

“Suppose,” he says
“words may be used
only once, after that
they disappear.”
“You mean in a poem”
she replies, “or life itself?”
Even four stanzas
can challenge most
except perhaps Basho.
Haiku would replace sonnets,
villanelles, sestinas
suddenly gone,
anaphora is self-contradiction.
“Imagine,” the young girl mused
“sloganless politicians,
talking heads struck mute,
hushed generals
fighting silent wars,
all poets condemned
to write blank verse.”

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED (GWB VERSION)

Strangely enough I can
imagine Segasa Tokugawa
standing on the parapet
of Osaka Castle saying
only a fool like Toyotomi
either father or son
would wage a war on Korea
to expand his empire
and stand here and say
mission accomplished
while so many at home
mourned the loss of sons
or innocence, or both
but things will be better now
for I have learned
the lesson of history.

OLD MEN

It is always odd
watching older men gather,
talk about their lives,
about how much they
no longer remember,
of last year, and
a decade ago, about
the infinite details
they can clearly recall about
the time they spent
in the Army, Navy, Air Force,
the smell of Slop-on-a-shingle,
of field stripped butts
in a small container
in their olive drabs,
of the base or post exchange
where you could buy
the mandatory Ray-Ban aviators,
the Sergeant’s grimace,
the body count in the war
they never wanted, only
wanted to end quickly,
how they were once brothers
in arms, now just old men
sharing painful memories.