MARS

Mars has risen in the western sky.

Perhaps it is waiting for the moon
to draw our attention,
but the moon is periodically
irascible, as tonight, and has
chosen to abandon Mars
to the stellar firmament.

Mars has risen in the western sky.

I wander into the dark in search
of the peace that only
night affords, but the horizon
is war and disquiet
and I stumble and repeatedly
fall, and the ground holds me
denying me the sky.

Mars has risen in the western sky.

The plants that have reached
for the sun, and borne
fruit for months
now shrink and wither
under his unrepentant eye,
and I know a cold
foreboding wind will
still blow and I will mourn
the passing of summer,
the season on peace.

Mars has risen in the western sky
and Jupiter watches jealously.

First Published in Cerasus Magazine (UK), Issue 3, 2021

GREAT DANGER

There are those who say
that we are engaged
in a culture war, and that
may be an apt description,
even as it misses its mark.

It is hardly cultures that
are at war, but those who
take shelter under their
false mantle, armored
in labels, shielded by cliches.

But the weapons of the war
are quite real, known
for ages, Stalin and Alexie
calling them out by turns,
for they pose the danger.

In this war it is ideas
that are wielded ruthlessly,
ideas to be most feared
if they are not shared,
ideas that must be suppressed.

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are quickly withdrawn as are their eyes.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 

MISSING SONGS

The problem, or one of them, is
the lack of music today. We have
all manner of what people call music,
but not the music of the sort
we need, needed once and found,
as we stormed the bastions
and bastards who mired us in war,
who shunned darker brothers
and sisters, who made alienable
basic rights to half of us without
rhyme or reason, save greed
and fear of loss of status, power.

Where are the songs now,
calling us, you, to regain
the victories, no matter how small
that we won with our sweat
and often our blood, eroded
or taken over time by those
who live in the shadows, who
crawl out in the dark, who
dread the light we would
so willingly shine on them again.

A NAME

Someone said that you must name something
before you can really know it, and we
have gone about naming everything, even
as we know less and less about those things.

We have grown so adept at naming things,
that we have created multiple names
for the things that we find the most problematic,
for then they can be more easily ignored.

Where once we found ourselves in wars,
we now engage in armed conflicts,
police actions, and where we are the aggressor,
active dispute resolution operations.

The bodies that litter the battlefield
did not stop to consider whether they
were at war, and had morphed into police,
they did not resolve any dispute with their blood.

MARCH ON

We marched regularly, often carring placards,
this week against an insane war
in a place we had no busines being,
next week for the racial justice
promised for a century but never delivered,
and then for the ecology, trying to save
the world that our parents promised
for us as little children and failed
to provide, choking through the smog
and the teargas, scraping knees
on the concrete as we were pushed
back, pushed away, pushed into a corner.

Then we were marching in uniform,
across the pavement in Texas, Lackland,
Fort Sam Houston, sergeants always by
our sides, always willing to remind us
that we were dirt, incompetent, useless,
but they’d make us into soldiers, they
would find the cohesiveness we lacked.

Now we are struggling not to march,
not to be lemmings headed for the cliff,
not to give up the small victories
once won,not at war now, still searching
for justice for all, still chokng
on the air we have made putrid,
and we teach our grandchildren
how to march, how never to give up.

A LESSON TO TEACH

This is what 
I would tell my sons:
“You came from 
an ancient people,
a heritage of poets
and tailors, or thieves
and blasphemers,
of callous men
and slaughtered children.
I would give you these books,
written by God, some have said,
although I am doubtful
but driven by Erato, without doubt.”

This is what 
I would tell my sons:
“I didn’t go to war —
there were so many options
and I chose one where
my feet would touch
only Texas mud,
where the only bullets
were quickly fired
on the rifle range.
I wasn’t one of the 56,000.
I didn’t come home
in a body bag.
But I do stop at the Wall
each time I visit D.C.
and say farewell
to those who did.”

This is what
I would tell my sons:
“You have never known
the hunger for a scrap of bread
pulled from a dumpster,
you have never
spent a night on a steam grate
hiding under yesterday’s
newspapers from
the rapidly falling snow.
You never stood
nervously at the waiting room
of a dingy clinic
waiting for a young,
uncaring doctor to announce
that antibiotics would likely
clear up the infection
but you should avoid
any form of sex
for a couple of weeks.”

This is what
I would tell my sons:
“You come from 
a heritage of poets.”

First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press 2008

WAR

I have yet to wander the medieval battlefields
of Europe and it increasingly seems I never will.
I have visited my share of castles in Ireland and Scotland,
but the acoustics there are not good, and I did not
hear the anguished cry of soldiers falling in battle,

I have seen rivers, quiet now, where the blood
of the vanquished must have flowed in this war
and that, for Europe is a place of wars,
the perpetual gameboard for the greedy
and those who imagine themselves emperors.

I come from a distant place, where three wars
on its soil was deemed sufficient, but who will
freely give others the wars they have grown
altogether too used to fighting, and we gladly
offer up our sons to aid in the combat so long
as we only receive their bodies in the dark of night.

And perhaps that is our failing, for we know
war well, but we keep ourselves clean, and marvel
at the destruction we will never know first hand.

MAY DAY

We marched for hours, going
nowhere really, but nowhere was
the point of the marching so we
achieved the goal the Air Force set.
We didn’t even think it odd
that they made us shave our heads,
so we’d all look like fools,
there was a war on and we
were in the military, so we
had already proven that point.
We were the smarter ones,
as it turned out, enlistees
who’d spend our time on bases
getting the pilots ready to fly
into the danger we knew
we had so carefully avoided,
and for us the greatest risk
appeared daily in the mess hall.

First published in As You Were, the Military Review, Vol. 13, 2020

TOZAN’S GOING BEYOND BUDDHA

The greatest speech
is given only
when the mouth
falls shut.
To talk of peace
is to be
at war with peace,
to speak of war
is to be at war.
When listening disappears
peace reemerges,
when peace emerges
the listener appears.

A reflection on Case 12 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo (The True Dharma Eye)