BEGGAR’S TALE

I speak clearly, concisely
in an ancient, long forgotten
tongue that none understand.

I tell my tale, leaving out
nothing, a summoner
in a deaf world, whispering

of coins, pulled from
an empty pocket and cast
at your feet, soundless.

I point to signs, lettered
in my careful hand, without
meaning, cryptic to you

You urge me to trust
in your god even as
you deny me my own

who sits by the gate
wrapped in rags, waiting
to for rain to melt the pillar.

First published in Glimpse, Issue 54, Fall 2021

DAITSU CHISHO BUDDHA 無門關 九

Twenty thousand generations
a hundred
hundred lives
the briefest moment
in being, there is
no becoming, no leaving

and nothing is attained
for there is no need
of attainment, Seijo
whispered to
no one.

A reflection on Case 9 of the Mumonkan (The Gateless Gate Koans)

A VISIT

I’ve always imagined that one of these nights
I’d see my mother’s ghost. I would welcome the sight
welcome she that bore me, not she that stepped in
in a way,absolving my birth mother of her sin,
while assuming adopting me would make her complete.

She hasn’t visited yet, neither has done so,
but I hold out hope, it is after all the last to go,
and I do hear her voice, faint and all too distant,
sounding very much like my own one instant
and then no more than a faint whisper in retreat.

I don’t need a long conversation, a few words would
more than suffice, but some at least, a child should
in advancing age hear the sound of a mother’s voice,
if only to find solace in the fact that her choice
to yield the child was made from love not defeat.

WHISPERED SONG

“Oh, Woman who walks in beauty like the night
I am a friend who is distant and silent.” — Dineh Wind Prayer

We always sat
on the back bench seat
of the Collins Avenue bus,
stared out the big window,
noses pressed
against the cool glass,
stared at the procession
of stucco hotels,
simple neon signs,
lines of cars and
bathing suits.
My mother working
late into the night and
Beck, eternal friend
who buried her children
only to become a surrogate
mother to an orphaned son.

Beck would stroke
my forehead. At night
when the room was lit
by lightning, she cradled me
shielding my eyes
with sagging breasts
that had nursed three
daughters into womanhood,
later into the grave.

Beck whispered to me
in a mother’s voice —
my mother spoke
in another voice. I
stroked her wattled arms
watching the pouch
of skin swing gently.
Looking at my mother now
it is often Beck’s lips I imagine
kissing my cheek, “Aunt”
Beck, and not my mother
who still casts
disapproving glances
at failed attempts
at machismo, Beck’s
sparse gray hair
that rests on my shoulder.

I was Beck’s last
surviving child
a fourth daughter.
I am the last
to say Kaddish
to remember her
at Yizkor.

In the early morning
mirror, my eyes slowly
ceding sleep, my lover’s
sweat still beaded on
my arm, her taste lingering,
I see my beard fall away,
my skin is smooth, childlike,
my chest hair fades
replaced by nascent breasts,
testicles recede, hair grows
long, auburn, Beck’s face
as it once had been,
as it appeared
in the faded photographs,
stares back at me.

I am mute, wanting
her to draw me against
her shoulder, to make me
again – for a moment –
the fourth daughter
and not the son
she never had.
Next week I will go
to the aging schul,
I will sit among
the women, away
from dovening men, head
covered by the tallit.
I will sing
Kaddish to her.


First Appeared in Vent, Issue 1, 2003.

ROAD DREAM

It’s 12 degrees
the night air
slices through
my sweater
my teeth chatter.
Standing in the lot
fetching my cell phone
from the glove box
my breath congeals
around my face
a cloud.
I look up
at the moon
snowflakes dancing
on my forehead.
Luna’s face
is shrouded
by a cirrus veil,
but her eyes
are yours
her lips soft
caressing
curl upwards
in a smile
as yours.
I tell her
of my love
and she whispers
her love
reflectively
in the voice
I hear
as I curl
next to your picture
slipping slowly
into sleep.

ERATO PREFERS LATTE

My muse sits quietly
on the shelf over the counter
in the Café Espresso
at Barnes and Noble

nestled between 12 ounce bags
of Colombian Supremo and Kenya AA,
in the shadow of the plant
whose leaves reach out
to caress her cheek.
She whispers to me
between notes from the guitarist
performing on the edge
of the Music Department
hawking his new CD
to an audience there more
for the coffee and tea.
The philodendron scandens
nods approvingly
as I carefully tuck her
into the pouch
of my fleece jacket
for the long drive home.

IN DREAMS

Mingling with the wind,
my dreams are carried off
into the night before I have
fully finished viewing them.
The heavy heat of summer
has seeps through the windows,
a blanket I cannot throw off
almost smothering, until
it, too, is soon washed
away by the rivulets of sweat
soaking into the sheets.
I reach out for my fleeting
dreams, try to pull them back.
But the wind laughs, whispers,
“I am beyond your control
and what I steal belongs to all
but he from whom I took it,
but I leave you other dreams
from other dreamers in its stead.”