NANSEN CUTS A CAT

You are a searcher, you
look for answers, you look
for the right path
that will lead you
to enlightenment.

You see everything
as black or white, good
or bad, right or wrong.
You are a master
at division.

Stop searching, stop
seeking answers, stop
dividing, then sit
with Nansen’s cat.
That will be enough.

A reflection on case 8 of the Book of Equanimity

SURGERY

Preparing it to undergo
the knife, its core excised,
stem cast aside, sliced
then cut into pieces
I pause to consider that
this pear was once
a blossom, a delicate
white flower, its cranberry
red anthes soon to turn
black, picked carefully,
cradled into a bushel,
by a knowing hand,
washed, and gently
packed for shipment.
For me it was just
plucking it from the bin
at the market, holding
it in the harsh lighting
looking for blemishes,
and then placing it
in the cart, then the bag
hoping it would not
bruise before undergoing
its final surgery.

LIONEL HAMPTON AND THE GOLDEN MEN OF JAZZ

Blue Note, pardon
our construction
black painted
plasterboard
a hanging
air conditioning duct.

Grady Tate
sneering at the skins
growling at a high hat
hands shifting
deftly reaching in
picking a beat
and sliding it
over the crowd.

Jimmy Woode
blind to the lights
slides his fingers
over strings
and talks to the bass
resting on his shoulder.
It sings back
begging , pleading
demanding as his head
sways with an inner vision.

Junior Mance
sways slowly fingers
tentative on ivory plates
crawling through the alley
scurrying for cover
and strutting down Broadway
ablaze in neon
dancing through Harlem
and sliding into the East River.

Pete Candoli
white against the night
smiles as his horn
cries out, a siren
piercing the dark
reaching up grabbing
your throat, throttling
then caressing your face
until you fall
into your seat, spent.

Harry “Sweets” Edison
wrinkled jowls suck in
the city, smooth ebony balloon
shouting from balconies
to revelers below
and mourning a love,
crying in the streets
dashing out of a basement
flat, a child crying
mother screaming in birth
a young man
groaning in orgasm.

Benny Golson
hair tied back
swaying, runs up the stairs
pauses, and leaps out
into the air
and flies off
laughing at the city
huddled below
its collar turned
against the wind
off the river.

Frank Foster
sits on the stool
and strokes
his sax, coaxing it
peering out around
a corner, slipping inside
then running down the street
dancing between taxis,
then striding down
Bourbon Street
the pall bearers
strutting behind.

Al Grey, stands
arm waving, a manic
conductor, it whispers
beckoning, then hums
droning, then slowly
it moves the fan
giving a glimpse
dragging the boa
drawing all eyes
as she passes into the wings
sticking her head out
smiling at the cheers.

Hampton leans
on the vibraphone
seeking balance,
and old man bent
from age, lost amid children.
Mallets slowly rise and fall
gaining speed
rushing out
glissando of sound
his hands flashing
the crowd rises
and there comes
silence.

First Appeared in Pointed Circle, Issue 15, 1999.

NO BIALYS TODAY

No one looked up when the Buddha
walked into the deli and took a seat
at the counter, “Pastrami on rye, and
lean, with mustard on the side, and two
slices of full dill and a side of slaw.”

As he sipped the Dr. Brown’s Cream
Soda, the waitress smiled at him,
asked, “Are those robes comfortable,
winter isn’t all that far off, you know.”

Buddha smiled, and with a serene calm
said, “It all depends on what you wear
beneath, I prefer a silk-cotton blend,
but some I know want only organics.”

As he finished, a younger, swarthy
man entered, his robes bleached white
from the sun, his dark hair long,
sandals worn down, and came
over to Buddha, sat down with
a nod to the waitress, and instantly
a corned beef on pumpernickel
appeared, at which point Buddha
muttered “Christ, how do you do that?”

First published in Bengaluru Review: Spring, 2021
https://bengalurureview.com/bengaluru-review-spring-2021

PLAYERS

Last night the actors
trod the boards
carrying us on their backs.
This wasn’t Pittsburgh
but we believed it so.
We’ve never been to the Hill
but we walked its blighted streets.
In the mirror we are white,
but not last evening.
He is five years dead
but last night
August Wilson escorted us
to a place
we had never imagined,
and we were all
too glad to visit.

COLORS

We hunted him as a trophy
stag across his fields.
We called him red man,
color of Ares, gods
sacrificed on our altar.
His rivers run with his spirit.

I am white
bereft of color,
barren, a glare,
a dessert stripped of life.
It is I who wears
Cain’s mark, plucked
from the garden
the sweet taste fades.
My lips are dry.

You are black
an amalgam, green
of the grasses in summer field,
orange of sun
singing an ocean,
surf ablaze, blue
of a crystal sky,
purple of robes
of Nubian kings,
brown of the soil
fertile and yielding.
Your eyes see all.


First published in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press, 2008