WORDS, WORDS, WORDS

We are, he is convinced,
devolving into verbal neanderthals,
losing are ability to recognize
the linguistic tools that once
set us apart from other species,
or at least so we assured ourselves.
She knows that what truly sets us
apart from other species is the arcane
skill we have at being able
to convince ourselves that
delusion, firmly held, is fact.
Still, she cannot disagree with him,
simplicity is a too close cousin
to inanity, and nuance is the first
relative to be cast out. And so
with ever fewer words, we seem
to have ever more to say,
and speaking endlessly, say ever less.

KAFKA

June 13, 1896, Prague
a warm day, old stone schul
you stood before the minyon
wearing the skullcap
repeating ancient words
that lay on paper, rehearsed
sounding false on a tongue
swollen in anxiety.
Your tallit, white
woven with blue threads
hung at your knees
fringe fingered, rolled
and unrolled, twisted
until touched to skin
words inscribed, etched
into collective memory.
Seventeen years later
sitting with Buber
did words come back
and stick on your tongue
and later still
when you studied
under Bentovim, did words
take form, shape, dredging
up a past kept suppressed
walking in desert heat
knowing salvation was
down a hill, entry forbidden.
Lying in your bed
in Hoffman’s Sanitorium,
the trees of Kierling blooming
did you recite Kaddish
as endless night engulfed you.


First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008) and reprinted in Legal Studies Forum Vol. 32, No. 1 (2008)

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A PEN FOR YOUR THOUGHTS

It has a certain heft
that says something substantial
lies within, waiting to be freed.
It glides easily, suggesting an
effortlessness you know is a tease,
that labor still waits.
Still, it does said comfortably,
is appealing to the eye,
has the deep jade green 
along its barrel, the knots interwoven
top and bottom that say what lies
within cannot be easily unraveled.
As you draw it across the page
you hope that somewhere in Neamh
old Robbie will look down on you,
smile and share a thought or two,
but that you know, is for another day.

WHEN I GROW UP

It has taken 67 years, but
I have finally arrived at what
I want to do and be when I
finally grow up, which should
happen any day now, but
please don’t hold your breath.

In this modern age, there is
an ever present and growing
need for euphemists, and I
am perfectly suited for it.

Just this month I could
have offered social distancing,
not to mention those who now
must shelter in place everywhere,
and I’m working on several more,
though I may no longer have time
on my hands, lest I somehow become
collateral damage, for I know if I did

I’d have to immediately wash them.

THE MIDDLE WAY

George Harrison said that if
you don’t know where you
are going, any road will
take you there, and on reflection
it was obvious he was correct..
Today, rising from the cushion,
the four vows recited, Buddha
put back on his small altar,
Harrison’s words echoed loudly
for he understood in a moment
what it has taken me years
to grasp, for all roads lead
to enlightenment if you
simply stop searching for it.
Somewhere the spirit
of our departed George
was laughing with me
in this moment.

ELEGY FOR A POET

(for Allen Ginsburg)
You died quietly in your bed
friends gathered around
the cars and buses of the city
clattering out a Kaddish
to a God you had long ago
dismissed as irrelevant.
We would have expected
your to howl, to decry
the unfairness of it all,
but you merely said
it is time, and slipped away.
Who gave you the right
to depart without leaving us
one last remonstration
against the insanity
that surrounds us, one last
censure of the fools
who we have so blindly chosen
to lead a generation
into a hell of our creation.
You had your peace
but what of us
left behind, what can we
look forward to
in your absence
save the words we know
so well, can recite by heart
that no longer beats
in your breast.


First appeared in Living Poets Vol. 2, No. 1, (U.K) 2001 and reprinted in Legal Studies Forum vol .30, Nos 1-2,  2006

A MISTAKE IN SPEAKING

When you speak the words
of the Buddha you are lost.
Light is everywhere in silence
but the tongue must hide
in the dark of the mouth.

Buddha’s words are flowers
unfolding in the dawn
by the side of the still pond,
the eyes hear the song
and respond in silent chorus.


A reflection on Case 39 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate Koans)

A MISTAKE IN SPEAKING 無門關 三十九

When you speak the words
of the Buddha you are lost.
Light is everywhere in silence
but the tongue must hide
in the dark of the mouth.

Buddha’s words are flowers
unfolding in the dawn
by the side of the still pond,
the eyes hear the song
and respond in silent chorus.


A reflection on case 39 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate)

WRITTEN ON WATER

Tomorrow this poem will
most assuredly no lnger be here,
though when during the night
it will slip away, never again
to be seen, I don’t know or perhaps it
will return in a form I would not recognize,
re-crafted by the hand of an unseen editor.

It may take on a meaning unfamiliar,
or translate itself into a tongue
that I can neither speak nor read,
or perhaps, most dreadedly, assume
the shape of prose, accreting words
until the embedded thought is bloated
and wholly unrecognizable.

Even if I tried to stop it, watched
carefully, it would no doubt
remind me that poems have a life
of their own once cast to paper
or pixels, and I am at best only
another editor or reader, and it
takes kindly on most days to neither.

ALONG THE WAY

They walk slowly, each step
measured as to both length and cadence.
The need not speak, they have
long been synchronous, now cannot
avoid being so without great effort.

They say nothing, words
have grown superfluous,
and would only interrupt
the slow procession
of the clouds, the ducks swimming
against the river’s flow, the birds
playing tag, each
claiming to be it in turn.
Each day they turn together,
at different spots
along the river walk, and
return home, amazed
at all that is different
on the journey back.