EMERGENT

When I least expect it, one
may unfurl wings and lift
into a clouded sky searching
for the hidden sun, or

it may wander off, a child
momentarily free of parents
off to discover the real world, or

it may retreat back into
the pen, unwilling to be seen,
objecting to its misuse, or

it may sit in front of the TV
and watch soap operas
and game shows, not caring
what is on the screen, just
escaping from the damned page, or

it may sit still, be tucked away
and hope one day to be accepted
for all the world to see.

XIANGYAN’S GREAT ENLIGHTENMENT

Tell me, the master said
what did you know
of the world
before you first
had words.
If this perplexes you
ask the infant, newborn
in his tears and smiles
all of Dharma
is laid out
before you.

A reflection on Case 10 of the Shobogenzo Koans (Dogen’s True Dharma Eye)

THE GRADUATE

You really ought to pause
and wonder just how different
the world might be today
if in that crucial moment
things had gone in
a wholly different direction.

A single moment can
set the course for all
of the moments that follow,
a definite future plucked
from an infinite array
of possibilities.

I mean, of course,
that moment when
Mr. McGuire, in the guise
of Walter Brooke turns
to Benjamin Braddock,
for what if he had said
“I want to say just one
word to you: Ecology”
and when asked what
he meant, he would add
“There’s a great future
in ecology. Think about it.”

FRUITED PLAINS

As I was cutting up our breakfast
fruit this morning, the name Lynette
“Squeaky” Fromme came to mind.

I would have thought it would be
Cesar Chavez, given half the fruit
was from California, and I had no thought
of Gerald Ford or any Republican President,
never before at least one full cup of coffee
and generally not even then, but there she was.

There was no reason for it, nothing squeaked,
I hadn’t seen the new movie loosely
about Charles Manson, and I couldn’t
picture her face, which is just as well,
but there her name was and I have spent
the better part of the day musing on why,
in what is already an upside-down world,
a world where we have as much to fear
from our leaders as our enemies, and
it is ever harder to tell which is who,
yet she came to mind, and I have to conclude,
before the whole day is wasted in the effort,
that it had something to do with mangoes.

First Published in Barzakh, A Literary Magazine, Winter 2022
https://www.barzakhmag.net/winter-2022

JUSTICE

The Rabbi always said that
the highest form of justice
would be to teach a man to fish,
rather than to donate fish to him.

The Rabbi in question is now
long dead, and in so many places
teaching a man to fish will only
enable him to poison his family.

We have laid waste to ouir world
assuming someone will clean it up
for us, and we do throw money
as our attempt at atonement.

So perhaps we should give
out brooms, and hope for the best.

FOR A MOMENT

The cat takes her time,
carefully considers on which side
she will flop down so that I
can rub her stomach.

She says she allows me
to do this so I feel that I
have some role to play
in her life, validation she says.

She will kick me with
her hind legs when we
are done, “call you again
in an hour” she says in parting.

I cannot complain for I
do live in her house and it is
an honor to be admitted fully
into her world, if only for moments.

ARISING

It is far too early to think about that,
although many would say
it is already far too late.

That is the conundrum
in which we find ourselves,
defining our options, drawing
political lines that are
not dare crossed unless you
accept there can be no return.

And those who say it’s
too early, it can wait, must hope
that they can emulate
the Phoenix when they
have turned this world to ash.

SUDDENLY MORTAL

I now struggle to remember just when
my childhood suddenly ended, when
I became mortal, and the childhood fears
were replaced by those of the real world.

It might have been watching the news,
the planes at Dover disgorging coffin
after coffin, each neatly flag draped until
the flag became a symbol only of death.

It might have been the first time a kid
on the playground at school called me
Jewboy and asked why I didn’t also
perish in the ovens with my Polish kin.

It might have been as they wheeled me
into the operating room, my fever 105
unsure of what they would find, I then
unsure I would be alive to learn about it.

It might have been that as an adoptee
I knew I never had the childhood
of my natural born siblings, I always
the outsider, mom’s words notwithstanding.

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

HELL DONE OVER

My ultimate goal, never to be achieved
is to redesign hell and all of its circles
to better reflect the world we live in now.

Of course I’d need two circles for
politicians, one for each major party,
and independents get to choose.

Catholic priests, minister and rabbis
who abused members of their flocks
get a circle of their own with the movie

Dogma playing in an endless loop.
There would be all the usual circles
for the those whose lives fell short

and one for Buddhists. Imagine
a run down Motel 6 in the worst possible
neighborhood, since they will only

stay until their reincarnation as
something truly ghastly and detested.
Those would be my desirables, but

the one certainty, the absolute is
the worst of all, set aside for those
who spent untold hours toiling

to write catchy but ever so vapid, cloying
melodies and lyrics that become stuck
in your mind like an intractable fungus.

First Published in AGON Journal, Issue 0, 2021