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Recent Poems by Dr David

 

 

Section 1
Section 2
Section 3
Section 4
Section 5
Section 6
Section 7

 

Section 1

 

olfaction

walking the warm, quiet asphalt
behind a busy shopping plaza
the scent of a restaurant’s wood-fired oven
speaks of Guatemala
of tortillas griddled
in mornings still wet with dew
of mayan back lanes
in a highland village
nestled along the lake
where volcanoes meet the shore

smell
the most compelling sense
conjures away the decades and the miles
enchants this suburban backlot
with youthful reveries
of some exotic land.
and I am happy to breath it in
to find the adventure
this time
so close to home.




starlings

listening to people speak
I am happy with my silence
hearing teachers teach
I am content not knowing

a flock of starlings
several thousand strong
arrives in waves
a black flood
filling the great lawn
squawking and foraging
fluttering about
until
on cue
they rise into leafless trees
then fly away
their massed silhouettes
beautiful on the green
poetry on-wing against the blue
but, oh, what a racket




morning meditation

pulling out ear plugs
the whirr of the refrigerator
asserts itself
the scuffing of feet
becomes manifest
unamplified
the nuances of breath passing through larynx
are lost

sitting on this pillow
opening my eyes
I see that the sun has found its way
between the shades
to the kitchen counter
like a hungry guest rummaging for food

my own stomach is quiet and empty
my mind almost so
neither in a hurry to begin the day




communication

yesterday morning
mostly before dawn
it snowed
a lot for early december in connecticut
towards evening the wind came up
night brought lightning and thunder
then it got cold
today the sun shines
the phones haven't worked in twenty-four hours
communication around here never was very good




compensation

greatness eludes me
as does importance, success and significance
I was significant for a while
and also had a taste of success
and to a daughter
when she was young
and to a sister
when we were young
I even was important
somewhere a few
may now and then recall
the difference I made in their lives
but memories fade
as have my dreams of greatness

I would that I could
love better and more
but love is an art
like moving silently through dense brush
which cannot be acquired much after childhood
and things were noisy at home

I do have some wisdom
but it is a lonely sort
hard to share
and it comforts me now
in a round-about way
whispering in my ear
that all this failure
might yet have a silver lining
that humility might yet be
better compensation
than the self I would have created

I remember my old man
cynically self-contained upon the couch
I recall pete advising
"forget about saving the world and save yourself"
I think of buddha's last words
"work out your own salvation diligently"
still I wish there was someone who cared




channukah

days grow shorter
rain will turn to ice tonight
already this late afternoon
drops congeal on naked branches
growing fat and long
attaining mass and shapes
impossible for water in its fluid state

the snow which changed
late autumn into early winter
lies upon the ground
one week now
growing heavy with rain

here and there mist appears
the cooling air unable to conceal
its burden of moisture
that which was invisible approaches form

shadows fill the atmosphere
swirling
darkening like tea brewing in a glass
night, confident in its season
unhurriedly asserts its dominion

we pull down the blinds
and light candles
anticipating renewal
but now is all of loss




complaining

that the past might have been better
or the future might be worse
that the present is not as good
as what was or will be
that this might be right
or that must be wrong
all of this is at once
the problem and the solution

you have made it all
why are you complaining?




get used to it

just
get used to being hungry
to being empty
to not having
and doing without

understand that you don't know
and don't understand

realize you are irrelevant
unimportant
or wrong

feel your fear

experience the hurt
breathe into the wound

own the jealousy and anger
the humility and surprise
be open to loss

pain is not punishment
pleasure not reward

start where you are
quiet and still
just being




pus

"do you want me to take my head off?"
my eighty-eight year old mother asks me
then gets mad
when I don't answer promptly
amusedly bewildered
by the implications of her question
literal and absurd.
her left arm out of its sleeve
her tee shirt bunched up between shoulder and neck
covering the sore on her back
I see that the answer is "yes".
it started out as a dry, impacted pimple
a deep whitehead
then inflamed into a broad cone
a sensitive, pusy volcano
yet to erupt.
she's had them before
and just like now
waited too long to tell me

the first few pin pricks make her scream
and cry
and angry at me for hurting her
the milky, green-tinged fluid oozing out
more so under each of my tenuously ventured presses
press, scream, tears, rebuke
"it has to be done"
press, tears, scream, castigation
"it's this or going to the hospital."
in the hospital there would be anesthesia
and trimming and maybe cutting
and maybe a staph infection afterward.
if at all possible
we stay away
from lawyers, doctors, calling the police and hospitals
still she can't stand much of this
it hurts and she's a baby about pain

the next day
the mound is shrunken
but the pin still pricks
I tell her she can yell and moan, but not scream
no matter how much it hurts
it's too much
over the top
and I worry about the neighbors
I decide that a couple big squeezes are
more merciful and effective
than a dozen small ones
"stop!, stop!" mom commands
unclean liquid squirting between my fingers
but she doesn't scream
she does make a lot of noise
crying and carrying on
so that she can't catch her breath
except to bitterly complaining about me

the inflamed area is smaller the third day
the center of the taut tent of skin is dead
insensitive to pain
so I pierce it repeatedly with the pin
pus flowing out the holes as I poke
then give it one big steady squeeze
she fights me off
wailing
if I were where she could hit me
she would.
only reluctantly
in time
she allows me to wipe up the sickly green flood

the next day there is a crater instead of a dome
a plug of thick pus fills its rim
it won't wash out
protesting even the drops of water
mom won't let me touch it

the next day she will
and I see that beneath the plug there is more pus
relieved of pressure and stretch
the sore is less sensitive each day
when I squeeze now
a stream of gelatinous pus erupts from the hole
leaping out like a tiny snake
coiling itself mid-air
like a shamanistic exorcism
before landing on the seat of her chair
there is nearly a tablespoon full of it
I pick it up and leave it on a tissue on the table for her to consider
hoping to mitigate the violence of her imprecations
it'll take a few more days of draining and squeezing
but that ought to be the worst of it

the worst of it for me is taking care of someone who is deeply resentful
especially about her need to be taken care of
trying to please someone who wants to complain
and does
about everything
swearing like a sailor first thing out of bed.
the pus I can handle
causing pain to my mother
even necessary, therapeutic pain
is hard
made harder by her utter lack of stoicism
but the worst of it for me
is her blaming me
for neglecting her
for not caring
even as I am serving her
or this time
for hurting her
as I am healing
for making things worse
when I am making them better.
I sit down across the table
with tears in my eyes
mourning the relationship I never had with her
insisting, "I'm only trying to help
I am a blessing in your life
it's only that you're not ready for such a blessing"
and she's not and wasn't when I was born either
or when I was a child
but at least now I know it's not my fault,
that I am a good son
even if she's not a good mother




let there be light

"he wraps himself with light as with a garment" psalm 104:2

the world is created by ten utterances
so the rabbis say
and by rearranging those letters and sounds
the kabbalists assert
we can change the natural order,
and it seems we do
creating,
knowingly or not
with or without skill,
our own reality

it is
as mr bermon suggested in high school buddhism
rearranging a cliche himself
not "I'll believe it when I see it"
but "I'll see it when I believe it"
and if there is not one truth but many
language and belief
the matrices of multiple worlds
the dogma in all their diversity might coexist
like the answer to a zen koan
mystics and medicine men
shamans and rebbes
pagans and popes
nuclear physicists and pythagorean

what we believe is true
is true
if there is enough in us and it
the artist and the artisan
by depth and breadth of craft
live in worlds we only glimpse
through the fruit of their doing

in the beginning
the bible tells us
before there are any words
human or divine
the world is "formless and void".
later we weave stories
to cover our nakedness
and make pants
to put on god




sneezing

everyone is just waiting to sneeze
neurological blackout
brain and senses shutting down
body losing control
a gap, a pause, an interruption
a tiny holiday from self
what a relief

snuff was used in olden days to stimulate the event
and people
thinking the sudden expiration of breath and thought
was the soul going out
blessed each other at that dangerous hiatus

it may be so
something eerie happens
a change of state
like diving below the surface of a lake
or stepping through a mirror

the brightness of light nurses my urge
staring wide-eyed at a lamp
or overcast smile
all else held in abeyance
the potential builds
my nose starts to tickle
and then
the blessed release
for one brief instant the world disappears.
in that violent spasm
perfect calm




count to ten

focus-relax-focus
not focus-focus-focus

give up the frontal assault
in favor of a strategic retreat

some things,
other parts of your brain
other parts of your world
other people,
need quiet to make themselves heard

take a break
count to ten
or one hundred and ten
go for a walk
things have a way of resolving themselves
when you stop and have a cup of tea




sunday

four inches of snow last night
no paper delivered this morning
high-spirited in general
I am hopeful regarding the newspaper




mumbles

sitting zazen in the bathroom
through earplugs
I hear in the other room
mother complaining
about the technique of men clearing snow

maybe she has not noticed my absence
that no one is listening
perhaps
used to living alone
she is just talking to herself

neither trying nor not trying to understand
through plugs of foam and an intervening door
her words
unintelligible, animated mumbles
sound to me like one hand clapping




a good news day

today she did not complain
that there were too many shopping circulars in the newspaper
or that there were too few
she did not angrily read aloud the weather report
as if it were a prosecutorial accusation
recounting a crime against society
she did not attempt to share with me
some particularly gruesome example of human cruelty
from its pages
the paper was no doubt again too thin
as usual there were too many ads
but she felt no need to comment upon these indignities
no disgust was expressed toward the sports page
no ridicule at the editor's choice of photos
out the window nothing has aroused her wrath
inside no offenses have been reported
so far the news is all good




all quiet

this morning all is quiet
sun shines brightly off the snow
wind billows the flag
tea steams merrily in its cup
everything is different
and yet it is the same
the orchid's last blossom opened today
it has been blooming for months




insistence

here at the close of her ninth decade
my mother has gotten worse
more isolated
a caricature of complaint
she overwhelms everyone with her bitterness
family doesn’t visit
friends are nonexistent
house-keepers quit
often after a single visit.
she gets angry at trifles
inanimate objects
the weather
news stories
imagined discourtesies
people out the window
and often at my efforts to help.
dad used to say
“you have to make her think that she thought of it”
but more and more she is lost in her own logic
today it was over the water she boils three minutes
in a misguided attempt to prevent swine flu
regularly forgetting it on the stove
until half the pot has boiled away
and even then
doesn’t take my word that it’s been long enough
angrily restarting the process when she finds I’ve turned it off.
today we marked the time the boil began
and when
four minutes late
I announced completion
she exploded
yelling, “goddamit”
and banged the table
I retreat to my seat
but she kept it up
exaggerating, “I’m always wrong,; I never do anything right”
invoking irrelevancies
“I’m always moping the counters”
inventing misery
sticking to the point as I dressed to leave
I repeated
“all I did was tell you that the water had boiled for three minutes
and you got mad”
she was crying
pitying herself as I went out the door.
taking refuge across the street in the public library
where I sat and wrote
“the comfort pretending you can make a difference
produces the anxiety of knowing you haven’t”
and other laments on trying and failing

returning to mom’s
when hunger and sympathy had gotten the best of me
the old lady surprised me
apologizing sweetly and articulately
“I don’t think we should let these things come between us.
I’m sorry I got mad.
I’ll make a real effort not to do it again”
I stroked her and gave her kisses
and not expecting the miracle to last
suggested
“you’re going to get angry
just don’t stay that way”

just now as I write these words she passes with her walker
to exchange kisses on her way to bed
and says about my intervening legs
“put them down or I’ll chop them off”
then laughs
“you’re a real fighter” I retort
“that’s what you think”
she replies
refusing to agree

sometimes all you can do is walk away and admit failure
my insisting on my way is no better than her insisting on hers
giving up opens new possibilities of success




Back to top

 

2

 

happy landing

“you didn’t touch us enough when we were kids”
I said
and thought from the indignant scowl across my mother’s face
that perhaps I was wrong
still my body knew better
and one week later
she tearfully admitted
“I know I didn’t touch you enough when you were young,
but that doesn’t mean I didn’t love you”
unfortunately
to the child
that is its most direct, visceral meaning
at best it was a frail deficient love
crippled
inadequate to fill the hollow of the heart
or the empty catch in my belly.
I looked to feed that hunger
the desperate need to touch and be felt
to know and be known
in the intimate, biblical sense
and made a fool of myself and others
because I expected
as I had learned
that closeness involved difficulty
that love was about
trying to have a relationship with a woman
who wasn’t open to relationships
so I turned away from ease
and left when things were good
and if they could hear me know
I would apologize
to the good women who offered love
when I couldn’t receive
what I needed most

at least know I’m learning
when to stop trying
that not everything is remediable to my ministrations
that people need to be allowed
to make their own mistakes
myself included

my maternal archetype rehabilitated
more lovable and more loving
less anxious and needy
I am friendlier to others and self
my relationships with mother, ex-wife and girlfriend
all improve
it’s a pleasure to be here now
but it sure was a hell of a ride




learning

students all away
the hall is quiet
simple profundity
along the southern wall
plants bathe in sunshine
leaves patiently turning towards the light




fourth reich

adolf couldn’t think of anything to do with people
but kill them
his weird nazi doctors
welcomed warmly by the west
had more modern ideas.
we are all being farmed for our labor
kept like animals on bread and circus

realize that your thoughts are already under their control
along with your purse
turn of the television
shut down virtual reality
try to imagine what it meant to be human
before technology’s seduction
open the window
go out the door
say hello to strangers
write a letter with pen and paper
cook a meal from scratch
play a game with a child
take a walk
be patient
after a while your tastes will change.
like a tongue rendered insensitive from too much salt
the fault is not in the food
the flavor is there, but you are not
visualize the world as alive
see soul everywhere
resist the commodification of life
revolt against this genocidal economy!




weather report

last night it rained
this morning the sky was grey
ground fog floating above
sodden earth and melting snow
this afternoon the sun came out
blue sky eventually vanquishing the overcast
tonight stars shine brightly around a half moon

the atmosphere has its moods
I am to be forgiven mine




rolling away

they rolled sarah away today from her home at fellowship housing
covered by a black drape with a silver star of david
at first
seeing police by her door
conditioned by experience
I expected an ambulance crew
to roll her out on a stretcher
I watched
curious and concerned
dressing for the cold
alerting my mother
as two civilians emerged with a gurney between them
holding down a dark cover
lifted by the wind
not strapped down as the medicals do
not the way to wrap the ill
I knew then she was gone
“she’s dead”
I announced
interrupting my mother’s speculations
twice
to get the point through.

outside
half-dressed
I stopped after a few steps
seeing the procession headed our way
recognizing the undertaker
as they came close
I asked him by name
“lenny, is that sarah?”
“yes”
baruch dayan emes,*” I intoned, submitting to god’s will
“when did she go?”
“they just called me an hour ago”
“I’m sorry,” he offered
and I believe he was

a little old lady
she used to walk by twice each week
not much taller than the shopping cart she pushed back from the store
or we’d see her making her rounds across the quad
naked legs under her half-buttoned coat
to friends or laundry or taking the trash
she was always busy
always talking
she’d knock on the window and wave hello
but refuse an invitation to come in
“I’m busy”
well, she’s not busy anymore
I made time to walk her home
to admire the photographs that proved her youthful beauty
to chat and wish her good shabbos**
when I saw her then
and gud yontif***
when the holidays came
the cold moon
shines pale and full
eastward in the sky
the flag snaps fiercely in the wind
its colors catching the setting sun
two days left in December
the world keeps spinning
years rolling away

I’ll say kaddish for your soul
shayna soara****


---
*blessed is the True Judge
**Sabbath
***happy holiday
****pretty sarah




blindness

special sensitivity results from deprivation
at least in the realm of the senses
blind musicians and poets
are compensated by the gods
with song,
lack of eyesight favors musical genius.
the brain’s visual cortex
deprived of its usual input
devotes itself to perfecting other senses and abilities

similarly
neurological development
occurs at the expense of more primitive, essential functions
language compromises perception
and more
as the left hemisphere comes to dominate the right
and without that domination
wonders may occur
the savant’s idiocy
often involves language
and its neurological roots

free of this
that may flower
loss and gain
new worlds open to replace the old
what’s helping us?
what’s hurting us?
who knows?




beginner’s mind

it is all a matter of convenience
a manner of speaking
or understanding
a way of putting things
into thought, feeling or words
but not the thing itself
a method of maintaining our dialogue
inner or outer
a device
enabling the placing of one foot in front of the other
keeping on
allowing us to proceed with a reasonable degree of certainty
or at least the illusion of such
something cobbled together
the present remembered
recalled, remixed
creative
if only in the most routine way.
the brain compounds its strange amalgams
conglomerating memory, imagination and perception
into an approximation of reality
elements vying and yielding
according to prejudice, preference and style
but what of the moment itself?
the elusive essence?

there is an advantage to knowing you don’t know
the recognition of ignorance
is better than its bliss
start here
the mind you are so afraid to change
was never yours to begin with




grow your own

we are all starving
an apple today
at the close of the millennium’s first decade
is seven times poorer
than it was thirty years ago
halfway through the last century
government studies show
the soils were already severely depleted.
that we are not as robust
in body or mind
as our parents were
has much to do with the health of our food
you can taste its poverty
the micronutrient deficiencies
gone the metallic salts with their subtle flavors
ah, molybdenum
oh, manganese
zinc, boron, vanadium
wherefore art thou, oh, chromium
agribusiness is happy with its bushel and tonnage
the big heavy vegetables grown chemically
with nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium alone
animal feed is empty
and so is the meat you eat
and that is why now farmed salmon is white
before they color it
the old folks think it’s their taste buds going
the young never knew
chicken is supposed to have flavor
before the sauce
when mom cooked broccoli
you knew it when you walked in the house

your kid doesn’t have enough minerals in his brain to carry a thought
your immune system
is running at less than half speed
nutritional supplements only help a bit
commercial ones, not at all
tear up your lawn and plant a garden
compost your waste and spread it on
find a community garden or rooftop in the city
grow your own
support community supported agriculture




death wish

people die of alcohol-fueled stupidity every day
drunken burroughs
shots his drunken wife
playing william tell
a few inches low at close range
cassady expires shit-faced alongside a train track in the cold Mexican night
kerouac succumbs to alcoholism at forty-seven.
the stuff of legends
glamorous only when it’s not your life
hypothermia, cirrhosis, a bullet in the brain
living without rules
brings you up against sobering biological imperatives
I have seen such recklessness
and it scares me




harbinger

the first spring flower
here in new England
is neither pretty nor sweet
skunk cabbage
producing its own heat
melts icy mash soil
a then a way up through the snow
first unfurling bright green leaves
and then
a stinking purplish flower

our love is like the early spring
asleep beneath the snow
which stirs inside the first green thing
and makes it upward grow.
as herald now of all to bloom
in springtime’s warmer hours
more welcome is the strange perfume
of purple stinking flowers



if god?

if god,
then what?




p.k.d.

master science fiction writer
philip k dick
having created a great number of alternative universes
in his large opus
spent a long time wondering
especially as he approached the end
which one was real.
if you were an extra-terrestrial intelligence
trying to prepare the denizens
of earth
for the next cosmic developmental leap
you might settle on
the amphetamine-addled consciousness of a prolific writer of fantasy in berkeley, california
as your vehicle

consensus reality
the common delusion
seemed to him a particularly poor candidate
it was
and is
a trash culture
nothing made to last
everything disposable
consumer goods, music, entertainment, friendship, marriage partners
Californian instant intimacy
with no messy follow up
trade it in
throw it away
crumbling, fake, degraded
disneyland, hollywood, television
phony
airbrushed like the models in the magazines
made to look at
not to touch
like a boob job
the whole act of consumption corrupted
transformed from the natural function of living things
into the sacrament of a post-war economy
determined to stay white hot
to convert as much as possible
of the earth’s resources and beauty into cash
the men who slaughtered the buffalo
are still at the wheel
the technology that brought you auschvitz
is alive and well
life as a product
a disposable product
the commodification of reality
exchange value
everyone has their price
“if god manifested himself to us,” dick asserted,
“he would do so as a product advertised on tv”

his work was and is remarkably predictive
especially about the dark side of technology
the government was out to get him
fifties anti-communists
Nixon-era paranoiacs
today super computers at the nsa
listen and watch us all
he was right about the corrupt power elite malevolently profiting
big government, big medicine, agribusiness, wall street
consuming our health and freedom
trashing the planet
trash culture consuming us all.
dick, skating on the edge of madness
regularly falling through the ice,
gives us a truer picture of reality
than our media masters

a religious man
a church-going christian
at least later in life
a student of mysticism
his ideas reflect the gnostic doctrine
of a higher god
trying to fix for us
mistakes made by the creator
v.a.l.i.s. dick christened it
in his last novel save one
“vast, active living intelligent system”
leaving clues for us
setting up moments of revelation significant incongruities
meaningful coincidences
beams of light to the brain
well, that’s the way dick saw it
coming more and more to believe in the true faith
just beyond his understanding
too many stories
too many pills
or not enough
a benevolent deity leaking truths
to a drugged up science fiction writer
in the san francisco bay area?
well, why not?
you could do worse if you were god
and, who knows
maybe you are

dick’s obsession with parallel dimensions
duplicate realities
had something to do with the loss of his twin
born to a depression-era mother
without quite enough resources
she died at six weeks
he lasted another fifty-three years
carrying on a dialogue with her throughout his life
although
in it
she was the one who was born
and he was carried
blind and stunted
inside her.
now they lie next to each other
sharing a stone in the family plot in Colorado
or maybe
he was born fifty-three years late
into the more perfect world she found much earlier
perhaps together they soar
one with dick’s satellite god
orbiting earth
benevolently sending down signals
who knows?
stranger things have happened




forecast

it’s been snowing all year
on and of for four days
since new year’s eve
never very hard for very long
fat flakes or skinny
placidly meandering
or gusting on the wind
blowing off roof
in small wisps or large plumes
kicking up in clouds
where it has collected
on lawns and walks

the atmosphere revealed
proves chaotic
massively roiling
even the gentlest breeze is wholly turbulent
only when it is invisible
can we imagine any order at all
defying analysis
its moods unpredictable at best
we are left with only
our poor probabilities




hieroglyphics

the wind paints hieroglyphs,
blowing snow into strange forms
on the roof across the way.

where’s an egyptologist when you need one?




Back to top

 

Section 3

 

unsolved

it will not be solved

nor will it remain a problem
it does not go away
nor does it stay
from the self’s perspective
disease is the difficulty
but from the vantage of the disease
the problem is self

earlier today the sun came out
now the clouds return
where is the cause of tears?




hieroglyphics

every morning she complains her hands are cold
when I advise
“put on a long-sleeve shirt beneath your sweater”
she objects
“it’s my hands that are cold, not my body”
today
shirt in hand
I patiently but firmly explained
over her angry sputtering
“now mother, everyone knows putting on more clothes makes you warmer”
she agrees to try
if the gloves don’t work

two nights ago my composure cracked
already stretched thin by my girlfriend
and I yelled at mom to leave me alone
and when she didn’t
I yelled more
and she cried and yelled back
and I went for a walk in the snow
and could have cried
but it was too cold

still today’s suggestion regarding the shirt
was more acceptable
because of the other night’s anger.
patience and impatience depend on each other
one doesn’t work without the other




dreaming
the poor dream of wealth
orphans dream of love
hungry people dream of food,
but fat, pampered, rich ones
are not happy either.
through these veils of hope and fear
the light of awareness shines,
follow it



begging
it is neither good nor bad
the importance you confer on it is accidental
deprivation or surfeit are beside the point
if I run out of paper
I will write on bark
when I run out of breath
the story is over.
you are like a person
sitting on a lake bottom
begging for water




sloughing

sprouting seed sloughs its coat
transforming itself into new growth
infant becomes child becomes adult
nothing lingers
and that’s as it should be
to meet the present unconstrained and now
is challenge enough
relying on ghosts is a mistake
what can be accomplished by fixing the past?
the dead are not amenable tor rectification,
leave them an offering
and get on with your life,
we’ve had one hundred years of psychotherapy
shouldn’t we be getting better by now?




almost right

snowflakes falling fat and leisurely
under the streetlight
drifting in from the darkness
infinite in number and form

face up
I receive their wet kisses
trying to guess
which in the heights
will fall upon me
following the chosen ones down with my eyes
sometimes almost right




satisfaction

the pigeon certain of its roost
salmon confident of the way home
contentment is the only wealth
want what you have
don’t want what you don’t have
the seeker must disappear
keep quiet and all will come to you
calm your worrying mind




snowy dreams

when it snows
you might think
that the yard is a meadow
and the pine trees that surround it
the edge of a forest
especially when no one is out
and it’s falling hard enough
to imagine that there aren’t any neighbors
but then
men arrive with their clearing machines
plowing, scraping, blowing, growling, beeping
an army against the quiet
vanquishing snowy dreams




it’s easier

it’s easier not to care about other people
unloving parents, wayward children
lovers, strangers, friends
if they want your help
they’ll ask for it
and just because they do
doesn’t mean they’ll take it
it’s hard knowing your own heart
let alone someone else’s.
of course you want to help
or to ask for love
but nine times out of ten
they’ll lose respect for you
and rightly so
and you’ll have squandered
the chance that might have worked
if you had waited
(and even then only if you were willing to walk away)
better to wait and work on yourself.
it’s hard to sit quietly
when love feels a need
to give or to receive
it’s easier not to care
or not to care as much




tv

after jeopardy and wheel of fortune
the hour of television mom watches every day
I turned off the sound
and finished dinner
kissing her in the process
and being kissed
when my plate was empty
I brought out my journal
and worked on a poem
or tried to
largely distracted by the mute pictures on the screen
(it’s almost always better without sound
without knowing just how inane it really is)
then switched it off
and wrote
finishing that poem and writing a few more
until after eleven
when I switched it on
while I got a snack
and ready for bed
and found a movie with good acting
about a father and son and the mob
a period piece shot in sepia tones
and stayed up past one watching it.
waking this morning at the regular hour
hours less sleep that usual
I was eager to rise
writing half this poem before meditation.
it feels good not to be sucked in
by the sights and noise
to turn off the tv and create art
better to go to bed
and better to rise.
I only wish I could do the same with my relationship
avoid the inanity
and turn it back on
when the show is better




for nothing

those crows are around here
always flying from tree to tree
and roof to roof
never coming down to earth
somebody must be feeding them
they don’t come around here for nothing




childhood’s end

that people don't act n their own self interest
dawned on me at childhood's end
the first of many adult ironies
the way to success clear, they detour
the necessity of the moment obvious, they ignore it
"unless you do this, the sky will fall"
and they don't
and it does
john who's chronic overstaffing sank the enterprise
jane who couldn't accept what was good for her
even when it bit her on the ass
"take this cake to the shop on the corner
the man will give you ten dollars
with that I'll make three cakes
you'll eat one, I'll eat one, the third will bring down to the shop on the corner."
and on the way she drops it, or eats it, or gives it away
again and again
it's simple math
but they can't add it up
or don't.
amazing me in my youth
because it is so commonplace
I've come to take it somewhat as a natural law.
the trick of course is to recognize it in oneself
to see the wrong turn
the lost cause
the risk which is certain to fail
the good money after bad
and beyond that
the root of the tendency
the blind spot,
even if you can't fill it in
or pull it out
compensating for it may be possible
as suzuki roshi said
"even if your effort is in the wrong direction, if you are aware of that
you will not be deluded"
as van gogh said
"so I have a horror of success"
stop banging your head against the wall
keep painting




like a river

new york rushes like a river
mad at finding itself constrained
pinched through a cataract,
white water surging
up and down avenues
damming up cross-town
vehicles and pedestrians
rocks and rapid

we paddle in in my twenty year old chevy
down the major deegan
across the third street bridge
into harlem
coming to rest right in front of this brownstone on one eighteenth
finding the key where she told us to look
we let ourselves in

it is a haven
thick walls insulating from the city
street noise sounding far away
an eddy
a backwater
just off the pounding mainstream thunder.
we arrived at four-thirty
just before the craziness of rush hour
and will venture out at ten-thirty
to collect our daughter from the newark airport
the one good thing to come out of our brief marriage
flying back from seven months in africa,
tomorrow we may paint the town red
at least we'll wade out into it all
take in a museum
do some window shopping
watch the river flow
splash around a bit
right now I'm fine
sitting on the bed like a bank of sand
drinking a cup of tea
letting the big apple
do what it does so well
without me.
I've been in the country a long time




nonsense

the brain wants to understand
trying to find meaning
patterns in visual or auditory stuff.
meditating behind a screen in the front room
I become aware of regina's ugandan accented speech towards the rear
through my earplugs I cannot make out her words
the brain scrambles to arrange the meaningless sounds into intelligence
but before it can
I come back to my breath
and a quieter, less active part of mind,
her lilting patois continues on the periphery
but I am not involved
it is not up to me
either to approve or disapprove
it does not have to make sense




green before us

sailing down fifth avenue
at ten of seven
monday morning
stoplights slowly, gracefully
turning green before us
perfectly timed at thirty-two miles an hour
like dominoes falling in slow motion
one
and then
after a slight pause
another
down without a stop
from one eighteen to forty-eighth
where I drop her for her appointment.
over on madison it's the same thing uptown
precision and ease
a dozen cars jockeying in the flow
around those stopped or turning
how rational
how efficient
something working as it should
I love new york




out of the city

coming up out of the city
onto the highway north
there is a different geometry
space transforms
like riding up out of a canyon land
onto a plateau
immediately the landscape flattens
revealing the horizontal perspective
swallowed in the city by buildings
walls of buildings
near and far
here this snaking road promises ever more openness
eventually
you can imagine a horizon




decompression

leaving manhattan the world slows
even at seventy-five miles per hour
on the highway north,
senses relax away from the jostling bustle
mid-day traffic not noticeably lighter
because it's a federal holiday
king's birthday
the sun is out
the road is dry
and after what must be the densest concentration of stoplights on the planet
unobstructed movement is intoxicating
one hundred miles later
the highway some kind of magic bridge
an intermediate zone
between here and there
I exit in connecticut
where the quiet
always strange after new york
contrasts more because of the holiday
schools, banks, library, post office are closed
I spread out into the suburban landscape
itself wide and open
leaving my car almost alone in the lot
enjoying the uniqueness
after the city's hordes
of the few people I pass
on my way down the sidewalk

it was an exciting visit
the flood of stimulation that it is
a happy reunion
five days with my daughter on her way back to the west coast
her mother's company trying at times
a lot of people wouldn't want to live anywhere else
but all things being equal
I'll take my quiet over their urban exhilaration
the frog doesn't know the water is hot
until it jumps out of the pot




end times

the world as we know it
is coming to an end
so he believes
and tells me
in a stream of emails from northern michigan
near saginaw
brief communiques
often only an address
a link to some webpage
foretelling catastrophe
the utter demise of our economic system
yellowstone's eruption
devastating solar flares
the return of planet x
some of it is compelling
some drivel
I stopped reading it long ago
people have been predicting the end of days
with or without
rebirth
for millennia
personally
I think we'll just continue limping along toward ruin
that armageddon
if it comes
will be so gradual as to defy observation
anticlimactic after all that leads up to it.
some month back I advised him
to stop worrying about the health of the world
and start worrying more about his own
now he insists that the forty extra pounds around his middle
will serve him well when the food supply is interrupted
today he told me not to postpone the things I want to do
"we might all only have another couple years"
good advice whether or not the world is coming to an end
at fifty-two I am not so interested in the doing of things
as I am in their appreciation
I don't want to go anywhere
only to be more completely where I am
for the fully alive
I'm inclined to believe
there is no fear of death
the master says
for such there is no death
having welcomed it
it disappears
bukowski writes
"everybody is afraid of the bomb
and they're all already dead"
it amounts to the same thing
the question is not when or whether we die
but if we will live
now and fully




noble truths

buddha's first noble,
life involves suffering,
isn't effected by your efforts to get things right
it doesn't matter how good and careful
how smooth and powerful you are
things go wrong
the second truth speaks to the cause of suffering
namely, our idea that things should be different
our attachment to a right way of being
as yet unattained
but possible it seems
if we were just more good, careful, smooth or powerful
or if other people and things would just cooperate
the third noble truth
while not violating the first
suggests a way around it
giving up our attachments
our ideas about what should be happening
in favor of what is
letting go of our prejudices regarding right and wrong
and just being in the moment
here and now
the fourth noble truth prescribes a lifestyle
to accomplish this giving up of attachments
and tuning into now
a fixing not of things but of our attitude
and this does involve
being good and careful
smooth and strong

buddha exclaimed upon achieving enlightenment
"how wonderful; all beings are already enlightened just as they are"
not god or bad
things are okay
it's just that our efforts
sometimes are a little out of place




wising up

a few days after my daughter's bas mitzvah
ten years ago
she and I stood listening
as her mother complained about her family
"my sister is crazy and my mother is nuts."
the implication regarding the further application of this observation
this family tendency
was obvious
at least to my daughter and me
our eyes meeting for the briefest instant
then looking away
afraid that our conspiratorial silence
expressionless though it was
would be detected

last night
sitting on the sofa with my girlfriend
the chaos of dissolution strewn about us
as her mother's house is made ready for sale
softly
so as not to be heard
she observed
"both of my sisters are crazy
so I must be crazy, too"

knowing that you know is ignorance
knowing that you don't is wisdom
knowing that we're crazy
is the closest we can come to sanity.
at least when it comes to women
I'm wising up




unquestionable

twice this week
I made the two hour drive
back up to hartford
from new york city
alone and happy.
first
four days ago
after visiting almost a week
with my daughter in manhattan,
then,
following her quick trip to connecticut, today
after dropping her at the airport
for a flight back to the west coast

two beautiful drives north
through january days sunny and mild
and light mid-afternoon traffic
with a heart warm and certain of direction
the world,
even at seventy-five miles an hour,
reflecting my contentment and peace

my father was never a talker
in this she reminds me of him
and further I am reminded
by a parent's pride
and the simple joy he took
in an automobile on the open road.
he had an unquestionable presence
a stability of being
beyond incident
and twice this week
driving home on the highway
I had it also




happy birthday, daughter

sunday after your mother left
for connecticut and her flight back to california
I made dinner and we worried about
how you would wake up for your seven-fifteen meeting
the next morning
earlier that wet day
taking the train to an art gallery in brooklyn
we argued
politely but impassioned
about the attention I am due
and the demands being placed on you
and both cried
turning a few head
in that jaded city
on the quiet platform
where we exited
attracting the curious gaze of the woman in the glass booth
who's already seen it all

that out of our systems
we walked with little said
down to the river and the drawings
taciturnity a family trait
the art and especially the views of the bridge
out of those big windows
were great
there was little that needed saying
the cobblestones and quiet compelling
after manhattan's busy commerce

after dinner and part of a movie and an early lights out
lying in our beds talking
you allowed
with a wisdom transcending loyalty
that you knew you must break away
but would wait only until she was stronger
and then right before sleep
from a place very deep
whispered "dad, "I love you"

a few days later
in connecticut at cousin rebecca's table
it was good to see you relaxed and laughing
and at easy driving back down to the airport
the words escape me now
but the small talk was wonderful
making it with you
now
a few days more and a continent between us
I celebrate your birth
taking pride in your being
in some great way you measure my being
orient and remind me of my wholeness
you are the best "thing" that ever happened to me
and I love how you keep happening




a better world

in a better world
people would mean what they say
and not be swept away
by every passing mood or extravagance.
but in this world
things and minds change
and there is no requirement
the thought precede speech
in the first place.
the only recourse is to stop listening
at least to give less weight
to people's pronouncements
hold the rudder to your course
despite the wayward breeze

the kabbalists assert
that god originally intended
to make the world through the attribute of severity
a world of definition, limit and precision
but realized that it would not last
instead we have this vague creation
colors blending into each other
messy emotions
words with multiple meanings
or none.

if diamonds were common
we wouldn't value them
but pearls of wisdom
if they were more
would make us all richer

there is a lot of sound
but very little of it is music
for all the conversation
there is very little intelligence
a man of his word
is always rare




poet’s lament

somewhere there are glorious things
happenings worthy of a poet's tongue
here clouds lazily fill the sky
pine boughs bob and sway on the breeze
the music on the radio
overflows with passionate events
this chair is just too comfortable




the smartest man in the world

until she was twenty-one
my younger sister thought
I was the smartest person in the world
and by then she already had seen a bit of the world
including university
our parents well-intentioned
but neglectful and unschooled themselves
I supplemented her rearing
a concerned and loving older brother
giving her the benefit of my academic curiosity and philosophic inquiry
as well as lessons on grammar and style
as dad would put it
when to say "the" [pronounced th-ee] and when to say "the"
m dethronement
when announced several years after its occurrence
left me wondering as to its cause
that lack clarity in itself
perhaps a sign of my declining brilliance
a quarter of a century later
I'm still not sure what happened

she was studying architecture in new york
I was across the continent
becoming a physician

then we each got married
busying ourselves with life
I didn't know I had been so elevated
or that I could fall so low
the tension she felt towards me
swelled into dislike
bursting forth in ways large and small
siding with our black-sheep brother
"he needs me more"
when I took his blows and her blame
for his eviction
instead of our father
furthered our estrangement
I followed her recipe to remedy our rift
taking more interest in her life
but met only indifference
a shrug of her shoulders
our father
to her face
more than once defended me against her low opinion
telling me in private
"she can't help it"
which I took as a reference to the irrationality inherent in the gender
but now I think she rebelled not against her parents
but me
throwing off her childish idealization
a freeing of self
a necessary revolution
taken to far
a turning away from certain harsh family realities
about which I was more cognizant
"david, I want to be in la-la land"
it has hurt me deeply
more than I admit
this loss of a sister
excluded from her life

she is having trouble now
with her eldest son
I learn from him
and from bits of conversation with her
when she calls to speak with mom
and I ask about the kids
at sixteen
I surmise
he is going through his own adolescent rebellion
and making his mother sigh
for the first time in years
she is interested in talking with me
when I offer her a perspective
she finds curious and new
that we all fail our children
and in that do them a greater service
on their way to becoming separate individuals
and if I felt welcome
I would share more
about forgiving ourselves and those who have failed us
but as the former smartest person in the world
I have learned from all that is not
and may never be
about what cannot be communicated
and when.
and as I grow older
my parents' inattentiveness and remove
seems more and more like wisdom.
my father conceded when I was sixteen
"how can I tell you what to do?
go make your own mistakes"




different

the master asserted
"I am an ordinary man"
and continued with a smile
when the questioner shyly insisted
that he was different
"you are asleep
while I am awake
after all that is not such a difference"

there are different kinds of sleep
deep or light
restless or refreshing
sweet or nightmarish.
there are different kinds of wakefulness.
even though we feel alert
most all of us are dreaming
better to awake
than to try to change the dream




more than halfway

walking down
a steep mountain trail
it is more difficult
and perilous
to make sure each step
is firm and stable
than it is to exercise a controlled fall
following the momentum from foot to foot
trusting that a slight slip in one step
can be made up in the next
much harder to stop and start
than it is to continue

attempting the scorpion pose
balance eludes me
until
going more than halfway
I bend my back
while up on my arms

we think that caution is safer
but boldness has its rewards
prudence may be the better part of valor
but there are other parts




no breeze

no breeze
the flag is just standing up there
can you see it?
it's just standing still
not even moving

(spoken by mom)




no birds

no birds out there
not a feather in the bush

(spoken by mom)




Back to top

 

Section 4

 

fatherly advice

if you know what you're feeling
and you've thought about what you say
and the other person doesn't understand
then you have to assume
that they're not listening
or you're with the wrong person
or both.
repeating yourself repeatedly
getting more excited as you do
never has the desired results.
lao tzu said it thousands of years ago
"the wise person speaks little
and never argues"




fresh step

mom tells the same stories
over and over
not to me
but to anyone else who visits
including the home aide
who comes twice a week
and they are always a complaint
about the weather, the next door neighbor, the squirrels...
the near exact wording each time
I don't know how or how long the woman can stand it

it's a different same old story with my girlfriend
a constant repetition of injustices
perpetrated long before I arrived on the scene
and even though I've gotten very careful
and refined myself in the process
I can't be careful enough
our closeness provoking the horrors of intimacy betrayed

new, after all
is not so easy
encumbered as we are
lumbering under the load
to land a light, fresh step
and change direction is quite an accomplishment
with momentum demanding its way
but lately the burden is lighter
redefining what I need
learning how to shift what's left
to help me make the turn
and when I don't
how to tumble and roll
and now and then
just recently
I can imagine
dancing naked and free




stacked against you

my mother forgets
how long she has lived here
that she has something on the stove
whether or not she has eaten dinner
who my ex-wife is when she walks in the door

my girlfriend rages
against her inconsiderate family
against her mother's stupid friends
against consumerism
and the vanity that is destroying the planet

each of them uncomfortable with affection
forgets I love them
gets mad
an blames me for their misery.
after years of trying to explain myself in those situations
I have found that here is no one listening.
push away from the table
cut your losses
get out of harm's way
stop throwing good money after bad,
you can't win
the cards are stacked against you




logic

the logicians have concluded
much to their chagrin
that logic is a failure
or at least necessarily incomplete
and that intuition
the mysticism they have forever warred against
is mathematics more intelligent twin.
anecdotally this was known
flashes of insight coming in dreams and visions
to great scientific minds
and it seemed obvious
once goedel pointed it out
that no matter how large the axioms you start with
something always lies outside them
still he lost his mind
not his mind
or at least not the mathematical part
but the more ordinary connections to life
trying to prove this incompleteness
a mathematical intuition
a creativity outside formal rules
resuming meditations on infinity
that had already driven other genius
to suicide or mad
"no man sees my face and lives"
like thinking about yourself thinking about yourself thinking
it is a dangerous loop
but by then
the plane he was flying
was diving too steeply to pull out of it
and anyway
where would he go if he did?
of course
trying to logically prove that logic is limited
has its own logical limitations.
creativity is a big slippery fish
and thank god it is
or if you're afraid of the word
thank the source of those mystical inspirations
the unknown, infinite fount
of the magic that vibrates subatomic worlds
and the strings of our hearts.
no, it doesn't add up
how boring it would be if it did




good morning

on hold for twenty minutes this morning
with the university dental clinic
trying to make an appointment for mom
when the hold music stops and a ringtone begins
as simultaneously across the room
mom informs me that she is ready to have me prepare her breakfast
as I do every day
a little desperate after the long wait
not to miss this opportunity
I plead
"I'm on the phone, just a minute"
and then while I am conversing with the receptionist
must listen to my mother grumble and complain
in a voice made loud by hearing loss
with a spirit made sour by her own bitterness
about how she always takes second place to my phone calls
and other things untrue and unkind
after the forty second phone call
I attempt pacification
explaining that the call was for her
but she is on the warpath and won't let go
not wanting to miss the opportunity to vent her spleen
sputtering at the table
about the indignities she suffers at my hands
all mean fabrications
while I toast her bagel and make her coffee.
several times I ask her to stop
increasingly exasperated by her tone and content
trying as hard as I do
to be the conscientious son
that I am
and then
just before the toast pops up
she curtly commands me over to the table
to take from her the remnants of a plastic bag
brusquely ordering me to throw it away
no please, no thank you
all the while complaining about me
going on with increase vengeance
when I beg her to stop
inspired by my reaction.
she loves the fight
enjoys feeling sorry for herself
cutting people off
verbally and emotionally
uninterested in resolving the matter
the point in question
she switches subject and continues to fight
finally
after I raise my voice also
she quiets down
and drying a few tears of self pity
she eats her breakfast.
I finish what I am doing
and slip out the door
without a goodbye
a goodbye which even on the best of days
is for her an opportunity
for yet another set of complaints
inaccurate and unfair.
often it is nice sitting there with her
sunny, warm and quiet
yet even then
we are all just objects in her world
ultimately denied our own personhood
and then equally often
she turns reptilian
hissing like a snake
lacking the most rudimentary mammalian affection
even for her young
if I let her, she would consume me
it is in her nature to bite




good night, mom

after fifty years she has started returning my good night kiss
reciprocating the peck I plant on her cheek
with one she plants on mine
"you don't have to get up"
she has told me often enough
so that when she rolls her walker over
I merely sit up and lean in
to enable the exchange
but sometimes she misses
catching my beard
and then barks
feigning offense
with anger that come to her far too easily
loudly protesting
"that's not a kiss!"
as if it were my fault.
the proximity
the overlapping of her anger and affection
right in my face
shocks me every time
my eyes widen and smile drops
muscles involuntarily expressing a mixture of fear and childish disappointment

as she smile
quite pleased with her performance
and my reaction to it
and demands another try
she is uncomfortable with love
always has been
and enjoys pulling its rug out from under me
from under us both
leaving me sitting there as she toddles away
an echo of something horrible and old
reverberating in the emptiness between us




science gets religion

science has a religion-
to not believe in god
but it is hard to explain the elegant symmetries
without him-
elegant theories are more likely true.
darwin had no notion
of the vast intricacies of cellular physiology
or he would have classed them
along with the eye
as too complex for evolutions random chance.
hawkins
unable to dismiss divinity from his physics
admits we don't understand
how the great cosmic forces
are so "finely adjusted to allow life."
the smarter science gets
the spookier things seem
materiality itself resolving into quantum omnipresence
superpositioned and entangled
everywhere at once
angelic radiations seem not much different from the subatomic kind
and whatever the mechanism
medicine confirms the efficacy of prayer.
something is going on that does not meet the eye
or instrument
at least not much not yet
but as it does miracles are revealed
science's unified field seems to be
the holy ground we thought we left behind.
if the deity is dead
he was lifeless to begin with
a man-made, sunday-school bugaboo;
religions come and go
einstien's god is not the dying sort




money can't buy

people accumulate wealth
far beyond what they can spend
quantities that are not good for them
that ruin their children
and hurt society
when questioned why he kept making money
the billionaire confessed
"I've forgotten how to do everything else."
like the alcoholic who doesn't know when to stop
there is truth in that
but money is also power
a primal quest for domination or, at least, security
and since in this regard
it is necessarily imperfect
there is never enough
the drunk takes another drink
business craves the next dollar
come home early
play with the kids
invest some energy into the marriage
cook dinner together
go for a walk...
such simple coexistence
does not figure in power's equation
inhabiting the transient now
even if it is the key to happiness
does nothing to further elusive security
dad said, "money is only important when you don't have it"
it has been shown
over and again
that wealth beyond the basic human needs
does not make people happy
each dollar spent not only buys less joy than the last
increases wealth increases worry
as the dalai lama replied when asked about poor people's great joy
"more money, more problems"
the very wealthy it seems
are largely miserable
knowingly persisting in behavior
that hurts you or others
is wickedness
and "the wages of sin is death"
scans measuring brain activity have shown
that the happiest thing to do with extra money
is to give it away.
as the master said
"if there's water in your boat
or money in your house
it's best to empty it with both hands"




already here

it is all here
like a statue
already present in the stone
what is required is undoing
chipping away the non-essential
setting free

the poem already on the page
needs but to disengage
from awkwardness and excess
a few words more or less
a phrase in need of turning
or excision
some small cuttings away
which depending on the patient may
bring a deeper vein into view
or require a stitch or two

we have it on good authority
that in some way
mysterious to us
our lives are already perfect
all that is required
is an adjustment of attitude
a releasing of what is not
in favor of what is
truth it seems
would be revealed
if we would just get out of the way




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Section 5

 

discovering zero

the indians discovered zero
giving nothing a mathematical symbol and place
allowing not only ease of notation and calculation
but whole new concepts
fields and systems of mathematical thought
science as we know it

an explosive charge
on detonation
will radiate out in all directions
unless a hollow is left in its formation
an empty space
over and around which
the tnt is packed
then
especially with some sand tamped down over that
the initial explosion taking the path of least resistance
starts releasing its energy towards that nothingness
and the rest of the charge follows its lead

another product of india
buddhism puts great emphasis
on the concept of nothingness
not as void
but as the ultimate source of all
that which unifies the diversity of life
each moment arising and returning to it

zero brings numbers to life
emptiness sets quantity dancing
vacancy directs force
formlessness gives birth to form
nothingness is all
all is nothing




the kennedy curse

joe kennedy was a son of a bitch
and though other people had to suffer for it
he got what he deserved
he was a philanderer and a bootlegger
an associate of mobsters
a gangster and probably a murder himself
such is fortune
or at least
too often
its making
the first blow came at his own hand
his daughter disappearing quietly into an asylum in the midwest
when her mild retardation became profound
after he ordered her a lobotomy
as ambassador to england
he advocated appeasing hitler
and told the german ambassador that he agreed with their policy towards the jews
churchill suspected him of collaborating with the nazis
and ordered his phone tapped
he ruined his political career by predicting the end of democracy in britain and the united states
a defeatism that even those who were against america entering the war
could not abide
his own presidential ambitions crushed
he transformed his hope to his first-born, joe junior
who, trying to match his brother's exploits in the pacific,
died when the explosive-packed bomber he was piloting
blew up somewhere over enemy europe
joe's political mantle was then conferred
to his second son, john
an unlikely candidate sickly and lame
(steroid therapy for his kidney disease put some flesh on him later)
perhaps heroic
(the book he only claimed to write marketed his mystique)
and a womanizer
acting like his father
at great risk to his political ambitions
"I can't help it" he confessed
the old man made him a senator
and four years later
during the presidential race started by buying the west virginia primary
and finished by using his mob connections to deliver illinois (and probably missouri)
to win the general election
but such is politics.
getting a good dose of his just desserts
the patriarch is paralyzed by a massive stroke
his god's retribution
and watches silently from a wheel-chair for the next eight years
while first his presidential son
after almost starting the third world war
then begins our tragic involvement in vietnam
finally getting himself shot and killed
and lionized in the process
"once there was a place called camelot"
america needs heroes.
then he sees his third son, bobby
find truer religion it seems
reaching out to the oppressed in his own presidential bid
before being assassinated himself
in a kitchen in L.A.
but his youngest boy, teddy receiving last rights when he broke his back
was the straw that broke his
at eighty-one refusing all nourishment
the blot that he was on humanity
faded away.
but the curse the old tyrant brought on the family continues until today.

why do we admire these people?




ancient and accomplished

at first it started as a joke
my surprise and words you spoke
then I grew sober as I guessed
the truth which is concealed in jest

the luthier revealed to you
a violin both old and new
and from its ancient body flew
a sound more tender deep and true

as there silently upon the table
your instrument august and stable
a friend that served you long and able
lied hushed before a voice of fable

you yourself did chide
acting the rash and fickle bride
as I pretend to but half-hide
the shock of love so thrust aside

and am I just so coldly cast
or do you find me here at last?
say does your heart run wild and fast
or wed the present with the past?

the luthier so admired your play
his fiddle gifted you that day
so I make you present of
an ancient and accomplished love




others and ourselves

housebound by age, stubbornness and an unfriendly spirit
my mother's world is small
refusing to read or wear her hearing aids
she is cut off
spending her days looking out a generous window at a pleasant view
doing word-find puzzles
an aid comes twice a week
to help her with the housework in the ground-floor, two-room apartment
and keep her company
she gets meals delivered daily
for someone at the end of their ninth decade
she is comfortable and remarkably healthy.
because her horizons are so limited
and because she is losing
not so much her mind
as her memory
she busies herself with trifles
and because she is bitter she complains over and over again
about the same things
the address labels that regularly come as promotions from charities
listing her apartment as f not e
greatly insult her
for years she has been infuriated
daily
by the newspaper's new format
and that the president's picture appears so regularly in it
she never tires of bitching that this neighbor is that way
or that one the other
I generally escape her wrath
unless I try to correct her increasingly strange behavior
not putting food into the refrigerator
not wearing her emergency necklace to bed
not using soap when she washes the dishes
I pick my fights
and practice patience
gradually

of a solipsistic bent
I am inclined to believe
that which annoys us about others
exists in ourselves
at least we should be wary that this is so
especially with family
my mother's world is in some ways
a minimalist rendering of my own
my obsessions, more sophisticated
my repetitions, more circuitous
my vision and spirit, not as bound
but still not free
her bitterness with life
a reminder that I should take more joy
her irritability
advice to take some things easier.
life show us what we need to forgive
in others and ourselves




breaking the surface

at first the source was hidden
submerged
gas bubbles floating up from an unknown depth
breaking the surface with a foul belch
a toxic plume
sometimes distant, sometimes near, sometimes encompassing me
when it is my turn
gradually I learn
to keep my mouth shut
speaking only makes it worse
best to hold my breath
while the noxious cloud disperses
into a sweeter atmosphere
but then the bubbles' rank upwelling increases
forcing me out of the water
and then
back from the shore
as the pond begins to roil
a fetid haze hanging over it
and up from its depth
something emerges
a monster
a creature hideously misshapen
before a muffled roar
now forms a thunderous cry
pathetic and revolting.
it's time to find another place to swim




warm goodbye

the sun has been shining
through a long strip of blue sky
for a good long while now
I'm glad I waited out
the intervening clouds
opportunities for sunbathing being few in february
still it's low in the west
and from the look of the overcast along the horizon
I'm pressing my luck
it got pretty chilly there for a bit
I guess I'll quit while I'm still warm




timing

after a morning of writing poetry and yoga
and breakfast and more writing
early this afternoon
I realized that this february day was unusually warm
and that he sunshine might not last.
riding my bicycle over to the high school
(the kids on vacation for the week)
I found a place out of the wind
after an hour the clouds came in,
the sound of water flowing decreases
as snow on the steps stops melting,
the sun occasionally breaking through the clouds
has been hidden for quite a while
my hands are the first to get cold
as I sit suffering
for my art and my tardiness
waiting for a window of blue




american ceasar

the supreme court has removed all limits as to how much money corporations can spend on ads for political candidates
freeing big business to strengthen the stranglehold it already has on government
commentators not known as alarmist
complain that the people's business is not being done
that nothing is working in this country
except the further acquisition of wealth by the wealthy
resources concentrating into fewer hands
warning that unless money's grip is broken
the republic is lost
none of this is entirely new
the country was started by rich white men
who restricted voting privileges to their own
but the court's recent decision
is a great leap in the wrong direction
even worse as the corporate contributions can be made anonymously
so the public won't know who their manipulators are.
sweeping aside one hundred years of precedents
the justices are changing the rules they pledged to uphold.
at the end of the roman republic
everything was bought and sold
including the senate and army
corruption was the rule
nobility was absent
the strong arm of the emperor seemed a hopeful solution.
it's hard to believe
but these may be remembered as the good all days




hole in the bucket

it's hard enough getting a handle on the big issues
don't sweat the little stuff
saving pennies is foolish
if it contributes to the loss of pounds
narrowing scope and focus
managing details may be comforting
but then so is opium
the larger picture may be dizzying
but at least it has perspective
put a plug in the hole before you try filling the bucket




excalibur

some people think king arthur was a comet
because legend has him burning
five towns in one battle
and because his sword
shaped like a comet with a tail
was said to shine as brightly as the moon
last night with you, it all seemed true
above me
you were the lady of the lake
holding my sword
conveying kingship
illuminating the night
excalibur




a healthy disease

what a relief
like a fever breaking
or a boil coming to a head
the pressure had been on for months
irritating, painful
delirium of a heated brain
but far too real
then with everyone gone
the expected deliverance delayed
the crisis seemed to deepen intolerably
and just when it seemed all was lost
writhing the disease exhausted itself
and a blessed calm was revealed
such as that which follows a storm.
today I am happy to report
that the patient is feeling better
hopeful of full recovery
expecting a greater health than before the sickness began




effort and ease

like anything worth doing
with practice poetry improves
words finding expression, finding feelings, finding words
adding, subtracting, rearranging
until the rhythms emerge
balancing effort and ease.
reading the masters mixes inspiration and deflation
we continue in our own humble way
discovering, refining our gifts
such as they are.
when I started practicing yoga in earnest
three years back
many positions which eluded me
now are my friends
extending both reach and relax
balancing effort and ease
master iyengar advised regarding the practice
"be happy with small progress"




comfortable enough

somehow
instead of south
the clouds move east
while I wasn't watching
or disappeared
resolving into blue
leaving the sun's westward decline
unobstructed.

the view before me is large and open
pleasantly unpopulated
except for a little girl and boy
siblings perhaps
just dismounted from their bicycles
exploring on foot
whatever noise there is
conspires into a lullaby
if it were just a little warmer
I'd be sleepy
and comfortable enough to nap




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Section 6

 


photosynthesis

there is a man in india
who claims not to have taken food or drink
for sixty years
researchers studying him in a hospital setting
confirmed that this is so
at least for the ten days of their observation
a week and a half
and the blood samples they took from him
was enough to convince them
that metabolically at least
something defying scientific understanding was occurring.
the man claimed that by looking at the sun
five minutes a day
a talent he acquired gradually
he received all of the nourishment he needed
in the form of a sticky mass
that formed in his throat
the brought up a trace of it for inspection
human photosynthesis
one man's sunlight is another man's food.
I don't know how many years were on his aged frame already
but it seems unlikely
at this rate
he will live the thousand years he boasted
I can't imagine why
anyone would want to live so long
nor do I understand the advantages of a sunlight diet
maybe like climbing mountains and falling in love
we do these things because we can




further contemplations on immortality

the epigram of eliot's wasteland
refers to the sybil at cumae
who wished for eternal life
but forgot to include youth in her request
growing quite tiny over the millennia.
the latin and greek translates so
"I have seen the sybil at cumae hanging in a bottle
I asked her 'sybil, what do you want?'
she replies ' I want to die'"




beyond words

stroke victims
having lost the power of speech
can often be taught to sing
melody coaxing along the words
which won't come plainly
the center for song
located in the opposite hemisphere
than that for speech
music, it seems, finds a way to make new connections
in brain as well as heart
conveying its wordless power to heal
even to words
as the blackman said
"sometimes all you can do is play the blues"
art saves lives




like a symphony

I cover you with love
enveloping you in my embrace
every part of me
caressing every part of you
playing your body like a symphony
rhapsodic
enchanting our spirits
sweeping us way
in blissful flights
together.
the arrangement is flawless
every voice in tune
the closest intimacy
touch, response, touch
what will we do for an encore




reduce, reuse, recycle, refuse

oil companies murder african villagers to bring you cheap gas
don't waste it driving aggressively
you are wiping your ass with a dead forest
fold the toilet paper and make another pass
we are trained and encouraged to use more
but selfish consumption doesn't lead to happiness
sharing and caring for others does
finding yourself part of a larger context
discovering a greater whole.
turn the lights off when you leave the room
reuse the aluminum foil
don't let the water run down the drain,
less is more




follow

it's not that there is nothing to say
but that there is no one to say it
no one listening for what needs saying
keep quiet
trust your intuition
believe that there is something trying to communicate with you
knowing what you know
it is hard to accept anything new
valuing things as you do
it is hard to discover other worth
great things often begin soft and small
pay attention or you may miss it
pick up the thread
follow




sun worship

there is a long thin cloud that has been passing in front of the sun for miles
the blue sky on either side
is just out of position
to warm my bones
now and then, more or less, it pokes through
and looking ahead
it is possible to believe
in sunnier times.
in the school yard the geese are making a racket
otherwise sunday afternoon is pretty quiet
the same chilly wind that rustles these pages
keeps the cloud moving
finally blowing it away
bright warmth pours down
just as the geese take off
trumpeting
two hundred of them
heading north
believing in spring.
after sitting in the cloud's shadow
forty minutes
this february day
it is easy to understand how it was that primitive man worshiped the sun as a god
right now it certainly does feel divine




snow again

sitting at the table
looking out over the yard
mother announces, "it's snowing again"
coming out of a yoga pose
I walk up behind her
and enter another
my fingertips on her back, just below her shoulder
my torso bent forward beside her
pretending to take a better view
when it is an emotional perspective I seek.

as a child I wasn't touched enough
I suppose neither was she
and although the touch I initiate
is now too little too late
it is better than the nothing we would have without it
and like my other yoga poses
with practice makes it better.

straightening up from the table
I agree with her
about the snow




plato’s cave

today it was obvious
beyond dispute
even by her prejudiced mind.
sitting at the table
mom called me over
to ask
what was the light flashing off of the window before her?
a light coming in through the back window from a truck on the street, I explained
"I looked and didn't see anything," she persisted
"look again and you will," I advised
no, she didn't want to
but she wanted to grumble
about how I am always telling her she's wrong
and yelling at her
and I do have to raise my voice
because she won't wear her hearing aides
and if I do
while insisting on some point against her increasingly strange behavior
she starts yelling herself
and going on cantankerously
but today I come up softly
and point out that nobody had yelled
and no one was angry but her
and after a few more sputterings
she stopped.

illusion's clear examples come few
so one best point them out when they do
though reason is an art
still one must make a start
somewhere




quietly among them

snow falls fat and thick
ennobling all with pure whiteness
roofs, rocks, trees and ground
sitting still all receive its blessing
how good to be quietly among them




sour grapes

I have never been able to act against my inclinations
very long
even when I am getting paid to do it
while this has rendered me a poor employee
and compromised my business skills
I am remarkably
disciplined when working for myself
or for a cause in which I believe
deficient in capacity to do what I don't want
I am yet gifted with a talent to change what I do
to find something worthwhile in the endeavor
or failing that
to leave.
work in a group has never been my strength
finding it impossible to take a backseat to incompetency,
even when my anarchist tendencies are unspoken
they disquiet people
still, I love when someone tells me what to do
I just haven't found many people who know what to do
I get along well with alpha males.
as hard as I try to be nice
controversy follows me
pluto, sun and moon conjunct at my birth
my openness makes many uncomfortable
about what they are concealing.
craving recognition when I was young
I am now content with anonymity
solitude being the refiner's crucible
free time the best commodity
my strategy has brought me to this strange success,
just being left alone, unmolested
is a great victory
I saw it in my father's proud resignation
age has a way of changing tastes,
the grapes may not be sweet
but the raisins they make are still good to eat




what you love

"do what you love"
the gurus of self-help advise
and with this writing
I am
working and playing with words
letting them talk to me
it is here
but you have to pay attention
open the faucets
or at least stop turning them off

"and money will follow"
is their promised result
and while I doubt these poems will make me a dime
they already have enriched me
life becomes more interesting when observed
thought deepens when exercised

still just as money can't buy happiness
so the kind of health I have acquired
has not freed me from my demons
but I am more conversant with them
and like woody guthrie
who as a runty child would play harmonica for the schoolyard bullies
I find that sometimes they are entertained
by the way I turn a phrase




birth control

if every couple had only one child
the housing market would implode
social security would fail
the prison industry would shrink
deprived of its ever-expanding markets
capitalism itself would collapse
leaving us free to find less consumptive, more sustainable livelihoods
wild animals would return to wander deserted, newly-forested suburbs
carbon dioxide would not be a worry,
with less of us around
and more dependent on each other
people would be friendlier
life would be a lot more worth living.
large families don't make sense anymore
it's time to start taxing children
has anyone else noticed how crowded it's getting?




something is wrong

something is wrong
the world's ecology collapse under human strain
but nothing you or I do or don't do in our personal lives
is going to make a significant difference in it
public action is another story
but your private life
and whatever good or bad you do in it
except for the people who share it with you
remains the individual's
living rightly is important
mostly for the individual
at best it is symbolic
an example
something which
if everyone did
would offer a solution
but compensating for others' blissful ignorance
with your own hyper acuity
creates a lot of pressure internally
and outwardly doesn't win you any friends

so too it is a magical thought
that makes one's friends responsible
for the moods which sweep over us
expecting that if they had or had not done this
then we would or wouldn't feel that
again it is mostly symbolic
their behavior eliciting a latent, ready-made response
you know logically that I have done nothing to deserve your massive anger
even if I inadvertently provoke it

you take too much responsibility for the external environment
and too little for you own internal one
extremes make for good stories
and political rhetoric
but except on moonless night
and during heavy snows
the world is not black or white




2/24/10

Back to top

 

Section 7

 


free-floating

Mom woke me up last night at four AM
sitting on the edge of her bed
calmly calling my name
"where do we have to go to get my gift?" she asked after I presented myself
discussing the need to bring her pocketbook with us
before noticing my look of bewilderment
"they announced my name over the loudspeaker," she explained.
Contradiction of any sort tending to enrage her
and still hoping to get back to sleep
I gently place my hand on her back
kiss her cheek
and suggest that she's been dreaming.
"No," she insists still groggy with sleep,
"they announced my name over the loudspeaker."
"There is no loudspeaker, Mom."
Saved from argument only by the undesirability of travel in the middle of the night
I continue on to the bathroom.

Back in bed
I attempt sleep,
keeping my mind sedate
remembering my dreams.
It might have worked
but my bowel
gradually becoming alert to the approach of dawn
delays the process
and before I know it I am thinking about
the decline of newsprint journalism in the age of the blogosphere.
After an hour
including sitting in meditation and on the toilet
I am back in bed
emptying my mind
when body consciousness stops
awareness hovers disengaged from form and its orientation.
I have been here before
floating free of personal constraints
and as before
after brief successful experiments with locomotion
I fall asleep.

My mother wakes wondering where to go for her gift,
I fall asleep wondering what to do with mine.




The Black Woods

Aside from the woods around the golf course
it was the last large patch of wild in the neighborhood
maybe forty acres
grown up into dense secondary-growth forest
while the rest of the farmland yielded to suburban homes.
There was an asphalt path running along the near edge of it
(its blackness naming the woods for us.)
We'd take it half way through then go off exploring
once scavenging lumber from houses going up
to repair an old tree-fort we found.
I was in sixth grade when they bulldozed it down
clearing it for the new high school.
I remember climbing the huge piles of trees they later burned
and the big muddy waste between them
but nothing else.
Forty years later
I sit with my back against that school wall
looking out across playing fields
fenced, treeless, rectilinear
marked out in yards
and backstopped baseball diamonds,
but in my heart the wild forest remains
and I am still young wandering there
braving marsh and bramble
pleasantly lost.
Today, sitting here I meet myself
bearded man and little boy
coming across each other
deep in the black woods.




Westmoor Park

Pedaling up I see
the bench right where I left it
two months ago
carried from aside the little cabin
with melt raining down on it off the roof,
out from the shadows of the spruce
one hundred yards
to the hill's southern exposure
where the sun shines now as then.

In pastures still just slightly patched with snow
horse and donkey, llama and sheep
graze yet
on stubby dormant grass.
The cow
too elegant for such meager fare,
is nowhere to be seen.

Things keep changing
but not here,
the town deciding long ago to save this rural oasis
its last farm
from the encroaching suburban desert.
Bicycling through the shopping sprawl
then a half mile down a side road
and I am in the country
at least in miniature.

Whistling through the evergreens
wind batters this bench
even tucked as it is
behind a large tree.
Any warmth the sun lends me
whisked away.
The shelter of the barnyard invites me
to ride over and check on the goats and geese
to say hello to chickens and ducks
and, playing the gentleman farmer,
to pat the brown cow
if she's close enough to the fence.

They give whether we deserve or not
eggs, milk, wool, flesh, labor,
beauty
and, if we can still taste it,
a sweetness thick and rich
as the honey held within
this meadow's sleepy hives.




Picking and Choosing

Picking and choosing when to pay attention
you can convince yourself of almost anything.
Kirpal Singh said,
"A dog chews on a dry bone until its gums bleed
tasting the blood he thinks the bone is sweet,"
but as often it tastes sour or insipid.

People get mad at me for no good reason
then equally easily forget about it.
They have a need to get angry
and to forget.
If it bothers me,
how can I blame them?
I must have a need to be bothered.

Silence is golden
and the only response to a ridiculous argument,
politely walking away is wisdom
when your opponent has already decided what they are listening to
instead of you.

The child erroneously feel responsible
for the adult tragedies around her.
Growing up to realize
that you are largely insignificant to someone else's emotions
is a sobering realization.

Freedom and happiness are available
but not on your terms.
Each cuts both ways.
Unless you sacrifice your notion of what you are looking for
you will never find it.
The end of suffering is not like we imagine.




Overlooking

I am afraid of overlooking the obvious.
A fear justified and reinforced
every time I do.
I worry also about what is below the surface
vigilant for hints, clues and innuendo,
but a lapse in regard to the occult
is more easily forgiven.
It seems to stem from my overriding conviction
that something is wrong
and that it is my responsibility to fix it
or at least that things could be better
and my job is to improve them.
All this may be terribly human
striving for the new frontier
onward and upward
and while all this no doubt has its place
in the species' march of progress
for me at least
too often it pushes aside
satisfaction with what is.
Paradoxically it seems
feelings that I should be happier
preclude my happiness.




Charles Bukowski

Say what you will about Charles Bukowski
at least you know what he's writing about
succinct and direct
which is more than you can say about a lot of the other fellas,
obtuse, I guess!
reflections of their pale academic souls.
After wondering long enough about what they were trying to say
I concluded that they don't know themselves.
Now, I can tolerate ambiguity with the best of them,
I appreciate that life and art aren't just black and white
feelings and ideas can be quite misty
clouding into one another,
but what I can't tolerate and don't appreciate
is deliberate obfuscation.
If I want cryptic, I'll open a puzzle book.
As the hippies and brothers used to say,
"Tell it like it is."
And what's with those weird rhymes?




Bird Song

For the first time in days there are clouds in the sky
a few tiny scattered and one or two small.
The wind comes up every now and then
noisy through the trees
cooling things off for a minute
keeping me close to the ground
and the break I piled up.
Well, it is early March.
Not "in like a lion" this year
more like a pussycat
some big old farm tom
who's happy to curl up on my lap
but might give a scratch if I tease him,
now cocking his head
as he listens with me
to a bird in a nearby tree
whistling a tune
and off in the woods
his lady answering back
miming perfectly
as the caller varies a note's pitch
or adds or subtracts from the song.
Then she takes the lead.
Spring is definitely in the air.




Outings

After a winter spent mostly indoors,
venturing out dressed for harsh elements,
these warm early March days are delicious.
Not a cloud in the sky,
if you find a place out of the wind
it's almost hot.
Yesterday my face started to sunburn
over at the high school stadium
just south of the bleachers
while the kids played soccer.
Today, with school on
I've found a back corner of the park
almost secluded
slipping out of the house while it was still early and cool
with a blanket for yoga and breakfast packed for later.
Now, sunbathing on the blanket
especially when I close my eyes
I feel like I'm at the beach
vacationing.
The wind through the trees
could be the ocean's roar.




Fenugreek

After rinsing the sprouts
I shake out Mom's toaster
jostling it upside-down over the sink.
Crumbs bounce around inside
shishing and plinking.
Burnt manna rains down from an unplugged electric heaven.
A blackened staff of life
along with less incinerated morsels
frosts the steel basin
like cinders from a volcanic explosion.
Opening the faucet to wash away the destruction
I see in the drain catch a single fenugreek sprout
rising from the ashes trapped there
green and hopeful.
Rinsing it off I pop it in my mouth
a living metaphor
slightly tangy.




Brain Scans

Brain scans can now reveal
at least to small extent
what someone is thinking.
The process
still very crude
involves predicting
which of a small set of events or images
a person is remembering.
Scientists are very hopeful
the rapid advances in this field will continue.
Maybe soon someone will be able to tell me
what's going on in your head.




Momster

I choose to believe
that the abuse is somehow good for me
beyond its lesson in patience.
She is a mean old lady
ordering instead of asking me to help her
getting mad at me for witnessing her ineptitude
going on about it
angry when unbeknownst to her
I retired to the toilet
and couldn't holler loud enough
with a neighbor on the other side of the wall
to reach her deaf ears
through the closed door and across the apartment
to answer her question about the date,
today's newspaper spread out before her on the table.
or while making my breakfast
because I don't spring immediately to get a piece of paper
for her to transcribe the shopping list I jotted on an envelope for her
and at me when I'm helping her to pay her bills
mad that she's paying her bills in the first place
telling me with a snarl after I've made her breakfast
put out the bird food and more
that I don't do anything for her.
Any itemization of my assistance
elicits ridicule.
Informing her I am leaving to return later in the day
invariably provokes a hurtful diatribe
always the same
no matter how often or long I've visited
even staying days
"You’re never here. Don't come back!"
Today I sling my pack on my back
grab her rent check to bring to the office
and her social security check for the bank
and walk out without a goodbye.
Always searching for a reason to complain
I have given her a present
something to chew on.
Without looking behind I know she is watching
as outfitted for the day I walk across the quad
wide-eyed.
She is quiet for the moment
relishing the latest insult
soon out loud she will bitterly complain of the indignity heaped on her
but certain as she is of her prey
there is no rush to sink in her teeth.

Never a very good mother
how can she recognize a good son?
Torn between honoring her
and enabling her cruelty
I've always been trying too hard.




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