Sunday, November 21, 2010

Blurred Portrait

The charcoal eyes staring out
Above a smudged nose
The quickly sketched mouth
Loose, unformed,
With teeth exposed
The portrait blurred,
Soft, unfixed, temporary
Partially wiped away--
The truest likeness
Here
Not here
A space
But where?

You
Not you
An image
But who?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Dia de los Muertos

Remembrance
Recuerdos
A voice, a look,
A walk by the old graveyard.
Faces, yellow photos,
A tangled memory
A skein the living wait to enter.
Better to act as if dead already
Self portrait as a skull
Sugared with your name
In a candy coffin
Ready for eating.
Then let life take its course.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Birds in Autumn

Under the eagle’s wing
The sky darkens early on the mountains
By mid-afternoon—
While you wait at the modern, urban zoo
For the feathers of the lesser Bird of Paradise
To show among the empty spaces
All the tantalizing, fluttering, darting motions
Of tanagers and thrush
Distract and absorb you—
Away at the river
The crying gulls swoop over the white waves
Before the harvest moon rises
And the owl of the field takes flight.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Messenger of Fear

A messenger of fear
Came to your door
Although your house
From the outside
Seemed like all the others--
While you were sleeping
He passed through the broken lock
And filled the room with terror,
Waking you to the message.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Coyote in a Cage

The wildness of the eyes
Gets first attention
The refusal to recognize the bars
It crashes into with each restless movement--
It darts from one corner to the next
As if speed and will can dissolve
The tiny enclosure
Imposed on its world,
The hope that strength given
Will pull down Philistine walls
Though the desparate captive be sacrificed.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Missing Sister

Postcards she sends
Unexpected
From a distant city
Wishing you were there
She says
But you can't follow
Can't trace her steps
Your job, your family
The daily obligations
You've pushed her away
Yet see her face in every
Mirror--your delightful, banished twin
You save each card
Until you burn them
Trying to forget.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

On Hopper's "From Williamsburg Bridge"

They are not there now
But they were ghosts even then,
The buildings like a stage set
Aged brick with rooftops sharply etched
Seemingly forever in the sun
And the stilled clouds.
We can’t know what was behind
The shaded windows, the dark enclosures
Unreachable to the eyes
We can’t even know the lone figure visible,
Almost a phantom,
Gazing from a window.
But is it endurance or resignation
To live out a ghostly loneliness
Like those old buildings
In their moment of light?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The broken compass
The lone tree
The ticking clock
That tolls the bell
What refuge in the selfish mind?

Toy Gun

Toy gun
That with a click
Unfurls a painted flag:
BANG!
Good for shooting invaders
Conjured by the mind
Good for idle play
But, alas...
No childish thing can save.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Announcement Redux

I have six e-books, three books of poetry and three of short fiction, on Lulu.com. If you have interest, please check the Lulu site. Thank you.

Embu no Tombo

With tiger stripes
This dancing dragonfly
Seduces the eyes

The cool summer breeze
Ungraspable dragonfly
Beauty not owned

A tortuous path
The dancing dragonfly takes
Eccentric pleasure

The dragonfly stops
Buzzing for a moment
Its beauty perceived

Racing dragonfly
Is it better over there
Beyond that tree top?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Nadine

Through my window, the flashing, colored lights of the fairground beckoned me. I drew closer and watched with fascination the new constructions of games and rides that rocked our quiet neighborhood. Since the erection of the fairground, our small-town evenings were never the same. As darkness fell, searchlights would flash upon the sweeping snake-like roller coaster and high-pitched screams of delight would reach my little room.
My usual practice was to sit with my back to the window and valiantly ignore the tawdry spectacle while I immersed myself in a good book. The pulsating lights and sharp noises, however, managed to intrude and vex me. Of course, my work as a librarian at the high school gave me ample opportunity for quiet study during the day but I have always been immoderate in pursuing my interests. Further, as a matter of principle, I did not like being at the mercy of the nocturnal creatures across the way.
On this particular night, though, I turned toward the window. I don’t know precisely why but I sensed a transition coming. I had reached the end of my pendulum swing away from the place and now I was sweeping inexorably in its direction. All day I had been restless and unable to read. I could not wait until I would be able to come home and watch the illuminated display. I realized that I would have to pay a visit to the fair.
Upon closer inspection, the fairground was not unattractive. There were rows of blue-white arcades with high archways. Brightly colored flags strung across the walkways snapped in the breeze. The balmy summer evening was scented with the sweet smell of cotton candy and jelly apples. The sky was bathed in a rose-pink twilight and adorned with puffy magenta-colored cloudlets. I drifted along in a haze, astonished by the throngs of people who were thrilled at getting dizzy on the giant, twirling contraptions. I noticed with particular fascination a machine called The Claw. This device held squealing captives in its iron grip as it laboriously rose to its full height, then swung down at vertiginous speed.
I had grown a bit tired from my perambulations. A quiet-looking cafe became immediately desirable. Fortunately, it was devoid of some of the loutish types who lounged near the pinball machines. I took a seat in the corner and perused the menu listings of cakes and ice creams.
“Hi friend!” a woman said. It was a lilting, feminine voice. I gasped slightly when I saw her. She was lovely in her candy-stripe waitress’s uniform. A tumbling mass of blonde hair fell playfully over one shoulder. I nearly tipped over my chair. She called me her friend! Did I know her? I was sure I would have remembered.
“Hello,” I said. “Do I know you?”
“Could be. I thought I saw you around here before.”
“I’ve never visited here before.”
“Oh, well I’m pleased to make your acquaintance now.” She smiled.
I was charmed by her suave manner. I ordered some ices since it was a particularly warm night. I confess I was captivated by her. She moved gracefully from table to table, making pleasant conversation with the patrons. I listened to her as I toyed with the ices. She did not call anyone else friend.
I stayed at my table until the ices were fairly liquid. Most of the other customers had left.
“Do you mind if I sit down?” she said. “My feet have had it.”
“Not at all. Please. I insist.”
Thus, the waitress--the woman--Nadine sat down at my table. I could see that she was not suited for the job. She would seem more in place in a formal drawing room with velvet cushions and hanging tapestries. Her cool, delicate porcelain features suggested a woman of elegance and refinement.
“I usually don’t work the evening shift,” she said. “I like to keep my evenings open. Besides, I have to go home at such a late hour.”
When she hinted that she would prefer being escorted home, I leapt at the chance. I waited expectantly until she emerged from the back room. She had changed her clothes and hairstyle in those few minutes. She was dressed in a stylish, gray suit. Her hair was pulled into a sleek chignon. This image of the sober, meticulous woman could easily have led me to believe her a fellow librarian.
On our way to her house, Nadine conversed so effortlessly with me that I felt I had known her for years. When she discovered that I was a librarian, she disclosed her ardent love of books. She even asked me if I had a copy of Plato’s Symposium at the library since she had been desiring to read it for some time. I was greatly pleased to find her such a literate woman; my sympathies towards her increased.
I was so absorbed in discussion that I barely realized how far I had walked. I had rarely if ever traveled in that section of the town before. The buildings were old and occupied mostly by transients. The streets were deserted in the darkness. Nadine stopped before an apartment house with a stiff, brown facade.
“This is home,” she said, as she pulled me into the doorway.
We walked up five flights of stairs until at last in the dim light of a long corridor we reached her room.
“Please, you can come in,” she said.
You cannot imagine my surprise when I entered her apartment. The squalid clutter staggered me. I could see through the doorway to her bedroom that her bed was unmade. The bedclothes were askew and the mattress still held the impression of a recumbent figure.
“Nadine,” I stammered, “it’s been a delightful evening. I wonder if it would be possible for me to see you perhaps on another evening at your convenience?”
“Let’s make it tomorrow night,” she said almost absent-mindedly.
I was stunned with joy. I wobbled down the flights of stairs and held onto the banister to keep myself from flying headlong to the ground. I was to see Nadine the next day.
When that evening arrived, the earth itself seemed to sway as I mounted the stairs to her apartment. I gathered myself together and knocked upon her door. No answer. I checked the number on the door to be sure I had come to the right place. It was the very same door I had left the night before. I knocked again with greater emphasis. I stopped when my knuckles burned from chafing.
Foolishly, I thought that saying “Hello!” with great volume and clarity would cause the door to spring open. Alas, that ploy succeeded only in opening the door of a neighbor’s apartment. A woman in curlers popped her head out and looked at me with considerable suspicion.
“Can I help ya?,” she inquired.
“Indeed you may madam. I’m seeking the young lady who occupies this apartment. Would you perhaps know her whereabouts?”
I believe the woman took pity on me, seeing me distracted and anxious in the middle of that dark hallway. She called me over to her and spoke to me in the tones of a confidant.
“The girl you’re looking for ain’t here now. I got a peek at her leaving with some young guy. A real strongman.”
“Do you have any idea where they went?”
“I can’t say for certain. I thought I heard them say something about a fun house. You know, at the fair.”
“That’s very strange. I had...an appointment with her this evening.”
“I guess she got confused.”
The woman closed her door. I was no less confused. I slouched down the stairs and entered the street. I walked and walked until I saw the lights and high, arching curves of the roller coaster.
I quickened my pace as I entered the fairground. Perspiration unpleasantly dampened my shirt and suit. I was panting by the time I approached the Fun House. The entrance was painted as an enormous clown’s mouth; I entered under a row of beaming white teeth. I hurried through a number of twisting, expressionistic passageways, aware of an odor of disinfectant. Though I sought to find Nadine, I found only my excited visage ballooned or shrunken in the row of mirrors. Everywhere I turned I saw my gold-rimmed spectacles and graying mustache, and my weathered but carefully pressed suit.
I should have returned home but my steps had already led me back to Nadine’s apartment. I climbed up the stairs in anticipation of her return. I positioned myself in a pool of shadows. At last, I heard Nadine’s footsteps as she approached the landing. As I saw her, I called out her name. She stopped uneasily and turned.
“You scared me,” she said.
“I believe we had a date this evening.”
“Really? I don’t remember that. I said I would see you tomorrow night.”
“Exactly. That’s tonight.”
“No, I mean tomorrow night from tonight.”
“Yes, but if you said yesterday night that it would be tomorrow night, then that couldn’t make it tomorrow night from tonight.”
“I’m sure I said it would be tomorrow night from tonight yesterday night.”
My head was starting to spin from this exchange. Whatever desire I had to pursue the matter abated when I saw that the woman in curlers had opened her door and was taking in our conversation.
“Don’t be mad at me,” Nadine said in a close whisper. “We’ll have a wonderful time tomorrow night. I’ll be ready for you.”
The next day, at work I related my story to my assistant librarian. I felt I could rely upon Bruce’s objectivity in this matter. I confided the whole matter to him, set all the facts on the table. Bruce listened patiently while I pleaded my case.
“It seems the young girl needs equilibrium,” he said mildly.
Both the content and tone of Bruce’s reply disturbed me. It was true that he and I had never discussed our personal problems with one another, but I anticipated a fuller range of sympathetic response. I tried to press Bruce further but he shrugged his shoulders and said, “That’s how I see it. You’ll have to discover for yourself.” I was startled a bit at finding an enigmatic oracle working for me but, in general, his pithy replies made him serviceable in the library--he broke his silence with great care and effect, and then resumed his quiet duties.
When the evening (the evening we had agreed upon) arrived, Nadine did receive me at her door. I should have been content, but I was somewhat taken aback when I saw a hulking man in dark glasses lumber out of her apartment. I watched as he descended the staircase and rhythmically pounded the banister with his fist. I looked at Nadine; she was slightly flustered by my early visit.
“That was an old friend of mine,” she said.
Any effort to gainsay her would have been vanquished by her appearance. She was resplendent in an elegant dress that made her my perfect companion at the concert hall for an evening of Baroque music. Indeed, all went well: the music was perfectly articulated and controlled, the audience was responsive, and I had Nadine beside me. All went so well that I began to be apprehensive. I wondered if I had been dreaming her pleasant smiles and kind, inquiring eyes. Had I fantasized her appreciation of chamber music?
My anxiety, though, was not entirely unfounded. When we left the concert we repaired to an expensive restaurant, where we sat in the patio flanking the street. The utter contrast to my first encounter with Nadine could not have been more apparent. Though equally beautiful in both contexts, she was now another person entirely. With her hair done up in a regal coiffure under a wide-brim white summer hat, she appeared a creature innocent of work, strain, or longing. She had a pristine, glacial perfection. She was a fantasy made tangible.
I was happy at first. When she touched my hand and said, “You’re a good friend,” I could not contain my pleasure. Yet, from my peak of joy, I was dashed down with dizzying alacrity. An intense man walked by the railing of the patio and stopped. He turned and looked at Nadine. He walked back to where we were sitting and stared at her to make sure he was seeing the right person. Nadine made an effort to look away and started conversation with me about the concert. The man was not put off by this tactic but was determined to communicate with her.
“So, it’s you,” he said. “What’s a girl like you doing in a nice place like this?” He laughed. “That’s how come I can’t see you no more? You wash the dishes here later?”
The diners around me grew quiet as if they did not want to lose a word of this confrontation. Nadine was visibly discomfited by the man’s harangue.
“I have nothing to say to you, so you had better leave,” she said.
“Ha! You had plenty to say to me before, baby!”
My mouth hung agape at this unsettling situation.
The man then turned to me. His hawk-like features silently took in the fact that I was with Nadine. His eyes seemed possessed of exultant anger. I grew anxious when his lips slowly curled to a smile.
“You’re her date, are you?” he said. “You have my sympathies. She’s not all bad, though. She does some things right. Just as long as she’s in bed.”
Nadine gasped; I rose to her defense and heard myself say, “Now see here, that’s quite enough!” I saw the man stare and smile as he reached toward me. A table fell and a buzz of astonished voices animated the background. I felt a push that caused me to land at the feet of a portly matron. From my new vantage point, I could see the shoes of the intense man walk away. As the buzzing subsided, I crawled back to my seat.
Nadine looked imploringly at me and said, “You don’t like me, do you? I don’t blame you really.”
“Of course I like you,” I replied. “I just don’t like brawls, that’s all.”
“But you were so brave, and so good--I could kiss you.”
She leaned over and pecked me on the cheek. It was a soft, innocent kiss.
I could tell from that moment that my career with Nadine was to be tortuous and involved. I soon discovered that she had a plan, one that had already been articulated the night when we had our misunderstanding about when I was to arrive for the date. Nadine never permitted me consecutive evenings. When we were together, the ritual was unvarying: Nadine would meet me in an elegant dress, we would attend the latest cultural offering the town could muster, we would exchange opinions about said offering in a quiet, expensive restaurant, and then Nadine would retire early to her apartment. I would accompany her to her door and then depart.
This procedure worked quite nicely for awhile. Yet, despite that, I found myself stationed in an alleyway across from her apartment house. I waited as I saw her leave on the arms of some riotous swains whom she could only have found at the fair. I never said anything to Nadine about this when I escorted her, but in my private storehouse of feeling I soon had my fill of disgust; I recoiled from Nadine and stayed away.
I walked down the streets of the town and wondered half in expectation, half in fear, when I would encounter her again. Every curve in the road had the potential to lead me to her; every closed door and curtained window might have temporarily concealed her from view. I kept imagining that any woman up ahead was Nadine, ready to turn and meet me face to face. It was a strange feeling. The town once had belonged to me, in a sense. Now, I knew it was she who occupied, who vitalized it. I was there to play my part.
I was not immune from Nadine even in the library. In the midst of my work, I recalled her request to read Plato’s Symposium. As I indexed and cross-indexed the new arrivals, the title kept flashing before me. By rights, I would not be expected to seek her again. Indeed, I should have felt better, but all I experienced was a weighty vapidity that sent me out of doors.
One night, when the air was ionized and heavy with the scent of flowers, I returned to the fairground. The electric fire of the bright lights stung my eyes and the circular strains of the calliope made me giddy.
I slowly made my way to the cafe. Through the window, I saw Nadine serving customers. I stayed to the side of the shop, so as not to draw attention to myself. I wanted to look at her quietly for a while.
When her work was over, she walked onto the central arcade. I followed her through a crowd of drunken teenagers out for a night of fun. Breathless, I reached where she stood and spoke to her. She shook slightly as though my voice had struck her.
“We can’t talk here,” she said.
I followed her until she paused before a boat ride. An attendant drew up an empty boat and Nadine climbed aboard. I hesitated for a moment and eased myself into the swaying vessel. The attendant pushed us forward along the dark current rippling with colored lights. We lowered our heads as we passed under a low bridge.
“Nadine,” I said, “you understand why I...went away, don’t you?”
I waited for her reply but she was silent. We entered a long, narrow tunnel that enveloped us in darkness.
At last, I heard her voice.
“We’re friends, aren’t we?”
“Are you my friend, Nadine?” I shouted. My voice rocketed off the walls of the tunnel and vibrated the boat.
“I appreciate you,” she said drawing close to me. “You’re a man of culture. I’ve wanted so many things. I need someone like you. Don’t be a stranger. Come visit me again. I want you to. I want you to.”
That last phrase echoed. Did she mean “I want you too”?
I voiced a quiet “All right” as I sat there in the rocking boat.
And thus it happened that, as if in a dream, I walked in slow motion up those agonizing stairs to her door. I held myself upright along the walls of the corridor as I managed to reach the door knob. At the touch of my hand, the door eased open and I reeled into the clutter of the living room. There was no light on so I stumbled and groped my way to an anchored object for support. I called out to Nadine softly. I thought I heard a noise.
I lurched forward to her bedroom door. It was wide open. In the half-darkness, I found her. I could see that she had been making love. A blanket dangled over the side of the bed, almost touching the floor. Nadine lay on her back with her breasts exposed. To my shock, I noticed the form of an unconscious man wrapped about her. I tripped slightly on the floor rug and banged against a wall. Nadine slowly turned her head in my direction and opened her eyes. I started to back away but the expression in her eyes told me to stay. She lifted her right arm and extended it toward me. I wavered but her hand held me fast.

Announcement

I have published another novella, "Hiding Out," as an e-book on Lulu.com. Please have a look.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Crossing the Straits

As the ferry reached the midpoint of the crossing, he first began to enjoy the trip. He had none of the motion sickness or general anxiety that troubled him at the start. He walked freely, almost buoyantly, along the deck and paused to gaze back at the retreating land. The whitewashed houses crowded on the shore still shone in the dazzling sun. The towers of the minarets remained sharply etched, pointing straight into the sky.
A strange land that was, he felt as he stared at the range of mountains that surrounded the city. Clouds like wisps of smoke shielded their peaks. He had looked forward to the opportunity of being in Africa. He willingly accepted the business assignment that led to a week of conferences in a sleek, ultra-modern hotel. Just the chance of adventure in following the winding paths through the ancient part of the city was incentive enough. He was not disappointed. Africa was different because he wanted it to be. The human similarities he pushed away. He craved what difference he could find or make.
He moved away from the stern and sat down on a lounge chair. Further down the deck, three dark, turbaned men in long robes gazed silently at the sea. For a long time, he thought of Marguerite, the translator assigned to him. She was of European parentage but reared on the soil of Africa. She spoke French and English but easily converted to Arabic at the slightest need. Her eyes, dark and liquid, could have peered out over a veil. Her jet black hair was wildly textured and hung richly to the middle of her back. Every night he sat with her in the bar of the hotel with the call of the muezzin sounding in his ears. He knew from the first moment he saw her that he would pursue her, but he could as well have wandered through the old section of the city without a map. He followed a tortuous path in his effort to find her out, yet she eluded him at every step. With her, it was one minute yes, one minute no.
On the other side of the crossing was familiar Europe. In a matter of days he would meet with representatives of the branch office then fly home. Fly home to whom? The separation from his wife was transforming into a divorce. Their “incompatibility” had been her ticket to freedom. He couldn’t begrudge her that, could he? Wasn’t that what he wanted for himself? He looked upon Africa as a means to freedom--and casual sex.
He watched the waves pound against the flank of the boat. Nothing on earth was ever really casual when animated by human blood. He struck Marguerite by accident. He meant only to make a point but succeeded in bruising her cheek with his hand. That had happened on their last evening together. After they had made love, and were quietly resting side by side, he had turned to her and said, “I must see you again. Tomorrow night?” She gave a small sweet smile.
“I’m sorry I cannot,” she said. “I have an engagement I cannot break.”
“How about during the day? I can take time off.”
“Also impossible. I’m sorry. I will see you soon. Don’t worry.”
He sat up stiffly.
She smiled as if to say that only more of an agonizing search would produce an answer.
“You’re so cool, aren’t you? This means nothing to you.”
“What do you really want it to mean? Do you really want me every minute?”
“I...I...We have to make an effort, don’t we?”
“Don’t overexercise,” she said with a laugh.
It was then that he tried to reach for her but his hand was wayward and caught her cheek. He turned away from her and said, “I’m sorry,” in a tiny voice as she quietly dressed and left the room.
He looked up. Slowly the high cliff of Gibraltar came into view. The promintory stood out amidst the swelling water. He admired the noble, veined rock that was the harbinger of two cultures. If only he could capture this moment. He felt the sea breeze waft over him as he watched the arcing motions of birds.
A new translator was assigned to him. Marguerite, he was informed, had asked for another assignment. He accepted the news with a surface calm and went mechanically through his work. Yet, at the first free moment, he clutched at a telephone and began to dial her number. He paused at the last digit wondering whether to approach or retreat. When he remembered that he would be leaving the following day, he completed the call. Her voice stirred him at once. He rushed his phrases, telling her that he needed to see her at least one more time. At first, she was quiet but then she said yes she would meet him if she could at the old square. He made her promise to meet him in the morning, to see him before he would sail away.
“I promise--if possible,” she said.
He wandered all the following morning through the old quarter. He passed darkened rooms where women quietly worked. Young men with trinkets to sell pleaded for his attention but he brushed by them without a word. For a time, he stood in the middle of the square with the intensely blue sky above him. The clarity of the light made the houses gleam. He looked at his watch. She should be there by now. He studied the long street approaching the square. None of the cloaked figures walking under the terraces could be Marguerite. To believe her or not believe her, to be her slave or be rid of her, to be naive or bitterly cynical--more and more antinomies arose to pull him apart. He knew that whatever choice he made, there would always be a tinge of regret.
Though it was not particularly hot, he started perspiring heavily. He went into a small shop and, in halting French, asked for a telephone. He dialed her number and heard the singular sound of a phone endlessly ringing. He dialed again and again. At last, he put the phone back in its cradle and walked out of the shop. He continued walking until he reached his hotel. From there, after collecting his things, he went to the ship.
He recalled the tension he had felt as a younger man between the need to remain at home with his family and the desire to break away and forge a life of his own. The time came when he had to decide. He had been given the opportunity to study abroad. The morning he was to leave he sat with his bags beside him and looked at the sky beyond his window. He couldn’t move. He was hypnotized by the light and the clouds. When he had to board the plane at last, he did so like an automaton. Only later, much later, did the numbness wear off but he was always drawn to the moments of quiet in which he would gaze at the sky and the soft, motionless clouds.
He gazed now at the broad expanse of water. “Can’t somebody stop this ship?” he almost cried aloud. Between two shores he was content. His reverie broke when someone near him shouted, “Look, we’re coming into port!”

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

You sit in the
Rock garden of the Ryonanji temple in Kyoto
The sand raked into the ripples of the sea
Everything abiding eternally
Everywhere, now.

In the hall of the tearoom
You hold the bowl of matcha
In both hands
Bringing it to your lips
The bitter taste
Mixing with the sweetness
Of the wagashi
This moment only
Now
One time, one experience
Draining the bowl
Slurping
Eternity

Monday, May 31, 2010

Waves
Not one
But hundreds
Slapping you
Telling you the same story
Again and again
As if you could never learn
In one lifetime
Your feet cut
With sharp shells
Your knees landing on the rocks
Your face in a blur of water
And a skein of seaweed

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Ice Regions

Into the ice mountains
A frigid piercing chill
That turns the skin blue
And stifles the breath
Deep ice regions with
White towering peaks
Sharp and cold like glass
That defy the grip of a hand
The placement of a foot
No climbing but falling
Whirling, plummeting,
Frozen into rigidity
Stiff bones wrenched and broken
A kind of rigor mortis
While you languish forever
Locked in a cavernous cell of ice

Monday, May 17, 2010

Seafoam green tinged with brown
From sand swirled
Up from the seabed
Low wavelets thudding
Up and over you
The thick brine
Littered with plastic bags,
Wrappers, a used condom,
A bloody bandage,
Spit and snot
Churning in the relentless engine
Of the sea
As a gull flies
Over the face of the water.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Night Fishing

The boat rocks in the black waves
Your rod cast into deep water
Where the river fish swims
With jagged teeth
And an empty stomach.
Your bait wriggles on its hook
And you wait, again and again,
For the weighty tug.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Prayer is a bird with outstretched wings
Flying to God against the currents.
It soars with light feathers
From the heavy earth
To nest in realms of eternal sun.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The birds sing to you
In early morning
Telling you of eternity
Like the eagle that loops
In slow, wide circles
Over the range
Of bluegray mountains
Or the fish
That suddenly appear
On the surface of the glittering lake.
Holy fish
That swim under cover of water
Doing God’s will all day.
Holy and hidden
They animate the darkest depths and prove
That what seems nothing is everything.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

In a dream
The streets
Are a film noir
With dark doorways
Hiding from the sun
And a sign above a
Shuttered shop offering
Salud en Alma y Cuerpo.
The streets are known only to themselves
Where old buildings hold secrets
In a grammar of fire escapes
And curtained windows.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Deep below the waves
Where bodies and their souls
Have fallen
Weighted down
With resignation
An eel
With fierce eyes
Peers from its place
Of concealment
The face of an angry
Old man
Roused from sleep
By noisy children.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Kobutomushi

Moonglow
Nightshow
A beam of light in Tokyo.
Hidden in gloom’s dark
On the surface of tree bark--
The kobutomushi

Summer lightning
Fireflies ascending
Slowly it moves revealing
The aggressive form
Of carapace and horn--
The kobutomushi
Ikkyu's crow caws--
Satori--
Now to the world of sake.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sakura

Under the haze of heaven
The pink and white flowers
Fall in the spring air like spent days
Their petals swept away with the wind

What anesthetic
In the field of cherry trees
While lying under the pink and white petals?
What can soothe,
What can ease,
In the wind-blown flowers?

Would this be the place
In the field of cherry
To relinquish a broken spirit
In the haze and the wind
And the soft falling petals?

Haiku by Issa

Katatsuburi
Soro
Soro
Nobore
Fujinoyama

Snail
Climb slowly, slowly
Up Mount Fuji

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

St. John of the Cross:
If a man wishes to be sure
Of the road he walks
He must close his eyes
And walk in the dark.
Thales was right
We are all water
Melting like a wicked witch
As time itself melts like a Dalinian clock
The hand touched
Liquefying in your watery grasp
No solid ground but it moves
In a changing river of time.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Where do the days take you?
Through youth and age
Rolling like a marble
Or flying like a wind-swept
Sheet of newspaper
Over the sharp-edged roofs
Of old buildings.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

You take one step
In mindfulness
One movement
Concentrating on each
Discrete act
Breaking time down
Now, only now
One step
Feeling under the sole
The hard, polished floor
Only now, just now
As your mind races
To tomorrow

Monday, April 5, 2010

Flies

The main thing
Is their persistence
How when swatted
They return
With renewed purpose
In their search for flesh,
For food--
Pure will
Clinging, darting,
Seizing the air
In frantic rotation,
Invading the nostrils,
The ears--
Any opening will do
For shameless opportunists.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Night Crossing

Waiting at the red light
You stand on the city street
In the warm spring night
While the young around you laugh, whispering
A joke, and touch,
Affectionately tussling.
When the light turns green
They move across the street
And you hasten behind to listen sight unseen.
When they are gone, you start toward home but stall--
Looking up you see in a lighted window
A painted dragon on the wall.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

This is the dark place--
Now you’ve found it
The hole from which you
Look out, look up
To the passing clouds
To a dog, a fly
Unable to cry out
Your voice clinging to you
There, down in the hole,
In the dark place

Monday, March 22, 2010

Announcement

I have published a long poem, "Tel," as an e-book chapbook on Lulu.com.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

While you uttered prayers
Something entered from the other side
Into a dark place
Within you
A serpent lodged in the bowels
Burning you with fever
Or chilling you
Till you shook

While you intoned softly
A spear from the other side
Opened a space
Within you
That filled with pain
And made you bleed
Rivers of blood

While you clutched at Heaven
You were raped from the other side
You did not yet know
Within you
The strange marriage
Of psalms and thorns
Thorns and psalms.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Hikikomori

The body is a house--
So hard through the windows of the eyes
The wall of the skin
To meet, connect
One hand touching another’s
Betrays the separateness of flesh, of bone
The spirit recoils
Into its shaded rooms
Drawing a curtain on the sunlight
And the other houses on the street.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Night Shining White

Dawn of night
Dawn of the moon
Hanging silver
In the dark
Night Shining White
Zhao ye bai
A horse is fire
Eyes wide and
Nostrils flaring

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Second Announcement

I apologize for intruding a commercial into the blog, but I have published a collection of poetry, The White Afternoon, as an e-book on Lulu.com. Please take a look.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Free

Outcomes, karma
The light of heaven
The dark of hell
History, nature,
The tug of desire
Sun, clouds, or starry sky
There is no hold
On the compassion
Of the free

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Announcement

A collection of my short stories, "Hostelries," is available as an e-book on Lulu.com. I invite anyone interested in my work to take a look.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Homunculus--A Story

I had no awareness of it until days after we settled into the house. I walked down into the basement to store away some items when I saw in a shadowed corner a stone statue of hardly more than two feet in height. I drew closer to examine it and observed that it was a sort of doll, an image of a weathered little man with a skull-like face and arms folded tightly across its body. I had never seen an image such as that and certainly did not expect it to be part of the decoration in a home.
Yet, my wife and I had acquired the house fairly rapidly. The house had been put up for sale after its previous owner had been the victim of a grisly murder that caught the attention of all the local media. The owner had been stabbed repeatedly in what appeared to be some form of ritual slaying. The grim facts of the homicide had dissuaded many from considering purchase of the property, with the attendant result that I had been able to buy the house, an old Victorian with gingerbread trim, for a pittance.
My wife and I loved everything about the house. It was spacious and full of light. The window looked out onto a pleasant park across the way. Despite its unsavory history, the house seemed the perfect place to raise the children my wife and I hoped to have.
This little mannequin, however, was not particularly pleasant. Its sunken eyes were like dark sockets and its grinning teeth were tightly clenched. The cradling arms pulled the figure inward, encircling and shielding it. It seemed to wear a chiseled robe that covered the top of its head down to the toes. Looking more closely at it, I discerned that it held what appeared to be a dagger in its left hand as the left arm folded over the right.
I thought to discard it immediately but my curiosity about it outweighed that initial impulse. When I showed it to my wife, however, she laughed and said that it belonged in the trash. I felt, though, that at the very least we should investigate its value. The former owner had apparently been a collector of art objects, many of which commanded a sizeable sum at the auction of the estate. Somehow the statue had escaped notice or interest, remaining in its dark corner. Perhaps its enclosed posture had protected it from scrutiny. Nonetheless, for all I knew, the sculpture might have been a work of significant cultural or historic value. I certainly did not want to relegate a potentially valuable piece of property to the dustbin.
I consulted an encyclopedia and then the internet to find out what manner of object this was. My efforts, though, were to no avail. While it seemed a fetish of some sort, I had no historical or cultural frame of reference to explain it.
Fortunately, I teach at a business school in a large university and, therefore, was able to contact professors in the fields of anthropology and art history. One professor, an anthropologist, had interest in discussing the object and examined a photograph I took.
“A curious piece,” the professor said, “but recognizable.” He removed his glasses and looked directly at me.
“They are very rare,” he continued. “I’m surprised that a home in this country would have one.”
“Is it valuable?,” I asked.
“That depends on that you consider of value. Despite their rarity I don’t believe too many people would want to buy it.”
The professor explained that in certain cultures an object such as that was placed in the home of an enemy to cause physical and psychic destruction.
I immediately thought of the previous owner of the house. There was that grisly murder. Had some enemy of his placed that object there or had the former owner purchased it as an object d’art without knowing of its sinister provenance?
“Wouldn’t someone just get rid of it?,” I asked.
“That would be rather pointless,” the professor said, wiping his glasses with a handkerchief. “Once placed, the spirit embodied in the statute would remain. You could smash the stone into a million pieces and it would make no difference.”
The notion that some demonic force had by design or sheer accident occupied the house I purchased invaded my mind. Although by training and temperament, I was used to statistics and empirical research, I found difficult to dispel what the professor had said about the object. I could not accept the professor’s calm and rather unhelpful assertion that any attempt to remove that horrid little statue was an exercise in futility.
“Perhaps I could donate the piece to the university?,” I asked.
“That’s very kind of you but we are not collecting such pieces,” he said with an empty smile.
“You did say it was rare.”
“We are not collecting. You might try an art dealer in town.”
The professor shifted his body in his chair as if to suggest to me that the time for our discussion had ended and that I was now overstaying my welcome. He began to gather some papers on his desk, already mentally dismissing me.
“You don’t want it, do you?” I said with a louder voice than I’m accustomed to using. “You don’t want the evil object brought to your office.”
The professor looked up at me from the papers as if he had suddenly been confronted with a madman.
“I don’t know what you are talking about,” he replied in the quiet tones one employs with distressed persons. “You certainly don’t subscribe to some ancient tribal beliefs, do you? It’s all just magical thinking.”
He turned back to his papers but looked up once to make sure that I had made my way to the door.

Having offered to sell the item to several of the art dealers in the city, to donate it to a local museum, and to present for bid on an internet auction, with all such efforts meeting rejection, I realized that I was stuck with the hideous mannequin. My wife reminded me, in her distinctive manner of plain speaking, that the statue belonged in the garbage. I could not, however, bring myself to destroy the object with its potentially venerable history and, I confess, I had come to be afraid of it. Besides, as the professor said, whether it was thrown out or not, the object seemed to stain the occupants with its malevolence. Therefore, I left the stone intruder in its corner of the house and tried to forget it. The more I tried to forget, however, the more it invaded my mind until, whether at work or in my bed at night, I continually beheld its taut carved face staring at me.

There is a moment when a door opens, or a curtain is pulled back, and you see the other side of things, that place of nausea and disturbance that exists despite our sunny blue skies. For years, I had walked around in a little bubble that constituted my rational world. That bubble burst as I waited for the evil works of the malignant statue. I knew that it was not satisfied with murder of the former owner and was planning some other cruel misdeed. Sure enough, my suspicions were confirmed when my wife came home from the doctor and whispered to me that he had found a lump requiring a biopsy. I reassured her that we would do everything possible to ensure her health, but when she had gone into our bedroom to lie down, I walked into the basement, picked up the statue, and hurled it against a wall. It did not break but heavily thudded on the floor and rolled face up with its grim, constipated expression. I wanted to smash that dreadful mannequin with a hammer and watch its pulverized body grow smaller and smaller until at last there was nothing but some bits of stone to sweep away. Yet, I knew it would do no good. I could vent my irritation all I pleased. The house we bought in the expectation of joy and peace was already marked by that silent, enclosed visitor whose whole business was to spread malevolence wherever it was conveyed.
Made by some ancient hand, the object came as a dark inheritance. I knew of no solution but to sell the house yet I could not bring myself to consider selling to an innocent buyer unaware of the visitor in the basement. The issue, however, is moot. My wife won’t leave. She says she loves the house and, in any event, she would never believe that the house was infected with this pestilence. I don’t want to trouble her, particularly since the doctor has said that she requires an aggressive course of chemotherapy. I often see her sitting near a big window full of light. If only that light could enter and cleanse. I know I cannot leave her.
Thus, I must remain in the presence of that severe homunculus while my blood runs cold.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The terror to the inward eye
That first surveys the unveiled space
Where dreams of things long hidden lie
And remove the mask from an anguished face.
The horror of the fallen tower
Cast down in rubble on the barren field
Left broken by an august power
That forced the massive stones to yield.
The sorrow of the traveler’s plight
Kept from the garden by a fiery sword
Put in motion to endless flight
By the furious engine of discord.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Snow at Midnight

A seeming solace to see
In soft moonlight
The gnarled roots of trees
And the cracked pavement of the street
Blanketed in peaceful, white snowy mounds
A contentment
Though time and conditions
Gave rise to the moon,
The trees, the street, the snow,
And you.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

White wall
The time that you are not there
The hours when the clouds pass
Over the quiet rivers
And the spider spins its web
In shimmering geometry
The moment when
A dog barks
In an echoing alleyway
White wall
The time you are not there.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Sheets of rain and a freshening wind
The rumble of distant thunder
The thwack of your finger
As you send a fly into oblivion
You are not who you are no
Not even a little.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Your febrile mind
Casts back to a former love
(If any love is past),
Recalling when you held her
Churning under you like the sea
With waves that shook you
As you would shake later,
Even now, from extinguished waves
(If any wave is ended)
In the roiling ocean of lust.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

In realms of dark you watch and wait
Hoping for a sign that will lead you
To light. A phrase, a smile, a
Look of the eyes that could prove
A sign of love.
Pluto, your cold demoted planet, moves slowly in its orbit
Through reaches of dark space.
Master of the Underworld, you are familiar
With caves of limitless night
And the black river that souls must cross
On their lonely pilgrimage.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hortus Conclusus

Over the high wall
Some leaves will fall
And float upon the pool’s still water.
Across the sky
A bird will fly
And pass its shadow over the bower.
No gust or breeze
Will sway the trees
Hedged about with brick and mortar.
Into this garden nook
No one may look
And tell what strange blossoms do flower.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Chanson D'Amour

You love her face
Even when it’s hard and bony
Even when her chin is long and witch-like
You love the wildness in her eyes
And that they narrow when she smiles
You love her lips and the soft lisp
When she is excited
You love her head of thick curly hair
You love her long, thin torso
Almost flat-chested like a girl’s
You love her long fingers
With cracking fingernail polish
You love the fact that she pronates when she walks--
You love her.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Haiku

Fixed along the road,
The dark house shuts its square eyes
Hearing the night wind.

Eclipsed by plastic,
The moon through Venetian blinds
Visible, removed.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

On the dark city street
You pause before a lighted window
And notice the table and chairs in a room--
Indicia of another life
And stand transfixed.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Shiruken

Ninja star
Whirling through rooms
Through paper screens
Spinning silently
In the cool night air
Past swords of steel
And sleeping samurai
Circling, turning
Finding
Without seeking
Its lone, destined,
Hidden
Target
A breath of pure air
Through the nostrils,
A portal to heaven.

As the tea master said,
There is always, somewhere,
A fresh wind blowing.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Somewhere on the internet
After a virtual tour of Bruges
With still, austere pictures of
Canals and Gothic towers
Downloaded in cyberspace
You ponder God and transgression
But soon you are distracted,
Ready for a chat in Tokyo.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Villanelle

Once the wheel turns, there’s nothing to do
Flowers of spring have all been undone
The past is a hole we fall into.

After the gesture, the doors close on you
Flowers of spring, their decline has begun
Once the wheel turns, there’s nothing to do.

Fixed in its pattern, what was is true
Flowers of spring had beauty bar none
The past is a hole we fall into.

Barely time to consider, barely time to reflect
Flowers of spring, no victory won
Once the wheel turns, there’s nothing to do.

The clock has claimed us, its bell we may rue
Flowers of spring fade in the sun
The past is a hole we fall into.

When night comes, the work is all through
No flowers of spring, not even one
Once the wheel turns, there’s nothing to do
The past is a hole we fall into.

Friday, January 8, 2010

From your window
You watch the white sky and
Withered branch blasted by winter
And become moody, disconsolate,
Quarrelsome over trifles,
Not fully knowing it is the rage
And sorrow of premature grieving,
The half-buried fear of a loss so deep
That even if you were exiled to the coldest star
You could not be more alone.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A love unspoken
Where is it?
Does it rest in silence
Behind closed lips
Or flash out in the eyes
And inform each gesture?
If it is not seen,
Does it exist?
Is it interred in a tomb
Left to decay
Or is it a fire
Noiselessly burning?
When the bomb goes off
And the walls blow out
And the sturdy floor cracks
In the shock waves
The comfortable furniture
You were so used to
Broken and useless
For support
Amdst the debris
And your disloyal
Body goes its own way
In the conflagration
You have the core
Residuum
Left in the white light
And capacious space
The perception
The reckoning
The mercy

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Annunciation

A Flemish angel
With a girl’s face
Entered the enclosed room
In silence
Like a wisp of smoke
The mirror showing only
The flowing curls of the Virgin's hair
And the light on a pewter dish.
Beyond the windowpane
The gabled roofs, the marketplace.

Monday, January 4, 2010

White-Bone Meditation

A skull unearthed
Jaw hung agape
As if its former tenant
Could express shock at death.
It’s the same story
Larvae, puss, putrefaction
The settling of an old score
A lingering debt renewed
With each birth
A harvest of souls brought forth
Naked, picked clean
Like the sound of a harpsichord
As it trills upward.

What if
Your neighbor suddenly was
A skeleton, knocking on your door
With bony knuckles?
Or your good friend, a grinning
Visage of bone and teeth?
What if the whole street, the town,
The world were filled with skeletons:
The young woman seductively swaying
Her exposed pelvis, the busy
Executive holding a cell phone
To a non-existent ear,
Skeletons in restaurants devouring
What’s left of flesh
Skeletons in court passing judgment
On themselves,
Skeletons lusting after other bones?
Would you have compassion?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

God's first language is silence.
St. John of the Cross

As in Zurbarán,
Silence and light pervades--
The citrons, the oranges,
The rose poised on the silver saucer--
They speak the words of form and light,
Of hidden holiness,
Of stillness,
Eternity in a cup,
A wicker basket.