Sunday, January 19, 2020

Not Even Not Zen 195: Illusion of Presence

Illusion of Presence

This is to the next moment that occurs
not this one
or the one you thought you were living in
when you began this
but the moment after,

after she said, "We are in this time machine,"
put her pale hand against a black plastic camera,
and described how it would take us
to the smallest units of time,
to the only changes indivisible

between this and the next moment,
between the blade of her tongue and her teeth
as she told me, "I've got to see us both,"
smiled and swung her kinky hair,
always in motion,
like the bright-iron blood through her arm,
like the sweat from our palms.

"We are each in a different time," she said.
"You there and I here in different places,
in different currents, motions so close ...
I can feel the moisture from your breath,
the rhythm of your pulse
though we are not together,
parts of us apart in time
as we reach out for this kiss."

When she spoke she leaned forward
so the machine could catch her lips against mine,
our bonded flesh an ocean of waves between us,
as the black machine swept with us
into a sea of particles.

We went to meet that single wave
she hoped would carry us both.
Her mouth opened, parted to touch me
for the smallest moment we will be together.

This is to the next moment that occurs
because in the next moment, as always, we will all be changed,
mass in motion, molecules tumbling,
rushing through our veins, our arms, our palms, our lips,
into the next moment.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Not Even Not Zen 194: Cold Hopes

Cold Hopes

“My grandmother used to send me Reader's Digest
every Christmas even though I told her I hated it.”

His arms folded.  He held a cup his hand
but never drank from it.  This was back
when we were young
and had not discovered wine.

“I think I liked that one.” 
I sipped from mine, thinking.  The magazine had jokes.
And advice.  There is something lovely about advice
that isn't aimed at us.

“There would be all these inspirational stories,
people saved from death at the last minute.
Then they would give thanks.”  His eyes narrowed.
“I used to search newspapers for opposites and clip them.”

“The opposite of inspirational?”  Depressing stories, I realized,
although he did not think of them that way
just realistic ones, he would later tell me,
to counter-balance his unwarranted hopes.

“There was one great one, a woman lost in Minnesota snow.”
He put down his cup and pantomimed trudging.
“She ran out of gas and got cold. 
So she left her car and made it to a neighbors' house.
There were people home.  The light was on.”

He waited with a smile.  I nodded, ready,
imagining the chill of a night blizzard
but also the baby-blue cover of an issue I’d seen
at the dentist’s office.

“She walked all the way to the front stoop
before she froze to death.”

His arm stretched out to me but locked in place
for a few seconds, motionless,
reaching out to a void,
a world without mercy, without guardian angels.

Not that he wasn’t right.
We knew to fend for ourselves.
That’s why we didn’t drink yet.
But we didn’t know then how often we would fail,
how deadly the consequences,
how it would all end.
Really, we should have.

“Her body was found leaning against the railing by the top stair.”

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Not Even Not Zen 193: Drive and Destination

Driver and Destination

Shall I be dignified?  Shall I be vain?
Shall I refuse chemotherapy, take pills instead?
No, I cannot imagine I will have the strength
to take my life in later years.

So, accustomed as I am to shame,
I shall drool and disinherit children.
I shall poop in my bed and cry like a child.
Nurses will attend.  Doctors will frown.
Why won't I die, they wonder.
Why do I cling screaming to miserable life?
And my poor children!  Forcing my grandchildren to stand
trembling by my soiled bed, in tears,
smacked upside the head for asking,
Why are the sheets yellow?
Do I really want flowers?
When can they have my comic books?

Their parents will shake their heads,
frightened by my humiliation,
too dignified to look at me.
They will promise themselves they'll be different.

Perhaps they will be.
And perhaps I will, too. 
Maybe, when I'm old and forgetful,
I shall stand under a falling flowerpot
or ride my bicycle in city traffic
or bungee-jump or parachute or water-ski.
I could become one of those strange accidents
you read about: Ninety-Year-Old Man
Para-Sails Into Shark.
Already I eat meatloaf with buttered potatoes.
I watch TV for months on end,
drinking beer after beer, and then
I litter the floor with bug food.
As I age, my habits worsen.
Soon I'll smoke two packs a night.
When I die, they'll find ding-dongs
on my breakfast tray and donuts on my dinner plate,
ants in the lounge chair with me,
eating my fingertips and snacking off my plate.

Oh, but I don't trust fate to take me
in the comfort of my own home.
I live in fear of collapsing from a heart attack
in public, embarrassed,
afraid to say anything to the people next to me,
keeling over in the corner booth at the diner,
my face falling into my plate
of cold spaghetti noodles.
Children will point me out to their mothers
and a dozen volunteers will step forward
to whack on my chest.

It's all so sudden; it always is.
One minute a woman's complaining about her garden.
Next, she's lying in it, breathing the topsoil.
I've seen the bodies fall.
If it happens to me, those worms in my mouth, 
what will they write on my tombstone? 
Will they bury me at all
or will my wife burn me to ash for a jar?

There's no dignity in an urn on the mantle;
it's a fate my uncle used to crack jokes about.
Now he sits next to his own uncle
and his wife cleans them both with a grin.

No one gets respect from being dead.
Everyone will continue to say things about me
that they've always said.
Death itself pays no respect.
There are too many of us.
It may have come for J. Alfred as a coachman,
like dying was some goddamn tourist ride,
but I know I won't rate personal attention.

Death will come as a bus driver.
I'll cram in with forty other impoverished souls.
We will be asked for exact change.
Perhaps Death will demand I give up my seat
to the child with moist, brown eyes
and stand the rest of the way to hell.
How could I refuse?  I shall hold the hand-rail and sigh.

Will I actually get into hell or heaven?
I can't imagine it; I've done nothing particularly bad or good.
Most likely, I'll have an apartment in the suburbs.
That's where I'll feel at home, commuting to the afterlife
every morning on the hellbound train.
We'll all stand there in our good suits and dresses,
the clothes we were buried in, holding the seat-backs.
No use in drinking coffee, though I shall miss it.
Although there will be nothing to do except talk,
the others, like me, will say nothing.
We shall stand, timidly clearing our throats,
embarrassed and oppressed by the silence throughout eternity.

If I get into heaven
(now, if I can go, so can you,
and nearly everyone else,
and what will that make heaven like?)
I'll have to take a cut in salary.
I'll find a spot on a work program,
maybe janitor or street cleaner.
I'll follow the saints around, praying for them to drop something.
They'll be hundreds of us, well, billions,
standing around, chatting about past lives,
half-heartedly sweeping streets that no one litters.

Hell would be living my life over again
minus the good moments.
Fire and brimstone would be trite.  Silly.
The devils probably roll their eyes
at those who still expect it.
No, the good times made life worthwhile
and the bad times I try not to think about.
I tried not to think about them even when
they were happening to me.

Death will come as a shock.
As the first trilobite died, it said, "What?"
and as the last mammoth felt a flint-tipped spear, it wondered,
"Can this be happening?"
Everything dies.  Everyone dies
yet it's still a shock when it happens.
Charlemagne died; Herman Hesse died; my grandfather died.
My mother.  My father.  Me, too.

I’m coming along
to discover nothingness, most likely.
But we can hope and anyway
what if every bee has a soul,
every tree, every flower, every potato bug?
(My soul would make a competent potato bug.)
Perhaps at judgment day there is a holdup,
a delay, a line so long there are dinosaurs at the front.
I will spend most of eternity
playing pinochle with grannies who cheat
plus there will be an order for the mandatory two weeks
of pain or bliss toward the end,
like a summer vacation or a trip to the health spa.

But I hope Death comes for me late.
I do not believe, as others have said,
that Death is punctual.
The angel has missed me several times already
when I went out to meet it
and later tried to drop by, unexpected and unwelcome.

Death is slow on its feet;
I always slip out the back door.
I think it only catches people when they're drowsy
or, sometimes, finds them in moments of distraction
while they drive behind the cement mixer,
coffee in one hand, reading material in the other.

I think the Reaper drives distracted,
likes it when we do, too, lazy bastard,
probably digs beat poetry,
likes to play the bongos
but can’t quite keep rhythm. 
In a game, Death fumbles the cards,
spills the seven of diamonds,
stoops to gather it,
and drops a driver’s license.

Someday a bus will pull up to the curb.
The Driver won’t care if I step on
but of course I will
and I’ll look at the other faces and know.
This is it, the last ride.
I'll take off my jacket,
find a comfy seat, briefcase on my lap.

There's an inside pocket to my blazer
where I keep a pack of cards.
People wonder why I live for the moment
but not urgently.
I'm not too busy to hug friends or to drink
or to talk over a game of cards.
That’s because we’re all going to the same place
plus, like in this extended moment
that we're calling a life,
we need something to do while we wait.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 192: My Allegiance

My Allegiance

Come, fill your pillowcase with bricks
and pillow fight with me
while my head is unbreakable.
Fill your arrowheads with poison
and jab between my ribs.
My heart cannot be stopped.

After all the good you have done
there is no way to unmake me your friend.

Encase my feet in cement,
toss me into the bay,
watch me swim back.
You cannot hurt me, cannot lose me.
For you, I am resting
on a bed of needles.
Come, lie down on me.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 191: Second Date

Second Date

When she steps through the front door
and wrinkles her nose, I know it's the smell
of all the old diapers hitting her.
Naturally, the house is a disaster.
It’s never been clean since the breakup.
Her eyes widen at the pile of bills,
porn magazines, and spit rags.  I guess
she realizes I'm having trouble
with all these things at once.

The guest chair crinkles with dried baby vomit.
There must have been a spot still wet
because when she sits down, she squeals
and rises, wiping her skirt.

And look, there’s that pacifier
I've been searching for, down behind the desk.
It’s been missing two months and of course
she finds it in the first two minutes.
She wipes off the dust, a sour look on her face
like she just got a taste
of something she won't swallow.

“At least he seems well-behaved,” she says,
bending to the crook of my arm,
the head of my child.

“Oh yes.  Sometimes.”

Last night, gone drinking with friends,
I had her in a grove of trees behind the bar.
She just bent over and we did it,
me with this woman I'd known for about an hour.
It was romantic and sexy.  She yelled like crazy,
then she laughed as we dressed.
Over the next glass of wine, seated at the bar,
she insisted on a second date.
Now, she holds out her arms stiffly
and gives me the face of fear
as I offer her a baby.

“Are you sure?” I ask.  She nods.
Naturally, my son cries and she tries
to smile, on the edge of tears herself.

“I guess I should get used to it.”
And I think, hey, she's nearly right
but still, she’s getting cocky, assuming I'm in love,
that I want her to stay
just because she's pretty.

“You know, we didn't use any protection
last night.”  She hands him back.

“Hah.  That's sort of how I got this one.”

We both laugh.  But I am holding a baby
over my shoulder and, for the moment,
she is studying me
and holding her one hand in the other.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 190: On the Circuit

On the Circuit

When I'm running in bleak-white afternoon,
sweat glowing on my chest,
love-handles flopping over my shorts,
I remember Moon Pies.

Up the steep hill next to a dairy field,
pickup trucks screaming past,
gusts flapping against my back,
I think of peaceful moments with chocolate and tea.

It's those quiet times in the office,
vending machine lunches at my desk,
three-for-a-dollar peanut-butter bars,
boxes of crullers with soda,
that bring me here;
it's the cinnamon buns, choco-cookies,
peanut brittle, chips, and beer.

Yesterday, my boss said,
"A journey of a thousand laps
begins with a single donut,"
and we laughed over our midday meal
of three pastries each.

But now I run this ribbon of road,
sprinting, fast and fat,
up the winding, white line to my door
past my neighbors, who shake their heads
and laugh at the paradox
of girth and speed.

Then it's collapse in the shower,
satisfied by penance, and later,
I lounge late-night in my comfy chair
staring glassy-eyed at the computer,
slice of pizza in one hand, beer in another,
memory of the circuit behind me,
another thousand laps to go.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 189: Fatty


Hard hands on your soft stomach,
dirt and grease on your shirt
as I pummeled you in the elementary school hall,
not letting you catch a breath,
pistons-in until you were red in the face
and grasping at my fists,
clutching at your stomach
whining for air, for a chance to cry.

Everyone called you Fatty,
even girls teased you,
fifth grader of a hundred-fifty pounds.
But you sat on my brother until he screamed,
made him twist and cry,
wouldn't let him breathe.

The feel of my hands in your stomach,
it was like pushing into foam rubber
in a good, white shirt
and I knocked you to the floor
and jumped on you as you screamed,
snot coming from your nose,
tears from your piggy eyes,
a whine from your lips, a cough,
punched you until I felt
the floor through your huge stomach.

You cried there, face on the dirty tile,
flushed with rage and humiliation
because I had been one of your only friends
and even now I can't say I'm sorry.
You were bigger than my brother, bigger than me.
but failed as a bully and everyone called you Fatty.

Everyone called you Fatty,
even I called you that
and now I can't remember any other name.
I was supposed to be your friend
but I'd never thought about why
you sat on younger kids.
It was only fifth grade and I didn't think.
For that and for not remembering your name,
Fatty -- for those things, I'm sorry.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 188: Imposter


On a pool deck I wandered,
late at night, in a crowd with other swimmers.
We stood, laughing, splashing ourselves
with water that stank
faintly of sweat and chemicals.
I glanced past a red-haired friend
to watch sixty reflections in the glass.

In the black mirror of the shelter wall
it was hard to make out faces
and yet I knew us by our bodies,
our sometimes-awkward motions, strained postures,
and I was startled to see,
among the apollonian figures,
an intruder, a misfit.

"Who is that stump?" I thought,
"that goat, that dwarf,
that bulldog half the height of others,
torso twice as wide?"
I slapped my forhead, amused.
and the reflection slapped itself.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 187: i am a nymph

i am a nymph

i am a nymph from the cave of Diana.
i saw Apollo overhead and did not warn my queen,
blew kisses to Collins
(because he smiled at where i stood).

i am a dryad in a woodless forest.
no one else saw Armstrong take his step.
the plain was bare (except for me)
when Aldrin locked the door to go.

i am a virgin in love with mortal men.
when Irwin came, i touched the small of his back
and did not turn him into a stag.
as Scott walked by, i stole an envelope from his pants pocket,
opened it later, and cried to find it empty.

i was the only bikini on the beach
when Young and Duke drove by.
how i longed for a ride in their buggy!
i would have taken them to the sargasso sea
and taught them how to float
but they did not whistle at me,
did not stop.  those boys.

i am the loneliest girl in the world.
(i pretended not to notice
when Apollo spurned my mistress.)
i would have sold my immortality for a kiss
but no one asked my name.

i sat near the old chariot, waiting,
when the mistress of the hunt awoke,
Artemis with her shield of blue,
lance of darkest night.  she lifted
one eyelid the size of my whole self,
moved her white, anorthosite lips
and asked why i had left her side.

i told her of the mortal men
and their flimsy, clever armor,
their hands like children's mittens,
their bodies like balloons.
i confessed my love and hope
though i feared the goddess's rage.

she did not curse me.
she did not raise her spear to smite the ground
but laughed, instead, and swore to me
they would never return.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 186: Cause for Celebration

Cause for Celebration

Like, sorry for drinking
the last bottle of champagne.
My memory is fuzzy but
I remember I couldn't taste it.

And sorry for fighting
with your friend
who's name I don't recall.
How did that start, anyway?
I have rug burns on my elbows
and a bruise on my forehead.

It's embarrassing that I was sick
although I managed to confine it
to your bathroom, my shirt, and one shoe.
I think I used up
all your paper towels.

Oh, and thanks for the shirt.
I don't remember you giving it to me
but you must have.  That was nice.

I'm happy you're engaged, now.
That green sweater you gave her looked
as good as the ring, which was pretty.
I hope you enjoyed your party
and I hope I did, too.
I'll give you the shirt back tomorrow.