Sunday, February 16, 2020

Not Even Not Zen 199: Footnote to the Battle

Footnote to the Battle

Soldiers march in the space between buildings
between the rows of bodies broken in the road.
Mixed into the scene, the loose limbs
lying in red pools, men crying or dying,
women screaming in the distance,
the tiny forms of children long dead or longer fled,
there is the sound of laughter.

In all of the fear, rage, pain there is a fellow happy.
A buddha?  A saint?  He is a man in army fatigues,
a former sergeant, stripped of his insignia.
The space where the patch was ripped from him
is still cleaner, brighter
than the rest of his uniform.

How does one get demoted in the midst of action?
Who would dare?  I imagine the rank is
on the road somewhere, in a muddy ditch, lost.

Only his eyes do not laugh.  They dart.
He strides fast, speed and terror, anger and joy together.
Somehow, in the killing, he has acquired blood to his elbows.
With chuckling that trembles his lips, his chest,
he is immune to the sorrows of others,
oblivious to the bewildered stares of his comrades.
No one sides with him.  And he is with no one.

He is, instead, the driving force, the killer.  He needs no other.

When I feigned death, I did not imagine this.
Did not foresee anyone with weapons today
although we were warned the night before.
Did not imagine that tears could run out,
that I could rest on a wooden beam, hidden
between the floor and ceiling below
and cry in silence until there was no more.
Did not imagine someone could see this street,
do this to a village, and yet find humor.

Is this how it is?  I am struck with unbelieving
except for this fellow.  He is so real, so his own,
like a visitor from a more-real reality,
a secret land underlying the veneer of civilization.
Perhaps he is the guide to survival.

So I thought, it must be.
But I remained, hiding, knife in hand
taken from my fallen father.
Below, the laughing man's friends spread out to follow the cries of women,
to peer into houses, to stoop and pick up fallen objects,
a bloody wallet, a photograph, a coin.

The laughter fades but the real man remains.
For a moment, his back is turned, all alone,
abandoned by his comrades,
who hate him, and I
emerge.  My foot swings down from the beam.

He scratches his throat,
puts a hand into his pocket,
stares down the broken boulevard.
He does not hear me.
He does not listen for my single footstep
and so I imitate him
with all my speed and strength.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Not Even Not Zen 198: Present Illusion

The Present Illusion

Your voice rings across the water.
Your face, in this precise moment, is hidden.
But it has a hint of an open-mouthed smile
because I can hear it on your lips.
A strand of raven hair has fallen.
You are brushing it away
at this point in time, separated from me,
not quite in the same moment.

Fools say that the past is an illusion caused
by our brains putting sensory inputs in order.
Our inner selves struggle.
They flail and decide wrongly
in the attempt to assemble a puzzle
of a picture partly drawn.
Those fools are right.

Others say that the future is a creation.
It's our ability to throw a rock,
catch a ball, tie a string, cut with a knife,
to project forward to the consequences of our actions.
Shouldn't I have known your next words?
Shouldn't I have reached to your stray strands of hair?
We are so good with futures one second away,
so wavering as we reach farther,
as I am stretching to you.

I have been to the future.
I can say they are right.
We create alternatives, some of them impossible,
like our hands touching across the hundreds of miles,
you in the distant snowfall,
walking, shoes crunching on dry snow,
me by a riverbank, drenched in the rain,
both of us looking to something that exists
in our shared imagination.

In this moment, you and I, our voices touching
our fingers reaching through the air,
me in the right direction, by the way,
while you are angled wrong, your sense of direction
taking you a bit to the northeast.
Please turn just slightly
and tell me you are coming home.

Soon the future will be the present
and we will not be quite in it, either,
only a mile away,
only a riverbank apart,
only an arm's length.
The present moment too, is an illusion,
a creation that doesn't quite exist, an artifact of our minds.

So what?
Now is the moment.
I am approaching a woman
with dark hair and knowing grin.
Her arms spread wide
as if she is presenting herself,
a gift to the world.
My hand opens.

You are approaching a man
as he opens and lifts his left hand.
A smile begins to narrow his eyes.
His mouth drops open without a word.
This.  This is as close as humans come
to being present together
in the same moment.
Now, please.  Come to this moment
with me I am so ready.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Not Even Not Zen 197: Vsfivx I, E Qcwxivc

Vsfivx I, E Qcwxivc

Epp lemp xs Vsfivx I,
jexliv sj e wsr sv xlvii,
qewxiv sj xli evg gswmri,
hiwgirherx sj e omrkpc pmri.

Wempsv sr e wlmt s’ xevw,
Wqsoiv sj xli asvwx gmkevw,
Qewxiv sj e wmqtpi gshi,
Xevkix sj xlmw avixglih shi.

Xiegliv, fymphiv, fieviv sj csoiw,
Xippiv sj xli weqi sph nsoiw,
Wxvsppmrk, fievhih, peyklmrk jvii,
Xlex’w xli kverhte Vsfivx I.

Decoded:

Robert E, A Mystery

All hail to Robert E,
father of a son or three,
master of the arc cosine,
descendant of a kingly line.

Sailor on a ship o’ tars,
Smoker of the worst cigars,
Master of a simple code,
Target of this wretched ode.

Teacher, builder, bearer of yokes,
Teller of the same old jokes,
Strolling, bearded, laughing free,
That’s the grandpa Robert E.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Not Even Not Zen 196: Dead, Dead Rose

Dead, Dead Rose

Oh, my love is like a dead, dead rose
That wilted in September.
My love is like a haunting tune
That I just can’t remember.

As weary as we are, my wife,
So worn out in every way,
It’s amazing that I love you still
And love you more each day.

The days of our summer aren’t done, love,
Though the rose buds fall apart
And dusk settles throughout the lands.
There is sunshine in my heart.

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.