Monday, September 5, 2016

New Poetry, September 2016

Song of Zazen
In thinking-not-thinking it’s
Suddenly revealed: all the 
heartbreak of the world.
Followed by the arising
Of the urgent need to
Recall to myself the
Names of all the
Thin Man movies,
In chronological 

In Emily Dickinson’s Bedroom
The wallpaper, we’re told,
Has been faithfully re-created 
From fragments discovered
Behind the closed-off doorway
Of some nineteenth-century
Remodel. And the tour guide
Assures us that this is in fact
The stove that warmed her
And the very bed in which she slept.
But it’s the wallpaper that brings
Tears to my eyes. For I begin to suspect
That, somehow apprised of her posthumous
Reputation, she disturbed it’s modest
Design with a message intended
For the admiring bog: Bringing
Her small, determined fist
Down on the little plate, the one
That bore the apricot of her heart,
She smashed that compact organ,
Splashing the paper with those bright
Roses, to declare once again,
This time with her blood:
“I'm nobody!”
A reproduction of the plate may be
Purchased in the gift shop.

To the Times Crossword
O puzzle of the New York Times,
Comfort of my glad existence,
Thou art of games the paradigm,
And the test of my persistence.
On Monday thou art pure and kind;
Thy solving, then, a source of glee.
A cup of coffee for my mind,
Is how I’m prone to think on thee.
By Wednesday, tho, thou’rt grown so hard
That those with lack of fortitude
May weep with anguish and discard
Thee, for thou art too gnarly, dude.
By Friday thou art so perverted,
With thy mean, misleading clues,
That some thy solving have deserted.
But, oh, not me! Thou art my muse!
When Saturday, with trepidation,
I face thy diabolic art
And win, I beam with jubilation,
For in that moment, I am smart!

Dormition of the Virgin
The instant art of the pianist’s improvisation
And the Zen master’s one-stroke painting
Aren’t wonders in themselves but momentary
Signs of the ongoing miracle of their hearts:
Natural acts that reveal extraordinary lives.
Such an act was this falling asleep, which, having taken place,
Centuries before the need to define her had become a
Matter of contention, can be imagined to have been less like the
Apostle-crowded event of the icon, and more like the harsh
And sorrowful deaths with which we’re more familiar.
Say that as she lay there struggling, Gabriel appeared
In comprehensible form to remind her of his earlier visit, but that her mind,
So replete with age, could no longer be relied on to retrieve the memory,
So she had to take his word for it. Whoever he was. But then, the surprise:
Forgetting did nothing to hinder that extraordinary life
Of which her humble assent had been just one natural act--
One expression of that rare inclination to self-emptying that had allowed God
To return the favor. Her response to the archangel, just one in a series of
Signs of that ongoing miracle of her heart. And this falling asleep,
Another in the series. In such a death the world is never forsaken.

The rabbi smiled
As he led the three
Back down the hill,
Though they were
All still too amazed
To notice his amusement.
The secret: that he hadn’t
Picked them for their
Genius or sensitivity
As they might have thought
(That idea about building
The three huts struck him
As particularly funny),
But rather because he knew
That their account of this event
Would ultimately reach the ears of
Someone who’d get it:
Relinquish attachment
To past and future, and
Birth and death don't exist--
As the late Moses and Elijah
Demonstrated by kindly showing up--
And, if you open your eyes
With honesty and love to this moment--
As astonishingly fleeting and delicate as it is--
Mount Tabor turns out to be everywhere.
And then, thinking that
Peter, James, and John
Would eventually get it too,
He smiled again.

Church Dreams I’ve Had
I’m in line for communion, but when I get to the end of it, when the last person before me has stepped away, there’s nothing there. No priest, no chalice. Yet I’m somehow not distressed, as I discover there’s a lovely light, not coming from anywhere in particular, revealing the beauty of all things, and that’s not so bad.
Entering a church, I discover that the ceiling is too low for me to stand up in it. Any position but kneeling is impossible. And I wonder if this is a sign of the institution’s stifling inadequacy or if it’s an architectural aid to humility, as one might get bending down to enter a Japanese tea house. And I realize I’ll never know which it is. (This was a recurring one.)
After the Paschal procession has wound its way three times around the church, we in the large crowd wait patiently for the doors to be flung open, but it’s taking an extraordinarily long time. We all begin to wonder if something has gone wrong inside. At the same point when it begins to occur to us that the doors aren’t going to open, it also begins not to matter. Resurrection dawns on us subtly, collectively, unmistakably, as we stand there together.


  1. Hello, Dave,

    Your poem, "To the Times Crossword," was cross-posted on the New York Times crossword-topic column Wordplay. As a regular commenter on that column, I thoroughly enjoyed the poem, and took the liberty of setting it to the tune of "O Tannenbaum" (aka, "Maryland, My Maryland"). I have uploaded a Karoake-format demo to YouTube at:

    Please let me know if this violates your very generous "no permissions needed" policy, and I will take it down promptly. In the meantime, I would like to share the clip with other fellow commenters on the Wordplay column.

    I will watch for your reply here, and/or in the YouTube clip's comments.

    Many thanks,
    Alan Riley Jones

    1. Thanks, Alan! I'm so delighted that you set this to music. Please share it any way you like. Sorry to be tardy in responding--I was away a few days. Thanks for this glorious work of composition!