The little time that we have left
Before our mortal race, I fear,
Renders planet Earth bereft
Of us, grows shorter every year.
Anger, greed, and stupid mind
Are far too prevalent among us.
Too easily does humankind
Fall subject to their threefold fungus.
Yet in the midst of all of this
Compassion never goes away
Completely. Nor does wisdom miss
A single chance to have its say.
And as we hurtle on in blindness
Toward the day we won’t exist,
Intelligence and blessed kindness
After it’s all over we’ll
Discover they were what was real.
Call to mind someoneYou’re inclined to hate
(This won’t cure that,
So don’t expect it),
And identify the qualities in
Him or her that make it so.
Then, for each of those traits,
Imagine what its attractive
Opposite might be:
For stinginess: generosity;
For hatred: kindness; For
For offensive body odor:
Scent of jasmine.
Then, imagine a toggle switch
That you can use to turn the odious
Attribute into its delightful opposite:
Duplicity into honesty,
Selfishness into self-emptying
Hurtfulness into compassion,
Bad taste in clothes into
A knack for accessorizing.
Then practice switching the
Imaginary switch off and on
For a while.
Several years before testosterone made men of us,
The boys in my school observed a ritual to invoke the
Advent of that hormone by pantomiming what they
Imagined manhood would be: They picked fights.
Indignation would be aroused in one of them in response
To something another boy had done--though the act was
Often nothing more than a perceived intolerable attitude--
And the offending lad would get “called out.”
Avoiding the fight was out of the question, once the
Calling out had transpired, and the object of the challenge
Had no choice but to appear at the designated time and place
Where the test of proto-masculinity would ensue.
As my coevals generally regarded me as something other
than a man-to-be, I reasonably expected to avoid the rite--
And I surely would have, if it hadn’t been for Rodney Halstead,
Who, one day, called me out, to the surprise of all.
The vigor of his irritation overshadowed any confusion
About its cause, and, trembling, I met him in the appointed alley
After school that day, where the conflict was resolved in moments:
He grabbed me lightly. I gave up. He seemed satisfied.
Only after he’d picked up his books and started home, our
Spectators trailing behind, did I get it: that this calling out had been
Intended as gift to an inferior boy who would ever after be able to say he’d
had a fight. And I don’t think my memory is fabricating
The smile of good will that we shared for the rest of
Our school days every time we passed in the hall.
A subtle memorial of that extraordinary
Act of kindness.
A Wish for 2017
May noble ignorance on us dawn
Like crabgrass in a virtuous lawn.
A “kick me” sign upon one’s back.
A typo in an almanac.
And in perceiving this may we
Be certain that discovery
Will follow of much further blindness.
Let us, therefore, act with kindness.
(After Mumonkan case 14)
Nansen cut the hapless cat
In two: “Meeowww!” (and that was that).
No monk from either hall, I heard,
Could come up with a saving word.
And Joshu, being nowhere near,
Was not of any help, I fear.
Seven hundred years of strife
Have passed since Nansen raised his knife,
And, musing on this case, I see
That all its roles are played by me:
Nansen, Joshu, and the rest,
And all the monks, both east and west.
But most of all, I am the cat
Who got sliced up (and that was that).
The master scorned my plaintive screeching
Better to convey a teaching,
And though this cat was not consulted,
Insight, after all, resulted.
If such a fate should be my lot:
To die thus when I’d rather not
To help convey a turning word
That might not otherwise be heard,
I pray this martyrdom to be
A blessing for the world and me.
6:30 AM, Dunkin’ Donuts
As light began to brighten the sky,
Two young men, heads bowed over
Their Bibles and coffees, squinted
So hard in prayer that their furrowed
Brows seemed to me to pump their
Petitions up toward heaven.
Standing at the counter waiting
For his apple fritter, cast a benevolent
Glance in their direction. Impressed by their sincerity
He meant to ponder an appropriate response,
But, as it happened, that was the moment the earth’s
Rotation revealed the sun in all its startling
Splendor, and God’s good intention slipped his mind.
Thanking the counter lady, he headed out to his car.
“Amen,” The lads intoned in unison,
Opening their eyes and snapping on their to-go lids.
Having no idea they’d just missed him.
If God Were an Orange
Say God was an orange.
There’d be no need to discuss
Its glorious flavor until the moment
Someone or other declared it to taste
Just like chicken. At which point the need
For discussion would arise with some urgency,
Words like sweet, fragrant, and acidic
Would be offered, and though
They’d be sufficient for countering
The poultry claim, they’d still fall
Absurdly short. And you can bet
That some good intentioned fellow
Would then take those three words
To be so perfect an expression of orange
That tasting was no longer really necessary,
And he’d write a song about it too.
God, it turns out, is indeed an orange:
A word that rhymes with no other word.
That secretly rhymes with every word.