The Dangers of Love
Copyright © 2022 by Michael Stone
All rights reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without permission in writing.
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This book of poetry is dedicated to all those gentle souls who have been wounded by love and survived.
There is no promise of hope that everything will work out in the end, no words of succor or justification that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, and no heroic poem such as Homer might have sung before a prescient chorus.
There is only a haphazard chronicling of the chimerical forms love has taken and the wounds it has inflicted on us again and again. The reader may recognize the face of a loved one in one of love’s innumerable forms or wince at a familiar pain from one of the wounds inflicted on him or her by love. Should love be put on trial and possibly punished for its crimes against humanity? No, of course not. Should we cast love out of our midst, exile it, or excommunicate it? Certainly not. Like our child, it has the same blood as we have. No, more than like a child, love is our inner soul. It is our nature to suffer love’s wounds. It is what defines our humanity. Love’s wounds teach us not to wound others unnecessarily.
The Dangers of Love
What does it do to us?
What doesn’t it do to us?
It comes when it’s uninvited
And it doesn’t come when invited.
Sometimes it comes once,
Sometimes it comes more than once,
And sometimes it doesn’t come at all.
When love does come through the door,
Rationality leaves through the window.
Love makes of life a brilliant bouquet of flowers
And presents them to Age and Death.
Blessed are those who love and survive,
Cursed are those who do not.
January 27, 2022
We tend to love those most
Who do us the most damage
But what of those who damage us?
What do they gain? Nothing,
But then they want nothing
Of us except our absence.
What do we gain? Nothing
Except the pillage of our souls.
September 8, 2021
Love makes a moment seem an eternity
But makes one wait an eternity for that moment.
Some love only what is seen in the mirror,
Some love only what is seen through a window,
Some love only what is seen on the flesh,
And some love what is seen beneath the flesh.
Some love too little,
Some love too much,
And some love just right.
Some love Love
More than what is loved.
Love steals away in the night,
Love launches a thousand ships,
Love pillages whole cities,
Nothing and no one are safe from love.
January 30, 2022
Suddenly you are awake
Perhaps not suddenly
But little by little
Things begin to appear
Or do they appear to begin?
Fluid sloshes gently
Against a wall
Soft and warm to touch
Vibrations of distant sounds
What are these things?
What should be asked?
How can it be known?
What is asking
And what is knowing?
Is this a world
Or is it death?
February 2, 2022
Is monogamy moral?
I just want to do the right thing Lord,
Even if You don’t exist and
There’s no Heaven or Hell
To goad us on to the right path.
Of course, it’s moral to give your love
To one, but only one?
Is it moral to withhold your love
From another who requests it?
Is love a finite thing
That can only be divided by two
Or can it be divided infinitely?
Is it like an apple pie
Or is it like a forest fire?
February 3, 2022
There are those who would try to measure love
As though it were a domesticated thing
Or something familiar like a heavily trod path.
They would count your tears as they fall
Into their measuring cups, recording them
For comparison against another time you cried
To tell you whom you loved more
Or which loss was the greater tragedy for you
As though there were standards
For grief or passion. Know this, glum tear-counter,
Love looms larger than any one of us
And cannot be calculated on abacus or computer
Nor yardstick or scale.
February 4, 2022
Love was stolen from the gods
And bequeathed to men
Who consumed it along with
The poison at its center
That paralyzes and diminishes
Body and soul, and leads us
To the valley of the shadow.
We think love gives us wings
But we are crashed on the rocks
Like Icarus with his melted wings
For the gods remember everything
And forgive nothing.
February 5, 2022
Sometimes love grows
Too big for one heart
And it hurts so bad
You just can’t bear it
One more moment
So you write a terse note
And pick up this thing
That will make it stop
And you feel its cold weight
In your raised hand.
February 6, 2022
There was a time you thought
That you were loved utterly,
Like the moon loves the earth
Without the earth having to do
Anything but be there and
Where else would it be but there?
But little by little even the moon
Moves away until it is gone
From the night sky and the dawn
Creeps over the mountains
Carrying the new day on its back.
You find yourself grown older
And you look for that first love
To submit yourself within
The wrap of her arms
As though you could find your way back
To some Eden that you know never was.
February 8, 2022
Yet perhaps there was a return to Eden
When my father was in his final throes
My sister held him against her breast
To confuse his ungentle going into the night
And so soften its terrible blow
Until his fearful pain was gone.
So anyone would want to go
Back the way he came
Through Eden’s womb.
February 8, 2022
Sitting alone smiling
When everyone else
Is dancing or talking,
If you look really hard
You can see the smile tremble,
If you listen carefully
You can hear the uncertainty,
If you touch his arm or leg
You can feel his being contract.
These are the scars of past loves
The wounds from too much care
And too much trust.
Love wounds you,
Changes its form,
And wounds you again.
Who wouldn’t be Love’s fool?
February 9, 2022
And then there is a fractured love,
A love that fell from great heights
Crashing on rocky shoals,
Cracks filled with imperfect gilding
And missing fragments.
You see, it was always
Love itself was ever wounded
And never human.
After all, what man or woman
Could by love be wounded,
Who are of godly love incapable,
To be wounded yet never die?
February 10, 2022
When there is no big love
On the distant horizon
We collect whatever shards of love
We can find in an abandoned field,
A like or heart here
An email there
A coworker’s unintended compliment
The accidental brushing touch of a stranger
On a crowded train,
We try to assemble them
In a semblance approximating love
But not quite reaching critical mass
Or whatever it was
The soul wished of love.
February 11, 2022
In the beginning
(Nobody knows how long ago)
There was nothing
(But the possibility of everything)
(Nobody knows exactly when)
(Nobody knows what to call it)
And a bunch of things appeared
(Which we gave funny names to)
Which behaved fairly predictably
(Like billiard balls)
(Nobody knows when)
Those billiard balls bumped into each other
Until they became a living thing
That could do one thing or another
All by itself
And the universe
(That’s what some called it)
Split in two
(One for the one thing
And one for the other)
And then a bunch more billiard balls
Bumped into each other
Until they became a conscious thing
And then a universe crumbled into
Separate universes for each choice
The conscious things faced
And everyone had his own universe
With moons and planets
Stars and galaxies
And everybody was very lonely
Even though they were just
A bunch of billiard balls.
February 12, 2022
Why do we love at all?
I mean, how does it benefit our survival
In evolutionary terms
As a species?
Not just us –
Octopus for heaven’s sake,
God knows how far down
Or sideways love goes
In our great chain of being?
Why do we trust?
Why do we care?
Why do we elevate the Other
And lower ourselves?
Don’t tell me it’s for the sex.
To trust is to lower your guard
To expose your heart
To an enemy’s dagger.
To care is to risk your life
To save another’s.
To elevate another above yourself
Is to value someone’s life
More than your own.
I have no answer to the question why,
Only to say there must be an answer
Which is known by being
If not by thinking.
February 13, 2022
A young girl carries a bunch of roses
Between the small round tables
Of a sidewalk café offering a single rose
To patrons who continue talking
Between bites and sips
As though she were invisible
And anyway of little consequence.
A waiter takes the orders
Of the people at a table
Under a wide parasol
Near the street.
A man and a woman
Sit across from each other
With nothing to say
Each looking at the pedestrians
Walking quickly by.
A man sitting at a table nearby
Drinks the last of his coffee
And thinks they must be married.
February 14, 2022
Not the day sanctified by greeting card companies
Florists, restaurants, or hoteliers
But the unsanctified days consecrated by
Holding your hand while we await
The doctor’s diagnosis
Or that time you helped me to the car
After my operation
Or all those nights we worried about the kids
And after they left home, about our dogs
Or those times we watched TV or saw a movie
And felt the same about the ending
Or those nights before I undressed to go to bed
I just stood there looking at you sleep
Thinking just how beautiful you are.
If they could put all this in a Valentine’s Day card
I’d buy you one every day
Till kingdom come.
February 15, 2022
There’s no accounting for love.
You can’t plan for love
And you can’t plan around it.
You can’t take out an insurance policy
For or against love.
You just have to take your chances.
You might play hide-and-seek with it
But you might never find love
Even if you give up and cry
Ally ally in free.
Love won’t listen to your excuses –
You’re eating supper now,
It’s past your bedtime,
You have to go to work,
Or you’re already married.
Love will just sit on your doorstep.
If you do go out to play with love,
Watch out for that first step though –
It’s a doozy.
February 16, 2022
When we think of love
We imagine its symmetry,
That the lover and beloved
Love each other equally,
We love equations so.
But truth be told
More often than not
The lover loves the beloved
More than the beloved loves the lover.
Why is it that the lover
Doesn’t demand to be loved in return?
Because he is too paralyzed
To demand anything of his beloved.
So love weakens the lover
In the eyes of the beloved.
And how does the beloved
Feel about the lover?
That he is like a weight
She must lug around behind her.
Better the lover honor himself
Before loving his beloved.
February 17, 2022
Don’t hurt, just because you can.
True, you have no feelings for him.
Nothing warm, anyway.
Perhaps you love someone else.
If not, then maybe you will sometime.
Maybe you will find yourself
In the same position as your lover.
You know, the one who loves you,
The one for whom you have no feelings.
Don’t worry, empathy is not love.
It’s just a way to keep your head
Above the quicksand of evil.
February 18, 2022
Before there was such a thing as time,
When nobody thought to have watches
To tell them what to do
And when to do it,
There was a young princess
Who was very beautiful
But also, very sad.
The king and queen were distraught
Because their lovely daughter
Seemed so wan and wistful,
And they decreed throughout the land
That whoever cheereth the princess up
Will be awarded his weight in gold,
But whoever succeedeth not
Will be drawn and quartered.
The only one to offer to cure the princess’s mood
Was a little old man of dubious means
Who came without roots or potions.
He was admitted into the princess’s rooms
By a scimitar-bearing eunuch.
The princess saw the little old man
And he saw the beautiful young princess,
Who was dressed in petticoats upon petticoats
And a vest buttoned all the way up to her chin.
Have you ever been in love, the old man asked,
Nay, the princess answered then, what is love?
It’s this invisible cloak that caresses you
All over your body, that warms you
And makes you tingle all over, he said.
Please, sir, she pleaded, do you have this cloak?
Yes, I brought it with me, he said.
First remove all your old clothes, your highness.
The princess called for her maid-in-waiting,
Who helped her remove the royal petticoats and vest
Without further ado and the princess
Stood naked as the day she was born.
The little old man climbed onto a stool
And draped the princess with the cloak of love.
The young princess was radiant in her cloak.
She took to riding around town on a white horse
And everyone who saw her fell prostrate before her.
The little old man was awarded sixty-eight kilos of gold
Which allowed him to buy a shop
And sell love cloaks to one and all.
Unfortunately, when time kicked in
And clocks began ticking,
The old man’s business went bankrupt.
February 19, 2022
We live in between things
in between the notes
and the loves.
We try to bridge them
but no bridge is long enough.
February 20, 2022
To see clearly would require
of our sense organs
that they do not possess.
Only ghosts see clearly.
February 22, 2022
To be felled
by beauty and longing
is to know
that you have
February 23, 2022
Six million stories,
each one with a different beginning,
all with the same ending,
six million stories
we will never hear or read.
February 24, 2022
We can whittle away our ignorance
though it is infinite
and we can approximate the truth
though tomorrow we may have to erase it and start over
yet the evil we can cause
February 25, 2022
As we dance across a page
Of a universal book
Our footsteps are printed indelibly
And our shadows stain the page
With everything we do or don’t do.
We can’t escape by erasure or
Cutting ourselves out of the page.
We have been inscribed in the Book of Life
Since the beginning of eternity
Which is not only a blessing
But also a curse.
February 25, 2022
What is reality anyway?
Is it what I see on a small screen
Sitting on my couch far away
From a cameraman panning
The ruins of a city that used to be
That could be safely traversed
In five-minute chunks
Is it the young girl’s or
The old man’s trembling lip
Speaking a language
I don’t understand?
Is it something objective I could see
From high in the sky above everyone
Far above the clash and clangs
The shrieks and cries?
Or is it something I must feel
The flesh, the lust and fear
The stink of my own birth
The stench of my own death?
February 25, 2022
A young woman with blond hair
Tied in a ponytail
Wearing jeans and a sweater
Hums a song to herself
While she brushes off shards
Of shattered glass from what was
Once a window overlooking
The destruction across the street.
The shards fall inward onto the floor.
Tanks roll by in the street below
Clinking like a xylophone out of tune.
She notices a sniper take up position
Across the way. He checks his crosshairs.
As I sit at the kitchen table in front of a screen
On the other side of the world
Suddenly it’s very important to me
To hear the words she is humming
Even though I don’t understand them.
February 27, 2019
Belief is best attained
By closing one’s eyes
And plugging one’s ears
Because it ignores what one sees
What one hears
(And what has been validated).
Belief increases another’s advantage
But not one’s own.
The wise one will believe
Only what he must
And only if it can’t be proven
One way or another;
Such is trust for the wise one
And such is love for the rest of us.
A wise one will not choose to believe
For beauty’s sake or some aesthetic
But only if his body tells him
It must be believed
Despite what he thinks he knows.
February 28, 2022
There is a universe in which
You say yes
Instead of no
My hand cups your cheek
And your hand covers my hand
Instead of pulling my hand away
And our bodies lie against each other’s
Instead of apart from one another.
Such is the hopelessness of hope
In the vastness of the multiverse
With no way forward
And no way back.
March 1, 2022
I wonder whether love has evolved
Since Venus of Willendo,
The four-inch clay goddess
(Or maybe just a paleolithic playgirl
For cavemen out on a hunt
Far from the cave).
I mean the concept of love,
Has it really changed?
We certainly love our fictions,
So much so that when
We finally meet another
Of the opposite persuasion,
We turn them into favored fictions
So that we may love them
And not the flesh and bone other
We no more could see
Than something of another dimension.
Ever since we invented God,
We’ve preferred illusion
Whatever that might be.
March 2, 2022
Love can change to its opposite quicker
Than you can think of Jack Robinson
As though hatred were born alongside love,
Like a dark Cain, growing in Abel’s shadow.
Did you really think you could possess beauty
Or anything else that emerges from the soul,
Hoard it like you would your fool’s gold?
Another’s beauty will never be yours to possess
It will recoil from you, changing possession
To a thing of ugliness before your eyes.
If you thought to destroy beauty
So that no one else might look on it,
All that you’ve destroyed is your soul.
Would that you were never born.
March 4, 2022
It has been said that magic is either
Science witnessed the first time
Or chicanery, but love at first sight
Is also magic or so it seems,
Especially when it’s the first love
With nothing to prepare you for
The rushing torrent of feelings
Flooding your arteries. Try
As you may to keep your footing
You are carried away, arms flailing
Helplessly, unable to breathe.
What you hold against your breast
Is a whisp of shimmering flame,
A fire stolen from the Gods.
March 5, 2022
What is it about love
That makes it the most interesting
Subject in the world,
More so even than Life or Death,
More so than our history or our future,
More so, if we are honest with ourselves,
Than our philosophies and religions?
Is it that a life without love
Is a life unlived?
Is it that we would sacrifice
Our history and our future
On love’s altar?
Is it that abstract philosophies and religions
Pale against the countenance of love?
Or is it that all these things have answers
Except for love?
March 7, 2022
Does love make me good?
Am I good if I love?
Can I love someone who is not good?
Can an evil person love?
Can a good person do evil?
Does doing evil make me an evil person?
How much evil can one do before he becomes evil?
How much good can one do before she becomes good?
How much should I love someone or something?
Is it possible to love too much?
Does love have boundaries?
If so, what are they?
Is it possible to do evil for the sake of love?
Is there really such a thing as love
That exists forever everywhere
Even if I don’t believe in it
Or does it only exist between us
When we are in it
For a moment somewhere?
March 9, 2022
I put on my uniform and jackboots
And walked out onto our balcony
To survey the camp, which boasted
Prominent artists, musicians, and intellectuals.
After the Red Cross came to see
How well my guests were treated,
Which was filmed for the world to see,
We sent them all to the ovens.
Work was hard all week,
What with shootings and hangings,
It was so distasteful,
But I wasn’t one to shirk my duties.
Every Sontag, my beloved Anna and I
Went to kirche with our two beautiful kinder
And afterward, we would have a pleasant lunch.
March 11, 2022
There are two beaches with an ocean between them:
On one beach the sands are evil
And evil are those who lie down there;
On the other beach, the sands are good
And good are those who lie down there.
Were I to bring from the good beach
Heaps of sand to the evil beach,
How many grains of good sand would it take
To cover the bodies of evil?
And were I to bring from the evil beach
Heaps of sand to the good beach,
How many grains of evil sand would it take
To cover the bodies of good?
March 15, 2022
Imagine a city or town like yours
In which you get up in the morning
Extricating yourself from your warm blankets
Slip on your jeans and slippers
And wake the kids to get ready
For kindergarten or nursery.
Imagine you sit down to breakfast
Eggs or cereal, maybe pancakes
Make sure they brush their teeth
Pile them into their car seats
Turn the key in the ignition
Check the gas tank, the mirror
Look both ways and pull out carefully
Depositing each one safely
With the other children and teachers.
Imagine you go to work
You get a good day’s work in
Go home, kiss the wife and kids,
Put them to bed, unwind with the wife
Have a delicious supper
Share a couple glasses of wine
And climb into bed together
Under the blankets
And the normal worries of the day
Until you sink into pleasant dreams.
Now imagine a city or town in Ukraine
It doesn’t matter which
It could be Kyiv, Odessa, Kharkiv, Lviv,
Or anywhere else in that God-forsaken country
Skies blackened with missiles, shells
Fighter jets, helicopters, tanks and artillery
With no place to hide, no food or water,
No pharmacies or hospitals left standing
Fathers and grandfathers unable or unwilling
To leave their country to fall into the hands
Of a would-be Stalin whose dreams
Are the nightmares of everyone else.
March 17, 2022
Once upon a time
You could make a hundred wishes
But only one would be granted
And you couldn’t know which one.
Once you could grant anybody’s wishes but your own
And everybody was happy but you.
There was a time and space when
You could be created by a God
Who listened to your prayers
And sent you to Heaven if you were good.
A long, long time ago
You didn’t have to learn
More than you were born knowing
In order to survive.
Once upon a space and time
In another world and universe
The consequences of your actions
Were immediate and you didn’t have
To wait so long to be punished
March 20, 2022
What is inspiration, they asked.
Its origin gives no hint except
To those who believe in God,
As God was said to have breathed life
Into a golem that was man from mud
And thus, he came alive, but after
God’s breath, nothing else inspired him.
Then came woman whose beauty
Inspired man to turn away from
The ugliness of cruelty and violence
And breathe life into everything around him.
Soon, silence and grunts were not enough
To describe the souls of people,
Animals, trees, clouds, and stars
And people breathed life into words
So that their descriptions could sing
And dance and leap high into the air.
Then words breathed life into
All manner of things we think about,
Dreams and memories,
Things existing and things that don’t
But might, if only we would let them.
And what is this breath of life, they asked.
I’ll tell you what it isn’t. It isn’t
Something you pass by day after day,
Or something you’d expect to happen
Or something you know or opine
Or something you are sure of.
It’s not something easy or
Something you can sweat out.
It has no rhyme or reason.
You probably wouldn’t recognize it
Unless you could see and hear things
Or feel things other people couldn’t.
When it comes, if it comes,
It often comes disguised as something else,
As something common, and each time
It dons another mask. And when it comes,
It comes up behind you and blinds your eyes
With its gentle hands and, when you’ll turn around,
It will be gone, leaving you alone
To decrypt its warmth and fragrance.
Yes, inspiration is a form of love
You feel for a thing itself.
March 24, 2022
Lies, all lies.
After you have removed all the people
Around you who make you feel safe,
After you remove all your clothes
And your nakedness is all you see,
All that is left are the lies you tell yourself
About how young or beautiful you are,
What you know or what you believe,
How good you are, how good you’ve been,
How true you are, how unafraid.
Call them what they are, lies, all lies,
And you will know the truth.
Say I am afraid, I am untrue,
I have done evil,
I don’t believe, I know nothing,
I am neither young nor beautiful.
Dress yourself again, what doesn’t matter,
Walk back out into the crowd,
Through the people reaching for you,
And keep walking into the night.
March 26, 2022
It has been said of words
That they cast the long arc
Of human experience,
That without them
We would dwell in trees
Hooting from the wild grasses,
But words are not without
Their sundry evils.
Before we had words for things
There were only things,
Things that could only be themselves
And never anything else.
You learned to deal with them
Or you didn’t.
Then we had words for things
And sometimes words instead of things.
Words became lies that made us think
A thing was something when
It was really something else
Or nothing at all.
Before words, we lived our lives
As though we’d live forever
Because death wasn’t a thing
Anyone had ever experienced.
Then we had words like “death”
We filled with frightful knowledge,
With heaven, hell, and non-existence,
Although we really had no idea
What it was or how it felt.
O, how we loved our words
Feared them, weaponized them,
Went to war over them,
Paid for them, earned money from them,
And ruled over others with them.
Now, it seems too late
To back away from using words
For our thoughts, memories,
To return to our once and future
Universal language of silent action,
When poetry becomes people,
Birds, rivers, and sky.
March 31, 2022
Love must always be.
If not received,
It will be invented.
See how a child’s arms
Will hug himself
On a summer’s day.
More than air
That must be breathed,
More than blood
That ever flows,
Love must always be.
April 1, 2022
(inspired by Kahlil Gibran’s “On Children”)
Though we would keep them in our quivers
Our arrows are fashioned for flying
Toward other hearts than our own.
April 2, 2022
When I left home for the first time
It was to build a new home
With my young wife.
We built it with our fears and hopes
And not much else, but it was ours
And no one else’s.
The next time we left home
We left my shores behind
To build a new country
And be built by it.
Our children sprang forth
Like sown seeds in this fertile desert,
But now it is our children
Who are leaving home and country
And us behind.
Like a living thing,
Love leaves love behind,
Erasing its tracks
As it forges forward.
April 2, 2022
Call me Scheherazade.
Like my namesake,
I tell stories to save my life
But no one reads them.
I write books that no one reads.
I have no sultan to stay my death
As long as I can entertain him
With yet another made-up story.
Here death comes, not from a hangman’s noose,
But from attrition.
No pennies for a fresh-made poem.
Here, time is money, and nobody wants
To spend the time to parse a poem
Or to stick with a story.
Of course, the published mavens would have us
Write what everyone would rather read
No matter how many times it’s been written,
Instead of writing what one would like to read
But hasn’t been written by anyone else,
Because it’s not safe to think thoughts
That haven’t been thought by everyone.
April 6, 2022
Socrates was right about one thing:
There is only one truth we can know
And that’s that we can never know the truth
Because we’d have to live forever
To verify it wasn’t superseded
By a truer truth or outright falsified.
We are like the mayfly that thinks
There’s no night but only day
Or like the rose that thinks
There’s no spring after winter.
We can only aspire to the
Pragmatism of science
Which theorizes, tests, and verifies
Its temporary facts that only last
Until they can be falsified.
A little modesty behoves us
To be like Socrates
Who said he knew nothing
Rather than a snake-oil salesman
Who has a cure for everything.
April 7, 2022
You, who knew the names
Of every flower and every tree,
Who knew every animal,
Every body of water,
Every kind of weather,
Who understood every culture,
Painting, music, dance, and food,
Who wrote about all that was
And all that might have been,
Who paid attention to everything,
You, who took your language to the grave,
You, my lifelong friend until your death,
How shall I praise you with my wan words,
How shall I write your fanfare?
April 8, 2022
One day in the ancient mists of forever
Daskalos asked the goddess Aphrodite
What lessons could be learned from love
Since Aphrodite was the goddess of love
And Daskalos, the god of education. He said,
I’ve seen humans and gods more intoxicated
On love than on grapes crushed by Dionysus,
I’ve seen others impervious to love,
Still, others wounded by its arrows,
And still, others who chose death to escape it.
For some, it is like a hearth that warms the home,
For others, it is like a conflagration that destroys all.
Even for a single immortal or mortal
It can be all of these things, one after another
In no particular order, like our dice games.
Should one abstain from love,
Stand strong against it,
Carry a shield for protection,
Or run from it as fast as possible?
Should one approach carefully
Warming hands and heart
Or carry buckets of water to extinguish it?
What should I tell those who would study love?
Aphrodite, who was studying her face intently
In the mirror, while Daskalos blathered on,
Laughed and stood up from her throne,
Letting slip from her tunic the most beautiful breast
That poor Daskalos had ever seen,
And said, do not waste love’s precious time
By attempting to study her meandering ways.
No lesson can be learned, for even she knows not
What she will do next, to whom, wherefrom,
In what form or with what consequence.
All you can do is play love’s game of dice –
After all, it’s the gods’ favorite game too
And there is no life outside love’s casino.
Play or don’t play, it’s no matter to me.
April 9, 2022
A Palestinian babushka shoves her elbows back and forth
Trying to hurry her gnarled legs in a semblance of running
Talks to the Italian pilot approaching her,
Strafing the dust behind her feet,
“Ikh gey, ikh gey!” I’m going, I’m going!
She is pummeled to the ground by the pilot’s bullets.
An Angolan child walks through a minefield
Carefully placing her small feet in the footprints of others,
Hoping she chose tracks that reach the other side.
Of her nine sisters and brothers, she was chosen
To bring home the water. Suddenly a bird takes flight.
A young Okhtyrkan girl has walked all the way to Kharkiv,
Her belly big with child and ankles thick with pain.
She hopes her child will wait until she reaches the hospital
But the hospital is an empty shell with grey sky for a roof.
She cuts the umbilical cord with a glass shard.
I pass a sign in a store window –
‘Arms are made for hugging’.
April 10, 2022
They came to him and said,
Speak to us of good and evil.
He waited until they were quiet
And said there is no good
But the good that we do,
And there is no evil
But the evil that we do.
There is no heaven
But the heaven that we make
And there is no hell
But the hell that we create.
There are no angels
But us, angels with vaginas
And penises, who do good
For others who need good done.
What about the animals
That would kill us
Or the catastrophes
That would destroy us, they asked.
Animals are not evil, he said.
It is their nature to do
What they and their loved ones
Need to survive. We also
Have such a nature.
Neither are catastrophes evil.
They happen when and where
Other things or events cause them.
Some argued, what you say
Is not what we were told.
He answered, then go to them,
But first, open your eyes
And see for yourselves.
They are not wiser than you or me.
If we have animal natures, another asked,
Then how can we do evil?
We do evil, he answered,
When we take more than we need to survive
From others who have less than they need
And when we harm others unnecessarily.
Evil perpetuates evil until it is buried
So deeply under acts of goodness
That nobody remembers it anymore.
And how can we do good, someone asked.
Good is more difficult than evil, he answered.
It’s almost impossible, because
Good involves making a perfect thing
More perfect. You see, evil is easy
Because it involves making a perfect thing
Less perfect. Create something better
That did not exist before you.
Make a good thing better.
Save someone or something good
From being destroyed.
Be somebody’s angel.
Make somebody’s heaven.
What about all our churches,
Mosques, temples, and
Other sacred places, they asked.
He said, there are no sacred places.
You cannot build those things
From wood or stones.
We are our churches, mosques, and temples.
They are built from our actions.
They will stand if we build them from goodness
Or they will fall if we build them from evil.
They were quiet and each one left
In his or her own separate way.
April 15, 2022
In the end, nothing is sustainable.
The second law of thermodynamics – entropy.
Life can run and it can hide
Or build a great wall against the hordes,
But the universe will find it
And tear it apart, molecule by molecule.
Life is a heroic resistance against the great night,
But like a Greek tragedy, the end is ineluctable.
If we ponder it sufficiently, we realize that
There is no good or evil in the universe –
All is either life or entropy. There are those
Who would resist it as long as possible
And others who would receive it sooner than later.
April 18, 2022
It’s a wise child
Who keeps his heart
In its cage, never released
Until he meets the shining one,
Or he’s a child who has never loved,
For the heart is a monstrous beast
With a gaping maw that would
Consume another with its
And the shining one
Is the one with equal love.
Each one, apart, off-balance
But together a fortress
Of stability against
The world’s insanity.
April 18, 2022
Who wouldn’t want to travel through time,
To go back through time to some beloved memory
Or forward in time to some hoped-for future,
And then back to the present in time for tea
Or live forever in the best of all times?
But time travel is no more than an opium dream,
Since the future does not yet exist until
Something causes it and the past no longer exists
Once it passes into oblivion. It’s a good thing,
Because otherwise, we’d be running into
Our younger selves, killing our grandparents,
And suddenly disappearing paradoxically.
Like Tantalus, if we bend down to drink
The refreshing waters of the past, they dry up,
And if we reach up to grasp the fruits of the future,
They rise out of our reach, the rivers of entropy,
And we are dragged along unwillingly.
April 19, 2022
Let’s go for a walk
Like we used to do.
We’ll take some things to eat
And maybe a sleeping bag
In my backpack.
My back is still strong.
You’ll take my hand
And I’ll help you up the rocks
Like we used to.
I never let you fall, except that time
That you tripped over that tent peg
Someone left in the ground
And broke your ankle.
We’ll start in the north near Dan,
Where Abraham rescued Lot
From the Mesopotamians,
And work our way south
To the mountains of Eilat
That Moses passed by leading
The Hebrews to the promised land.
We’ll know this land through our legs
And they will be strong again
Like they once were and
We will walk like the cedars
With strong roots through the land,
Planting one foot after another.
This land is a time machine out of which
Flows all the time in this world
Flowing backward and forward,
And we will be young once more
Lost in this time, lost together,
Until the end of time.
April 22, 2022
You tell me it’s ok, so I leave you
At the foot of the tall ladder and climb up
To the old guard post at Kibbutz Dan.
To the west I fill my eyes with the naked beauty
Of Mount Hermon. From its peaks we can see
Our enemies’ doings, but it’s enough for me
Just to see something bigger than all of us.
I climb back down the ladder
To where you worry about me,
Pick up my backpack, take your hand,
And we walk a few clicks to ancient Dan
Where each Spring it drinks Hermon’s snowmelt
And quenches River Jordan’s meandering thirst,
You with your Nordic walking sticks, looking like
You’re skiing down the rocky dirt paths,
And me with my watchful heart.
April 27, 2022
Remember the name
Chaya Shpigal Weissman
Born sometime in 1870
Murdered sometime, somewhere
No rainbow reported by anyone.
The only one who might know
When and where she was killed
Was probably the one who pulled the trigger
Twisted open the gas pipe
Smashed her head with his rifle butt
Pushed her off a balcony
Or buried her alive
But he probably wouldn’t know who she was
Just like we don’t know the names
Of the animals we eat or the trees we cut down
Just another Jew, a job like any other
Somebody had to do it, everyone said.
Nobody’s left to say Kaddish
Or light a candle for her memory.
Remember Chaya Shpigal Weissman.
April 28, 2022
From Dan we amble up the Banias river,
(Named for the impious Pan but
The locals had no p’s on their palates)
Flowing beside the base of Mount Hermon
Until we reach the base of the western Golan.
In our tiny country, we exaggerate the sizes of things.
Rivers are really creeks and Heights are just plateaus.
You stab your sticks into the gentle slopes
While I scramble up the rocky path and
Through the thistles, scraping palms and knees.
We finally reach a path that levels off
And enter Majdal Shams to pause for
A demitasse of strongly spiced coffee.
The locals don’t use the Shouting Hill anymore
Since everyone has cell phones, even the enemy.
From there we walk beside the road to Mas’ada,
Then Buq’ata, and the cool shade of Odem Forest.
The walking is easy enough, through the apple
And cherry orchards, happening on deer
That look at us with vague interest
And then back at what they are nibbling.
We sit on a flat rock by a pool and
Dip our naked feet into the cold water.
Across the pool from us are two gazelles,
One smaller than the other. We dry our feet
And walk on past El Rom to the Valley of Tears
Where David fought the Philistines who came back
In Syrian tanks during the Yom Kippur war
While we prayed to a god we thought could protect us.
A siren pierces the evening, maybe El Rom or Merom Golan.
I glance at my watch, and we stand at attention until it ends.
A crescent moon peeks through the clouds and I wonder
Whether we survived because of God or despite Him.
And then a thought rises up like smoke from a campfire
I thought I’d put out – if anyone is listening up there,
Let it be me that goes before you and our sons
Down that path that is not a path. Let it be me.
May 4, 2022
From Merom Golan we walk a short way to Bental
And unroll our sleeping bags near the small lake.
In the morning, we repack our backpacks and
Walk alongside the narrow road
To the lovely Avital Mountain Reserve.
We sit on a rock under a tree and spread out our breakfast
Of tomatoes and cucumbers. I boil thick coffee on the burner
Which we drink, gazing toward Al-Qunaitra.
Sated, we walk down past Ein Zivan, the Shifon Reserve,
And by late evening, we reach Benot Ya’acov Bridge.
The name means Jacob’s Daughters but, in the Bible,
Jacob and Leah had only one daughter, Dinah.
So much history flowed underneath the bridge
And galloped across it from China to Morocco.
The bridge was destroyed and rebuilt many times
From the Crusades until our war of independence.
Tired and hungry, we look for a place
To spread our sleeping bags
And share a loaf of stale bread.
Suddenly our cell phones start chirping and
I fish my phone out to see what’s so urgent –
An attack on a town in our country’s heart.
Three people axed to death, six injured critically,
Two terrorists from Jenin, on the run.
Everyone is calling home to make sure that
Everyone else is safe. Just last week
There was an attack in another town,
And the week before that, da capo al fine.
I ask you, when will death tell us – No more,
There’s no more room in this earth
For our bloodless corpses?
No one sleeps tonight.
Finally, the sun breaks night’s stranglehold
And rises tentatively, to live for another day.
We rise with the sun on our backs,
Eat the cucumbers, clementines,
And tomatoes remaining in our bags.
We hoist the backpacks on our backs
And walk down the road past
The ruins of Mishmar HaYarden
And the small airfield of Mahanayim.
Four hours after we started walking
This morning, we check into
A bed and breakfast in Rosh Pina
And fall asleep on taut bed sheets
Until hunger wakes us.
The Half-Life of a Poem
The half-life of carbon-fourteen
Is five thousand seven hundred
And thirty years, plus or minus.
The half-life of a human is when
The time he’s lived is equal to
The time he has left to live.
But the half-life of a poem is different –
It starts off as nothing really,
Dead in the water, as they say,
But when it’s reached half of
What it’s going to be,
It comes alive and takes the reins
From the poet’s hand
And gallops free.
May 6, 2022
When I was a child, I remember
Hearing about imaginary numbers
And thinking how I could count
The things I imagined like
My mother coming back to us
After she had left us but
I didn’t know that it was Dad
Who made her go away
If she knew what was good for her
Or what I’d done to deserve it all
Or other things like what it’s like
To feel loved. Oh, I knew what
It’s like to love. I loved everything
My brown eyes rested on.
Let’s see, the square root of minus one
Was Connie Cheney in the third grade
The square root of minus two was
Linda Sanders in junior high
And the square root of minus three
Was Laurie Mantell in high school.
None of them ever knew, except for Connie
When my little sister, whom I’ll always love,
Told her, much to my embarrassment.
After Laurie, I knew my mother’d never return
When we got a letter she had died.
By then, I’d learned imaginary numbers
Were just metaphors of reality and
Imagination would likely remain imaginary.
May 10, 2022
We woke with the first sunlight piercing
Our eyelids through the window glass.
After breakfast and checking out
We left Rosh Pina on foot for Safed
Six sweaty hours away.
The first thing
That hits you is Safed’s elevation.
It’s like having to walk to heaven
Or some other equally unworldly place.
Safed has been destroyed and rebuilt
Sometimes by God’s earthquakes
And sometimes by men.
The current Safed, filled with mystics
And artists of all sorts, bears little resemblance
To the first Safed, during the Second Temple
Hardly a village, a place someone climbed up
To light a bonfire and wave a torch
In wide arcs until someone on another mount
Waved back, and so on and so forth
Until all of Israel and the Diaspora knew that
A New Month or some religious festival
Had arrived and it was time to sow their seed
Reap their harvests or dance in the streets.
During the Spanish Inquisition, when Christians
Burned Jews at the stake to save their souls
Some Jews escaped their fates on ships to America
While others went to Safed to study Kabbalah.
These days, the Kabbalah is explained by patient rabbis
To impatient tourists in easily digested sound bites.
We walked through narrow streets of cobblestone
That must have been inspired by Escher’s staircases,
Which ghosts hurried past perpendicularly
To return to their graves before the Sabbath.
We found a small but rather charming hotel,
Checked in and, after stowing our backpacks,
Decided not to go back out to wander around,
Knowing we’d never find our way back,
And succumbed to our dervish dreams.
May 12, 2022
What are you now that I can only see
You with my eyes tightly closed,
That I can only hear what you say
In utter silence? What are you now?
That I only feel your touch
When I am so alone?
That I can only think of you when
I can’t think of anything else?
What are you now, besides
The white bones, laying where they fell,
Cast like some I Ching prediction
Of my fate? What have you
Gone on to become, my love?
May 13, 2022
There are two people
In the world who
Don’t need proof
The one who loves
And the one who
May 14, 2022
I like to think
Of the images
Of your life
Out of sequence.
Then I don’t think
About the last one.
May 14, 2022
I’m not in love with rationality.
It’s just something you have to
Pay some attention to
To stay alive.
But alive for what?
For the sake of irrationality,
Irrationality is that great fountain
Of inspiration and love
That we drink from with big gulps
Whenever we can or if we can’t,
It is what we crawl toward
In this desert we call life.
You can’t get inspiration or love
By any known path or place
Or time or doing,
Nor any math or logic,
And yet it happens
To those who somehow
Cup themselves in readiness
Out of time or space
To drink those waters.
May 17, 2022
Over and over
Millions and billions
Of years the sun rises
Sisyphean over the eastern hills
Pushing the earth up one hill
And down another with its
Photons toward Lyra’s Vega
Only to go around the mulberry bush
Back to Sirius again and again.
Entropy, the universal escape clause
From eternal existence as Death
Escapes eternal consciousness,
To watch what we love change
Little by little, one mote at a time,
Until it no longer is what we
Once knew and loved,
But something else alien.
May 26, 2022
You can keep your world
Of wars, diseases,
and unbreathable air.
My world consists
of just three things:
June 4, 2022
I dream of peace
Of gentle living
Of love between
Our brothers and sisters
No matter what their color
Or where they came from
Of enough for all
Because life was never meant to suffer
Of letting all things be
Of looking forward
Instead of back
But then I wake up
In my foxhole
My canteen dry
And my rifle aimed
At the dust clouds
On the horizon.
June 4, 2022
Sometimes a starry night
Or a thick grey fog
That walks beside me
But more often than not
It’s your absence
Like a child’s cut-out
Of a page torn from
That won’t let me be.
Time is loss
It slips from the thinnest moment
Into a vast ocean of disappearance
Which is just another word
There is a language
For speaking of absence
And it is silence.
June 5, 2022
Don’t ask for ink or pen
To write your book,
You have all you need.
All the deaths and battles,
Wounds and pains,
Made you what you are.
June 5, 2022
Morning — we venture out of the hotel
And find an easy hiking trail to Mount Meron,
Just four kilometers, all told. By car,
It would take us twenty-six; so much for cars.
Meron was where Joshua defeated the Canaanite kings
With God’s helping hand and well-aimed hail.
Carob trees are scattered along the trail.
The pods and seeds are edible when fresh
And make a fine tea, if you have the time.
Shimon Bar Yochai and his son lived in
One of the many caves dotting the hills
And lived on carob pods for two years
While they hid from the Romans
Who had sentenced them to death.
Meron is where the faithful go on Lag BaOmer
To prostrate themselves on the graves of rabbis
To hasten the coming of the shy Sheheena,
Shimon bar Yochai, who revealed the Zohar,
Died on Lag BaOmer in the second century CE
His tomb on Meron draws the most prostrations
On this same day each year. The celebrations
Are wild with dancing, singing, and bonfires,
Men in black jumping up and down on bleachers
Till they collapse under the weight of their joy.
Last year, forty-five people were trampled to death
Trying to leave his tomb to board a bus for home.
Toward dusk, all along the trail, we hear
A cacophony of howling wolves,
Jackals and foxes, invisible to us
And the streetlights of Safed
Dance in the distance.
June 6, 2022
Sparrowhawk spoke to himself
When he was alone
Which was many moons
Since the young no longer heard
And the elders no longer sang.
He said, fly away, Sparrowhawk,
High and away, above the sun
And the clouds, above the night
To the land where the stories are true,
And the people are too, and the mountains
And trees and the rivers laugh
And smell like forever.
Where the elders went
I will follow.
June 16, 2022
What if words could fly
Their images high in the sky
And their dark shadows
Running across the fields and hills?
What if words were gods
What colors they’d create
In the beginning there’d be silence
And then there’d be a word?
What if words were real
And someone tried to lie
He’d cough and gag
Until he’d die?
June 21, 2022
A child asked his father,
Is death ugly?
The father answered,
It depends on whom you ask,
One who lives will say it’s ugly
But for one who’s dead
It’s neither beautiful nor ugly.
The son asked,
How long is death?
The father again answered,
It depends on whom you ask,
One who lives will say “forever”
Or if he’s honest, “I don’t know”,
But for one who’s dead
It’s less than an eye’s blink.
The child shoveled some more sand
Into his little red bucket
By the gentle sea.
June 22, 2022
Too many to count
Hoards moving forward
Staring into the windowfronts
As they pass
Shuffling down the streets
Traffic lights turn red
Green then yellow
And red again
But they don’t stop
They just keep ambling along
The weight of them
June 24, 2022