The Hoopoe’s Call

The Hoopoe’s Call
 

The Hoopoe’s Call

Dedicated to my mother

Copyright © 2019 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.

Inquiries should be addressed to:

Mike Stone

email: mike.stone.email@gmail.com

Contents

Foreword……………………………………………………………………………….. 4

The Hoopoe’s Call…………………………………………………………………… 7

The Breeze……………………………………………………………………………. 11

To Be Human……………………………………………………………………….. 13

Isaiah 2:4……………………………………………………………………………… 14

Used to Be……………………………………………………………………………. 15

The Hermit and the Cabin………………………………………………………. 16

The Colossal Feats of Ramses Two………………………………………….. 18

On Liking Maps Too Much…………………………………………………….. 19

Supposing…………………………………………………………………………….. 20

Rezek…………………………………………………………………………………… 21

Yuval…………………………………………………………………………………… 22

Jameela………………………………………………………………………………… 23

Shebi……………………………………………………………………………………. 24

A Meditation…………………………………………………………………………. 25

A Response to RS Thomas’ Poem (“Balance”)………………………….. 26

To Survive in a Haphazard World……………………………………………. 27

Walking a Poem……………………………………………………………………. 28

The Horn of Thirst………………………………………………………………… 29

Then as Now………………………………………………………………………… 30

Empty Space…………………………………………………………………………. 31

Fire Haiku…………………………………………………………………………….. 33

Hatred………………………………………………………………………………….. 33

What Is Love?………………………………………………………………………. 35

Drunken Gods………………………………………………………………………. 38

Entropy………………………………………………………………………………… 38

Yggdrasil’s Children …………………………………………………………… 39

A Lucky Guy………………………………………………………………………… 40

Death’s Grace……………………………………………………………………….. 40

Outside of Eden’s Garden……………………………………………………. 41

That Other Place……………………………………………………………………. 43

Another Meditation……………………………………………………………….. 43

Bershert……………………………………………………………………………….. 45

After a Long Night of the Soul……………………………………………….. 48

Butterfly Dreams…………………………………………………………………… 49

Blessed Are the Rich……………………………………………………………… 50

The Best of All Worlds…………………………………………………………… 51

Not to Worry…………………………………………………………………………. 51

My Compass…………………………………………………………………………. 52

The Poetry Lesson…………………………………………………………………. 52

Cleaning Up…………………………………………………………………………. 57

The Hours before Kippur……………………………………………………….. 57

Seek Not beyond those Horizons…………………………………………….. 59

What Use Is Beauty?……………………………………………………………… 60

I Am What I Am……………………………………………………………………. 61

The First Rain……………………………………………………………………….. 60

Her Everyday Face………………………………………………………………… 61

Goodbye Columbus……………………………………………………………….. 62

Birdsong………………………………………………………………………………. 63

Foreword

As one book closes (“Call of the Whippoorwill”, my fourth book of poetry), another one opens (“The Hoopoe’s Call”).

As any multi-generation American can tell you, the whippoorwill (or whip-poor-will) is the bird that most characterizes the American soul. For me, the single poem that best captures that bird/soul is Stephen Vincent Benet’s “The Mountain Whippoorwill”:

“Born in the mountains, lonesome-born,
Raised runnin’ ragged thu’ the cockleburrs and corn.
Never knew my pappy, mebbe never should.
Think he was a fiddle made of mountain laurel-wood.
Never had a mammy to teach me pretty-please.
Think she was a whippoorwill, a-skittin’ thu’ the trees.”

The hoopoe is Israel’s national bird and has occupied a special place in Israeli lore at least as far back as King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.

For me, both birds have a personal meaning: the whippoorwill represents the first half of my life, growing up in America, while the hoopoe represents the second half of my life, maturing and discovery in Israel.

My Whippoorwill Years began shortly before I was conceived when my father and mother dropped out of college to elope. Dad was an aspiring writer and Mom was an aspiring poetess. They crossed over the Ohio River into Kentucky where they didn’t ask too many questions and that was that. I was born and a few years later my sister was born. We weren’t a religious family although we had a few religious skeletons in our family closet. I don’t remember whether I was happy or sad during those years (most probably a healthy mixture of both); however, I do know that during that time my soul ran wild and free. That is to say, my imagination and my predilections pretty much matched the world around me. Even after Dad divorced Mom, when I was seven years old, although it was a cataclysm of cognitive dissonance for my sister and me, our souls continued to run wild and free. Dad’s family lawyers pressured Mom to give us up, so Dad got custody of my sister and me. Dad remarried when I was nine, this time to a Jewish woman. Ruth meant well and tried to be a good mother to us but she ended up putting our souls in a cage, a Jewish cage. Lest my words be misconstrued, Judaism is neither closer to nor farther from God than any other religion, as far as I know, but my little whippoorwill was caged until the day I finally moved out from under my parents’ roof.

Once again, my soul ran wild and free through fields of love and squalor. I finished university, worked awhile, was drafted into the US Army, sent to Germany for a couple years, and hitchhiked around Europe. I met my future wife (although I didn’t know at that time that she’d be the one) in Israel. After I was discharged back stateside, I married Talma. We had two children in America.

In 1978, when I was thirty-one, we emigrated to Israel.

Thus ended my Whippoorwill Years and began my Hoopoe Years. Talma is a third-generation Israeli, born during the British Mandate before Israel was declared a state, while it was still called Palestine, so she was just returning home. From the point of view of the Israeli government, as a Jew, I was also “returning” to Israel, the Jewish homeland, under the “Right of Return” which is granted to Jews around the world. After three years and three months living in Israel, I was granted Israeli citizenship automatically.

Around the same time, I was drafted into the Israeli Army, in which I served, a few weeks a year, almost until I turned fifty. I also volunteered for civil guard duty once a month in my hometown of Raanana. During my civilian life, I worked in computers as I had in America.

Our third son was born in Tel Aviv in 1984. Our sons grew up, went to college or university, served in the Israeli Army, married, and have their own children. We have seven grandchildren these days. The oldest just turned eighteen. The youngest is one and a couple months. Our oldest son moved his family back to America.

I have lived more than half my life in Israel. There are no whippoorwills in Israel. My soul tried to make the leap of faith from one bird to another but it ended up inside another cage, a cage of dissonance and loneliness, an unrequited love of the Holy Land, the land of broken promises, the hills and valleys, the rivers, lakes, and seas, animals and trees, the people, the language, the poetry, the music, and the skies.

                                    Raanana, Israel

                                    June 11, 2019

The Hoopoe’s Call

(Harken!)

He heard a call from the branches of a tree

Somewhere in the woods along the path he walked,

Stick in hand to steady his steps

Like a shepherd’s staff.

But where?

He looked around to see

Who or what had made that call,

Almost child-like, but not quite.

(Come!)

It called again.

He squinted his eyes toward the dappling shadows

The trees made with their leaves and branches,

Searching tree by tree for something half-hidden, half-seen,

And then he spied him –

(Hope!)

He said, “Hope, oh! O hope!

The hoopoe called,

Come follow me

And I will take you to Sheba,

Young Solomon, my sire,

For she’s the most beautiful queen in all of Africa!

The young man was only at the beginning of his wisdom then

But he knew the language of the hoopoe and his heart grew large.

Still, he asked, you can fly I can only walk or run –

How am I to follow you?

I will carry you on my back, wrapped in a dream.

The young and future king agreed

And instantly fell into the depths of slumber.

The hoopoe slung the dreaming youth over his back

And flew with his weightless load to Azeba

In the Kingdom of Aksum, seven days distant.

On the seventh day, the bird flew through the open window

Of Makeda’s palace in Azeba.

Makeda’s beauty was uncontested in all of Aksum

But when her eyes saw how fair was the dreaming youth

On the hoopoe’s back, she fell hopelessly in love.

The hoopoe said fret not fair queen,

He dreams of you!

Come to him in distant Jerusalem where he waits!

In Solomon’s dream, he saw Makeda’s sublime face

At the center of a whirlpool swirling round him.

The bird turned around and flew homeward.

When Makeda finally came to Jerusalem,

Solomon was King as prophesized by the hoopoe

And had built the Temple and a palace on Mount Moriah.

Although he had a thousand wives, he pined for Makeda of Sheba.

She came with six thousand camels

Bearing more gold and spices than Solomon had ever seen,

All of which were gifts for him.

Makeda stood in all her beauty before King Solomon

Who said, I’ve dreamed of you every night

Since first I learned to dream.

Makeda answered, as I have dreamed of you

Those same nights since the hoopoe

Brought you dreaming to me.

That same night they dreamed together,

Arms and legs entwined, a small seed

Of their son who would be called Menelik.

In the morning when the sun rose over the hills of Moab,

Solomon gave Makeda a ring

To signify their willing enslavement to each other

But before she left Jerusalem for Azeba,

A jealous wife of Solomon bribed a priest

To hide the Holiest of Holies,

The Ark of the Covenant,

On the back of one of the camels in Makeda’s train

Unbeknownst to Makeda or Solomon.

When she reached the shores of the Red Sea

A storm raged, making the waters

As treacherous as the wives of Solomon,

But because the Holy Ark rode in her train

She crossed the sea without event.

Makeda, Queen of Sheba, reached her capital, Azeba,

Where she raised her son, Menelik, of Solomon’s seed,

And continued ruling her people during the day,

But at night she dreamed of Jerusalem’s king

And he of her until the day she died.

Makeda’s wizened body was buried at Axum

And the Holy Ark was buried under the shifting sands of time.

That is how, sons and daughters of the land of promises,

The wise King Solomon first met his beloved Queen of Sheba

Of the ancient land of Kush, which today is known as Ethiopia

And whose men and women are still the loveliest in the world.

The hoopoe hopped onto another branch

And flew to a further tree where perched another bird,

And both took off somewhere beyond my ken.

I put my pen and notebook back in my homely pouch

And Daisy led the way we knew and loved

Homeward.

                                    May 27, 2019

The Breeze

The morning breeze whispers over my balcony

Turning the pages of my notebook

Reading even the blank ones

In its apparent desire to reach the end.

Whether or not it was satisfied with what it read

I suppose I’ll never know.

My old coffee mug seems more patient,

Waiting for me to finish these lines,

But hoping I will pick it up to sip

Before the liquid cools too much.

Flags hang from our peeling blue banister,

Still moved by last month’s Independence Day’s breezes

Waiting for us to take them in and

Fold them lovingly into a drawer

For next year’s patriotic breezes.

A prism-burnished fly suns itself on our banister.

Birds chirp their urgent business

And fly from roof to roof

Making fragile friendships of polity.

Polls have it that the sparrows have

A slight lead on the crows

But things change here in a blink of God’s eye.

In the boulevard, the palm trees slowly wave their fronds

Trying to get our attention but they speak so slowly

When they pause from speaking

I’ve forgotten what they started saying.

They bear their frustration with my flighty mind stoically

And I realize I must be a slow learner

To catch their wisdom.

A crop duster has ceased its swoops and circling

Of the fields nearby, perhaps because it’s lunchtime.

There are more balconies on either side of me

All of which are quite empty of humanity

Just like my balcony,

Just like mine.

I wonder how long the echoes of my voice,

The shadows of my body,

And the ripples of my movements

Will outlive me

Like some wave of gravity from some long-gone hole

Still lapping at the shores of spacetime.

                                                May 29, 2019

To Be Human

Poets, philosophers, and even scientists

Have wondered what a human is,

I mean precisely what,

And so, I offer ever so humbly,

Though it may be riddled with loopholes,

Non sequiturs and insufficiencies,

My poor view of what a human may well be

Whether or not one is made of blood and flesh,

Walks upright or can construct a proper sentence:

First of all, a human should be in possession of humanity,

That is, being sentient of what goes on around oneself

And caring for the sentience of other beings

Whether they bear one’s likeness or not.

Humanity is not a single thing with thumbs and brain

But a great chain of being extending

Far back to some imagined Eden

And forward to worlds beyond imagination.

Lastly, humanity is not measured by what one knows

But how honestly one deals with one’s ignorance.

A human might be able to whittle it down a bit

But it will always be infinite.

                                    June 15, 2019

Isaiah 2:4

In times of great evil such as ours

There are no prophets like Isaiah

To block our paths to self-destruction.

It is the end of days for godless religions

And men will beat their plowshares into swords

And pruning hooks into spears again

And children will learn war once more

And they will walk in darkness

Believing it is light

But when it comes

The light will shake the earth.

                                    June 15, 2019

Used to Be

Used to be

Evil was more personal.

You had to be there to do it.

Now just somebody doing his job

(Someone has to do it).

A small child all curled up

Hugging the floor

Because there’s nothing else to hug

Thinking maybe that will protect him

Feed him.

An old woman

Survived the Holocaust

The concentration camps

The selections

Her bare-lightbulb

Peeling walled room

Filled with shiny new exercise equipment

Carrot peelers turkey stuffers satellite radios back scratchers

And other stuff she didn’t need

Because she couldn’t say no

To the nice lady on the phone.

The trees being cut down

And people cows factories and cars

Blowing carbon into the sky

Til the last one of us drops breathless

To the ground he made great again

While our world went to hell.

Used to be good

Though there always was some evil

But you could always see it coming

From a mile or two away

And the world was always greater.

                                    June 25, 2019

The Hermit and the Cabin

My poor soul, bless its,

Well, you know what I mean,

Would soar like an eagle over dappled valleys

Dragging my body along with it if it could

But it has grown accustomed to the weight

And cumbersomeness of my body

Like a hermit grows accustomed to his cabin

Of rough-hewn logs and thatched twig roof

Lost in a wilderness of loveliness and terror.

The cabin protects it in a small way

From the vicissitudes of a heart’s seasons

And the uncertainties of our knowing,

But eventually the weeds send their tendrils

Through the chinks between the logs

At first admitting welcome daylight

But then unwelcome cold and finally

Strangling the logs with their slow sure strength

Until the hermit is forced to leave the cabin

Looking for another not too overgrown or exposed.

The old cabin will miss its hermit

Until the last log falls to ground

And the roof lies unthatched among the weeds, but

What cares the hermit for the cabin

Or the soul for its earthly body?

                                    June 28, 2019

The Colossal Feats of Ramses Two

Ramses Two, Ozymandias, third king of the nineteenth dynasty,

Son of Seti One or the sun, as you would have us believe,

Conqueror of Nubia, Libya, Canaan, Syria, and the Hittites,

Enslaver of the Hebrews who carried your pyramids on their broken backs,

You built temples to forgotten gods,

Cities buried under shifting sand dunes,

And colossal statues of yourself in stone

Commemorating your colossal feats for all posterity

Striking awe and terror in your peoples’ hearts,

Intimidating those who would invade,

But all that remains are the colossal feet,

The rest resides in a British museum.

Your mummied body, five foot seven,

Hunched over ancient arthritis and abscessed teeth,

Is now in some Parisian museum viewed by

Heartless bodies with a plane to catch.

If you could see yourself as we see you now,

The submerged relics of your once and future greatness,

Would you have thought it worth your efforts

And not a waste of precious life?

Life crashes through all of us,

As through paper walls or

Trampling you and me like blades of grass

Under a careless runner’s feet

To reach some distant star.

                                    July 4, 2019

On Liking Maps Too Much

Personally, I like maps.

The precision of the black line boundaries,

The colors of the bounded entities,

And the proof that only four are needed

To separate each entity, whether town or country.

Like I said, I like maps, but not too much.

Whether two-dimensional or globular,

I’ve never come across a bound’ry line so well-defined

Or patch of ground colored just like on the map

On any of my nature walks.

Besides, I don’t much care for towns or countries,

But forests, lakes, the seas, and mountains,

Clouds and animals, and kind-hearted people,

Those are the beacons for my soul.

I’d like a map to show me where

The people are friendly and where they’re not,

Where the place is good for raising kids,

Where animals are treated well,

And where the earth is well-respected.

I don’t care if the boundary lines meander

Like creeks and clouds are wont to do.

This would be a map worth having –

I’d tuck it in my travel pouch.

                                                July 5, 2019

Supposing

Supposing a car careened around the hairpin curves

Tacking up the Madonie Mountains toward Geraci Siculo

The driver drunk on the mist-veiled beauty

Tires slipping sideways on crunching gravel

Drove off the road and over a cliff

Into the Tyrrhenian blue below.

Supposing he was traveling through space

At the speed of time and supposing

It took his whole life from birth until this dying time

To see what mist unveiled.

Supposing his hair was long and white,

Would we have envied him?

                                                July 9, 2019

Rezek

Three in the morning

Jupiter stares through a crack in the ceiling

And Rezek has no time for dreams.

He gets out of bed fully dressed

And walks barefoot to the porch

Where his father pours him a small cup

Of scalding bittersweet coffee

Which he blows on and sips quickly

Slips on his shoes and runs through the night

To his uncle’s bakery.

Rezek works the furnace and the dough-cutter

Eleven hours a day and is lucky to have the job

Since his father’s bakery was destroyed by a bomb

And besides, he doesn’t have to go to school

Like those lazy dreamers! He’ll get breakfast

In another few hours. His best friend

Lost three fingers working the dough-cutter

Probably daydreaming about what could be

If it weren’t like this. Best not to daydream

If you’re twelve years old in Gaza City.

                                                July 10, 2019

Yuval

Three in the morning

A soft blue light emanated under the blanket.

His father stared into the darkness at the tell-tale light

And whispered, “Aren’t you asleep yet?”

“Wait! I’m fighting the Klaxons,” Yuval whispered back.

The twelve-year-old jinxed left and downward

Avoiding a thorg and racked up survival points

Passing safely through an asteroid belt

When the sirens started blaring through the walls

And the phone app blurted “Code Red … Code Red”!

His father shouted at Yuval to stop the game

But Yuval asked “Why? My room’s the bomb shelter”.

His father was already waking up his wife

And pulling the dog out from under the table.

A deafening boom broke the glass and shook the walls.

“It sounds like next door, I think,” his father said

And went to peer outside.

While Yuval strafed a death star

And the fires flickered on his father’s face.

                                                July 11, 2019

Jameela

Three in the morning

The shuffle of Rezek’s feet wake her from her thoughts,

Not that she was really sleeping.

Who can sleep with so much to worry about?

Her husband’s pillow is empty.

Soon Yousef will come to visit us,

My husband’s friend from madrasa.

These days Yousef is a big-time commander in Hamas.

He will ask about Rezek.

Why isn’t he in madrasa like the other boys, he’ll ask,

But he’ll mean why isn’t he on the front lines,

Why isn’t he at the fence with his sling and stones,

Like he asked for Omar, Rezek’s older brother.

They carried him back on a board, lifeless.

Abu Rezek, they call him,

The weak and indecisive father of my son,

The last and only son of my bloody womb.

Who will provide for us if not our son?

His legless father?

Who will stand up to Yousef?

Me? I died with Omar.

                                                July 12, 2019

Shebi

Three in the morning

It was half-time and she was a cheerleader.

All eyes were on her, but especially

Those of the team captain.

Suddenly she was at the prom

Dressed in white like Cinderella

When her husband’s voice intruded rudely.

“Shebi! Wake up,” he shouted, pulling her up.

“It’s another Code Red – run to Yuval’s room!”

He was already running to their living room.

She yelled to her husband, “Leave the dog!

We have only seven seconds!”

She barely made it to their mamad

When the blast shook the walls and broke the windows

While her husband was still coaxing the dog out

From under the table.

“We should move,” she told him later

While they drank their coffee together.

“Where to,” he asked skeptically.

“I don’t care. Far away.

Somewhere without missiles.”

                                                July 12, 2019

A Meditation

Walking Daisy in the morning

Is a kind of meditation.

The trees burst with raucous chirping

A cat sits in a windowsill

Watching a lone bird walking

In the alley underneath.

What else can life come up with?

Oh look, there’s a butterfly!

It is the nature of beauty to beckon us

And our nature to follow.

A plump mango falls to the ground

As easy as that.

Would that all things good were easier

Than doing evil.

                                                July 21, 2019

A Response to RS Thomas’ Poem (“Balance”)

Yes, God is the pirate who sails the wide seas

Between existence and non-existence,

Between time and space,

We walk His plank, not knowing where or how to fall

And yet we fall, abandoning our theories and our faith.

Our minds, then, what, pray God, is the purpose of our minds?

Our minds that weigh less than nothing,

Yet think of weighty matters,

These doubts, why were we given them?

To balance what we think can be known

Against what we think cannot,

So our soul may keep its balance

Walking God’s narrow plank.

                                                July 25, 2019

To Survive in a Haphazard World

To survive in a haphazard world

In which good and evil are meaningless words

To understand what is happening all around

What has happened and what might happen or not

To feel what is good or evil to oneself and others

To think of what one’s done and not done

What one might do and what one must

To believe what one can’t think through

And to doubt those beliefs when doubts arise

To act when there’s no more time to think

But to stop that action when there’s time to think

Or it’s no longer needed,

These are what a mind is for.

                                                July 26, 2019

Walking a Poem

When you walk a poem

Make sure you take off your shoes and socks

So you can feel the cool grasses and loamy earth

In the footsteps it has made to fit your feet

And take off your hat because

There’s something in nature that hates a hat

And let the breeze whisper through your hair

Lifting one strand and pushing aside another

And if no one else is looking

Take off the rest

And let the poem sing to you

And rock you gently against her breast.

                                                July 26, 2019

The Horn of Thirst

There are only a few of us now

But once we were many

And the elders led us in their wisdom:

The animals showed us the rivers and lakes

And we shared our food with them,

They ate us and we ate them.

The elders told us of the fruit that was everywhere

And could fill our mouths with their juices.

They told us there was no hunger then

Nor was there thirst.

See everything and sing it to your children

That they will know and sing it to their kin,

The elders said.

That was then.

Now the rivers and lakes are no more,

The animals have disappeared

And the fruit is dry like a dead rhino’s horn.

Last night we reached the lapping waters

Of land’s end, too salty to drink

But this morning the sun rose over

The red mountains in the distance.

One of us knows an elder song of green lands

Across a sea and sings it to us:

We will be many again

And we will meet ourselves in green lands

But we will not remember our songs

And we will not recognize each other.

Someone else knows a song of binding sticks together

To make a raft and we sing it into the lapping water.

                                                July 30, 2019

Then as Now

The sweet pungency of rose and violets

Floats on the gentle breezes

And down the road a ways the church bells toll

As they did then.

At the shooting range, you still see bullet holes

But they buried all the targets in mass graves,

Not helter-skelter like some graveyards,

But very orderly as they were then.

The tall poplar trees surround electric fences,

They seem inviting, leaves rustling in the breeze,

A nightmare inside a blonde and blue-eyed dream,

As it was then.

They scrub the showers, ovens, and the smokestacks,

The red brick raw and spotless.

A pile of shoes stands in silent accusation

But no one hears, then as now.

                                                August 2, 2019

Empty Space

There are ghosts, though I’ve never seen one.

They come when time stops or moves sideways

To make room for empty space which takes the form

Of one well-loved who walked with me

Or dallied to breath a flower’s air or

Note the stripe and speckle of a bird’s wing.

It’s funny how only memory’s eyes let me see them

And only memory’s ears hear their noiseless step.

August 10, 2019

Fire Haiku

Even in death the

Leaves and twigs may be inflamed

By heated actions.

                                    August 20, 2019

Hatred

And the prophet stood among a few people.

In the marketplace of ideas, there were many prophets

But this prophet spoke quietly. He said

Hatred is not a state of mind

That one can enter and leave at will;

It is a road that starts in innocence

Leading ever downhill

And ends in unplumbed evil.

I don’t tell you turn the other cheek

When struck, as another prophet said,

But I say don’t answer hatred with hatred.

Hatred comes from ignorance of others,

Thinking they are not like us,

That they don’t love their children

Or honor their parents

Or fear for their future as we do.

Why not answer hatred with hatred?

Because it creates a circle without exit or break

And perhaps their hatred comes from

Honoring their past or fearing their future.

What should you do?

When you understand those whom you call “other”

You will know what to do, and hate

Will wither like dry tumbleweed in the desert

Because there is no other,

There is only us.

                                    August 20, 2019

What Is Love?

I suppose that if you must ask what is love

You’ve neither given nor received it

But perhaps you thought you loved another or a thing

And now you’re not so sure.

I’m no expert, but who could be?

It seems to me that love is something souls do

With other souls, and our bodies

Are just along for the famous ride.

And what is it that souls do with each other?

They cup their hands around each other’s flame

Against strong winds that would extinguish it

Until it grows enough to warm and light its way

Because love increases us,

Does not diminish as some say over-cautiously,

And as a flame lights other fires without expense

Love kindles love without consumption.

Therefore, only souls can love

Because our bodies would be consumed

In love’s fires, O but

What exquisite fires they are.

                                                August 29, 2019

Drunken Gods

Each of us is god of his own universe

Worm-holing through the multiverse manifold

Like a drunken driver,

Gods limited in their capabilities,

Most able to destroy

But not to create,

Sitting on our couches

Watching simulated universes

On their Fernsehen.

                                    September 1, 2019

Entropy

Entropy

The second law

Is just another name for dying

Another word for lying

Another kind of crying

Another form of ignorance.

It’s inevitable

Ineluctable

Inescapable.

The forces holding us together

Will never be as strong

As the forces tearing us apart.

In the end

All there is

Is entropy.

                        September 1, 2019

Yggdrasil’s Children

We thank our foremothers for our roots

Reaching back to the mists of first times

And we bless our branches

Those that are strong and healthy

And those that are yet to sprout

Toward unknown skies.

These humans think they’re so different from us

But Yggdrasil remembers when

Our cells split off from our eukaryotic mother.

They walk past us like tumbleweeds

Unattached to the soil

As though they are going somewhere

But it’s always the same earth,

The same sky.

                                                September 3, 2019

A Lucky Guy

If we’d exchange a few words

From time to time

That meant nothing

And yet everything,

That touched a smile to your lips

As yours do to mine,

Because of some unrelated memory

Or a secret imagining,

Then I would count myself

A lucky guy.

                                    September 4, 2019

Death’s Grace

On the other side of the world

A mother’s soul grows childlike

While her body withers and shrivels

Under the blankets and darkness

Of curtains and closed doors

Waiting for God’s grace

Or Death’s.

                        September 5, 2019

Outside of Eden’s Garden

As it is written,

God told Abraham to take his son, Isaac,

Whom he loved, to Mount Moriah

To make of him a burnt offering to Him

But sent only a messenger

To stay Abraham’s raised knife.

As it is written,

Moses led the Hebrews out of Egyptian slavery

Through the sea and deserts to the Land of Canaan

Where from the top of Mount Nebo

Moses saw his people enter

The Promised Land without him

Because God forbade him entry,

A man with a single doubt

Without whom his people would have perished.

And as it is written,

God put Job in the hands of Satan

On condition that he spare Job’s life

Because Job was righteous,

No matter what evil might befall him

Just to win a bet with Satan

Who destroyed everyone and everything

That poor Job had or loved.

Sometimes it is difficult

To tell the difference between God and Satan

Or justify His mysterious moves

But the truth is

We’ve outgrown Him

As we must if we’re to survive

Outside of Eden’s garden.

                                    September 7, 2019

That Other Place

Love is that other place

Where you only exist

When you are with her,

That palace made of the

Thinnest wisps of time together

Disappearing like a dream

From which you wake

In which you struggle to remain but fail,

That Moonlight Sonata you would write

If you only knew how.

September 13, 2019

Another Meditation

The thoughts flood your mind

Like a swarm of locusts over a farmer’s field.

You need a broom to sweep them away.

You sweep and sweep and sweep,

It seems like forever and you ask

Why sweep those thoughts away?

Because you walk a thin rope

Without a net to save you

High above the gawking crowds

And these thoughts fly into your eyes

And under your feet

Making you lose your balance,

But examining your thoughts

Makes them disappear

One by one until none remain

Except for the breathing, in and out,

In and out,

And you are perfectly balanced

Between in and out

Your self and your world

Male and female

Us and them

Day and night

Good and evil

Life and death

Heaven and hell

And the rope is narrow,

As narrow as the razor’s edge.

                        September 13, 2019

Bershert

Destiny is a funny thing,

It wembles and wambles from nowhere you’d think to look

Until it arrives at the exact place you’d never expect

And that’s beshert.

If I’d never been born in America

I’d never have gone to live on the other side of the world,

Not me, maybe someone else,

But not me.

And I ran free in the grassy fields under the gigantic skies

Of America the beautiful, the innocent, the ignorant

Of any and all things outside of its great self

Where reality was measured in miles and feet

And only one language was spoken with a twang.

The altneuland, the old new promised land of Israel,

Destroyed by the Babylonians and the Romans,

Salt of the earth, not yet reincarnated,

Was my destiny, bashert,

Though I walked before it did.

If my father had not divorced my mother, my muse,

Who taught the woods to sing

The creeks to laugh and the skies to cry,

And took another wife,

Daughter of Hebrew school

And contributor of coins to the pushka box,

Prayer of the Shema Yisroel and Next year in Jerusalem,

I never would have built my home in the land of Israel

As it was beshert.

And if my now-can-I-call-you-mom and her sister

Had not introduced me to my beloved-to-be

Who dreamed in her native Hebrew,

Me, who had been dating blonde shiksas

Behind my mother’s back until then,

I never would have left my homeland for another

As it was beshert.

And if Uncle Sam’s army had not sent me to Germany

I’d never have been able to fly for free

To see my beloved in Israel

With love’s crescendo bursting our hearts,

I’d never have carried back home

Those dare-devil dreams of Israel

As it was my destiny, beshert.

And if she had not come to America

And loved me,

Me, the one whom no woman could love,

And married me and bore me fine sons,

And her father called her back home

To the old new promised land

And where she would go, I would go

And where she would stay, I would stay

And her people would be my people

As it was with Ruth and Naomi,

As it was my destiny,

Beshert.

                                    September 14, 2019

After a Long Night of the Soul

After a long night of the Soul

It seemed the chirping of birds crescendoed somewhat,

With the pale moon still in the bluing sky

The sun could be seen rising above the eastern hills

With a bit more hope than usual,

The wounded land began to lick its wounds

That they might heal.

Hatred looked around with furtive glances

And finding itself alone,

Crawled back under a rock to escape the sunlight

And plugged its ears against the chirping.

Fairness and love lifted their heads cautiously

From the hole in which they long had hid,

Climbed out and listened to the birdsong

And let the sunlight warm their pallid skins.

A cooling breeze moved through the leaves

And a few of us looked toward the future.

                                                September 18, 2019

Butterfly Dreams

In a dream Chuang Tzu was certain he was a butterfly

Flitting from flower to flower on the wings of a pleasant breeze

But when he woke, he found himself in a long and shallow trench

With comrades he scarcely knew. He scarcely knew himself,

His dinged pisspot hardly held in place with frayed chinstraps.

A sheet of molten lead zinged just above his head

Decapitating comrades up and down the trench at random.

Across the fields of mud and bodies,

The barbed wire flecked with ribbons of flesh,

And another field of bodies and mud,

There was another trench full of young lads like Chuang Tzu

But with different dinged pisspots and frayed chinstraps.

Chuang Tzu fell into a deep sleep again and

Ten thousand butterflies rose as one in the dappled valley

And turned toward the westering sun.

It was such a lovely sight

That Chuang Tzu could not believe his good fortune

And he laughed and he cried.

                                                September 19, 2019

Blessed Are the Rich

Blessed are the rich

For they shall inherit the meek

And enslave them.

Blessed are the rich

Who will inherit new worlds to suck dry

After they have sucked dry our only world.

Blessed are the rich

Who make their own blessings

And the gods to bless them.

Cursed are the poor

Who bow down to worship

The gods of the rich,

Who count the blessings of the rich

Who are sucked dry by the rich

Who are enslaved by the rich.

Cursed are the poor

Who bless the curse of meekness

For their children to inherit.

                                    September 20, 2019

The Best of All Worlds

Hugh Everett the Third walked down Baker Lane

Lost among the many worlds around him.

He could see what was and what was not

What is and what is not

And what will be and what will not

At least on Baker Lane.

He married Nancy Gore and fathered two children,

Mark and Elizabeth in one world,

Married another girl in another world

And fathered none,

And in another world,

Lived alone with a cat named Schrodinger,

Who died or didn’t die,

So on and so forth

Ad infinititum.

                                    September 21, 2019

Not to Worry

Don’t worry your little heads

Over climate change

And mass extinctions,

Keep belching carbon sky-high

Dumping plastic in the sea

And chopping down the rainforests.

We’re not violating any law of physics,

Maybe some molecules will decompose but

No energy or matter will be lost,

Maybe a bit of entropy here or there

But that would happen anyway.

Scientists are such sour pusses

We were around long before them

(everything was just great)

We’ll be around long after them,

And besides

Earth ain’t the only planet in the universe.

                                                September 23, 2019

My Compass

I have a compass as wide as the sky

To guide me home on my lifelong odyssey:

Truth is my north star, cold and brilliant,

Love is my sunrise, peeking over the hills,

Beauty is my summertime, healing and warm,

And poetry is my sunset, my succour and solace.

                                    September 24, 2019

The Poetry Lesson

(inspired by Osip Mandelstam’s “The Stalin Epigram”)

The cell is pitch black except for two cones of stark light,

One over a man wearing a sea-green single-breasted tunic,

Breeches, polished jackboots, and a peaked cap,

Sitting behind a metal desk,

And the other over a naked man whose arms and legs are

Chained to a four-legged chair with one leg missing.

First man: Name?

Second man: Mikhail.

FM: Mikhail what?

SM: Mikhail Staklinsky.

FM: Profession?

SM: Poet.

FM: You really ought to take better care of yourself.

        You are far too thin to survive these kinds of things.

SM: Everyone tells me I am too thin

        But there’s nothing I can do about it.

FM: Ahhh, yes … Do you know why you are here?

SM: (silence … The second man’s right earlobe has been cut off by a third man standing by him in the darkness and then the second man screams in short yelps becoming a piercing shriek and then a howl quickly dying down. The first man records the decibels and the duration of the scream in the appropriate column of the protocol.)

FM: Did you not hear my question? Maybe this will help you hear.

SM: I heard your question, but I wasn’t sure how to answer.

FM: Before we go on, here are some ground rules:

        One … answer my questions;

        Two … you may scream if you wish

                     but not while I’m talking.

        Simple, yes?

SM: Yes.

FM: Good, so why are you here?

SM: Is it because I wrote a poem uncomplimentary to our

        Comrade Leader?

The third man cut off the second man’s left earlobe. There is another scream, similar in decibels to the first scream but slightly shorter in duration.

FM: Ahhh, I almost forgot:

        Three … I ask the questions. You provide the answers.

        You may not answer a question with another question.

SM: I’m sorry … I didn’t know … I am here because

        I wrote a poem uncomplimentary to our Comrade Leader.

FM: Actually, not. Just between the two of us,

        It wasn’t a very good poem. I’ve seen far better.

        No, the reason you are here is to learn

        To write better poetry. It’s simple, really.

        By the time you leave us, you’ll be writing proper poetry.

        First Lesson: choose the subject. Given the times we’re in

        It should be full of pathos, but not pathetic,

        A tragic figure fit for an epic poem.

        You should try to come up with someone …

SM: (silence … The third man observes the first man’s cue and relishes snipping off the little finger of the second man’s left hand. The scream is different in key and nuance. The first man is a connoisseur of such things and the third man is a virtuoso.)

        The young boy lay in a pool of blood

        In the middle of the cobblestone road …

FM: No, no … too common. Try to be original.

SM: The old man and his wife stood on the open windowsill

        Holding hands as the door …

FM: No, no … an epic poem should inspire the reader.

SM: A naked man whose arms and legs

        Were chained to an unsteady chair …

FM: That might work.

        It’s always a good idea to write about

        Something you know.

        Second Lesson: choose a meter.

        I prefer the dactylic pentameter.

        Why don’t you try that in your poem?

SM: (silence … The left ring-finger is unceremoniously cut off. The scream is broadcast to the other cells in the basement. The third man pockets the ring.)

        A naked man with his arms and legs chained in a dreadful place,

       Fleeing his soul rides a stallion across open steppes freely

FM: Not bad … not bad at all.

        Third Lesson: choose a rhyming scheme.

        My favorite is the Pushkin sonnet, you know,

        A-b-A-b-C-C-d-d-E-f-f-E-g-g

       Why don’t you give it a try?

SM: (frantic silence as the first man searches the darkness for words that stave off his torture, that will hasten blessed death. His left middle finger twitches uncontrollably, knowing it will be next … He screams when it is cut off.)

        A naked man with his arms and legs chained in a dreadful place

       Fleeing his soul rides a stallion across open steppes freely

        Leaving his body to distant tormentors and death’s embrace

        His soul impervious to cutting no matter how deeply

        Death unlocks chains and receives us like prodigal warriors

        Honored by comrades, loved ones, and sprig bearing lauriers

        Torturers, what have they? Soulless they hopelessly wait for death

         Unloved as locusts descending in a field of shibboleth

         But maybe we do not differ so very much, you and I

         Neither of us should ever have been born into this world of pain

         Pain ergo sum, a faulty logic, so for whom is the gain?

         Comrade will dream he’s loved while I dream I am a butterfly,

         The bullet will come as an old friend but unexpectedly

         Promising to restore me to my former integrity.

After some time passed, the first man stood up, reached for his greatcoat, and joined the third man who had packed up his tools in a suitcase and waited by the door.

An indeterminate time later, two men entered the cell, picked up the chair with the second man still chained to it, and carried the man back to his cell, heaving the chair and man inside. The two men unchained the naked man and took the chair and chains with them, locking the cell behind them.

Death did not come to the naked man like an old friend that night.

It was destined for another cell.

                                                October 2, 2019

Cleaning Up

The crumbs around the chairs

The smudges on the tablecloth

But O the love they left behind

How shall I ever clean that up?

                        October 6, 2019

The Hours before Kippur

Daisy raises her velvet head and sniffs the air with wet nose,

Something’s different, she seems to say.

Sunlight from the eastern hills splashes against western windows

And a cool breeze from the western sea enters eastern balconies.

The promised land holds its breath

And the surrounding desert pauses its belly crawl inward.

Souls may be seen washing their sins in the wide river

In the rushing skies above us.

Cars, planes, motorcycles, and all manner of combustible beasts

Stand silent, surrendering to the meandering spirits

On this day,

This day of atonement.

                        October 8, 2019

Seek Not beyond those Horizons

On another world, in another time,

A world and time whose horizons are close and familiar

Unknown to our enemies or their missiles

Where God rises over the hills in the morning

And sets in the sea in the evening.

He sees us with the light of his eyes,

Hears our cacophony of supplications,

Feels us with His gentle breezes,

And tastes us with His blue seas.

He protects us from evil,

Provides for our needs

Before we think to ask,

And collects us to His breast

When we are old.

We have only to seek not beyond those horizons

Or question the wisdom

Of those who came before us.

                                    October 9, 2019

What Use Is Beauty?

What use is beauty

If it merely masks an inner ugliness,

If it just confuses us

Like too much wine

Making us think we’re gods?

What good is truth

If falsehood is far more useful

For getting what you need or want

And easier to believe by far

Besides, who has time for truth?

What purpose does freedom serve

If it only starves us

or makes us lonely?

Most prefer a bond or two

To a mindless multitude.

What’s the point of words

If they are not the right words,

The precise ones that we think

Or those that others want to hear?

                                    October 12, 2019

I Am What I Am

I’m not what I once was

Neither am I what I will be.

I am what I am

Until death do me part.

The First Rain

The first rain of the new year

The drops are more like soft pinpricks

Pointillistic with a taste of dust

When you open your mouth to say something

To Daisy, but she tastes the dust too

And sniffs the warm air with wet nose.

It’s the encroaching desert

Playing with our emotions,

Not enough yet to warrant an umbrella

Or to cool the body with its wetness.

                                    October 16, 2019

Her Everyday Face

Upon awakening

I put on my nothing-can-happen-to-us pants

Daisy put on her everyday face

And we walk bravely into the dawning day.

The moon was high and pail above our heads

But having just lit the sky

The sun had not yet shown its face

Above the eastern hills.

You can’t take much for granted in the Promised Land

God’s moved on to other worlds

And our enemies make promises too.

                                    October 20, 2019

Goodbye Columbus

When she finally left

Her body and her Columbus became weightless

(Or was it her soul that floated up

When the body sunk into the earth?)

The engines roared

And the vessel rose higher and higher

Until it escaped the gravity of Columbus,

Hers and mine.

Such a small body,

You wouldn’t think

It would have much of a gravity

But it did

And now that we have broken free of each other,

How does one feel?

How do I feel?

I feel I hardly knew her.

There was something unknowable

At the core of her being,

A life that didn’t start with me

As my life didn’t start with her,

But her life ended with me

Backward before the beginning:

Wisdom retraced time’s arc and

Experience receded into the darkness.

In the end, it didn’t seem to matter.

All that was left was a ring of prayers,

And a bouquet of aphasia.

November 3, 2019

Birdsong

A small bird landed on the branch of an old tree

Where other loudly chirping birds were perched.

The other birds on this branch twittered critically

And decided she was not one of them.

If you want to perch on our branch, they said to her,

You’ll have to cut off your right wing like all of us

And the little bird saw that the other birds

Had only their left wings. But how do you fly, she asked.

One of the birds responded by jumping off the branch,

Flapping his left wing and spiraling downward

Until he crashed beak first into a rock.

To each bird, according to its needs, the other birds tweeted.

The little bird flew to another branch on the old tree.

If you want to perch on our branch, they said to her,

You’ll have to cut off your left wing like all of us

And the little bird saw that the other birds

Had only their right wings. But how do you fly, she asked.

One of the birds responded by jumping off the branch,

Flapping his right wing and spiraling downward

Until he crashed beak first into the hard tree root.

To each bird, according to its capabilities, the other birds chirped.

The little bird flew to another branch on the old tree.

If you want to perch on our branch, they said to her,

You’ll have to cut off both your wings like all of us

And the little bird saw that the other birds

Had no wings. But how do you fly, she asked.

One of the birds responded by jumping off the branch,

But having nothing to flap, plummeted down

Until he crashed beak first into the hard ground.

We are neither left nor right, the other birds sang.

The little bird flew to another tree

And sang a two-wing song for you and me.

                                    November 10, 2019