I was startled to see this cicada emerge from its “skin” on our outdoor chair at the beginning of the proliferation of cicadas that spread through the United States in 2021.
Evolution taught us to survive, not to understand how the universe works.
COMMUNION Dividing an elementary class into boys on one side girls on the other invites each to imagine the other group has cooties! cooties! cooties! and leaves each vulnerable to those who thrive on power yet united, we eliminate disease, produce thriving meccas of cultural exchange, launch ourselves through the universe…. If you think you’re invulnerable to ads and rhetoric, think about a lemon— thrust your teeth through thick yellow skin to release zest’s zinging scent and swallow tart puckering juice. That saliva now beading your gums is stimulated from the reptilian brain targeted by an arsenal of ads and six-second sound bites that riddle information till deception sounds like truth, our sanctity plundered by those who weave their children in the woof of power while snipping out poor to be fodder for war. Girls-boys, red-blue, hick-elite, white-colored, gay-straight… I can keep going since division perpetuates itself and blinds us to our need to be touched and to touch for we are not spiders, autonomous from birth, but must be suckled once the thin film of mucus is wiped from our mouths; if we didn’t thrive on touch our exterior would be hardened shell rather than this overlay of neural sensors telling us when to swat, run, rest, embrace the Pleiades in every cell, the bell, the smile, the knife— yet the nourished thrive amid those with hunger that sinks skin between bones as the body digests its own flesh to survive— this inequity perpetuated through our mad divisions— yet madness is tricky. We think of it as moon howling running naked through streets invisible companions but true madness skulks where plans are laid to destroy this planet many times over as if this could be done more than once as if this is the best use of our lives madness in the reverent joy of orchestrating Armageddon as if some are connected and others not madness in numbing ourselves to suffering in ways that cause more suffering but before squaring off into us and them remember glass houses and heal thyself for unraveling the madness of this world begins with me. It begins with you. Yet how do we wrap around the odd ones, the violent ones, the ones who’d sooner slit a throat than say hello? I know only that we start with kindness and cherishing the children we create for they are our future, inheritors, providers, while we are holy catalysts for communion. If we choose to eliminate hunger, rein in our mad greed for power, cherish this blue planet’s miraculous life, what force could shatter our bond for each life is no more than kidney, cell, atom, of the same body coalesced from stars and seas— dust to sky to ocean to algae to fish to bird to human, we are one being the Pleiades in every cell, the bell, the smile, the knife— why not live as if we chose this sacred life?
Thank you to the editors of The Tishman Review for first publishing this poem.
LAST DAYS OF WINTER War settles like dust for there is no other side when winds blow particles from Sudan to Hiroshima to icy rivers that wild coho struggle against to lay their bright eggs. On the first day of the first war declared in this century the Asian Art Museum opens its doors with stilt-walkers dressed as emperors and geishas, and with musicians from Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan, for music and art transcend transient politics and borders. Even the museum’s map of Asia’s Buddhist centers proclaims Tibet’s sovereignty within China’s yawning border. Across the street a demonstration swells before City Hall to protest a war veiled in an amalgam of virtue, misinformation and covert interests. Something ghostlike transforms this city. While most stores close, in others clerks focus like compulsive-obsessives just to get through the day and homeless walk the streets as if San Francisco’s sole inhabitants. One woman, hair plaited with a plethora of mismatched ribbons mirroring her clothes, crosses against red. She zigzags mostly between the yellow lines while drivers remain uncharacteristically patient as if acknowledging the difficulty of accepting war without dissolving in a despair that threatens one’s ever-transient connection with life. Within these museum’s walls images of Buddha, Bodhisattvas, White Tara embody prayers for all sentient beings and symbolize compassion, wisdom, the acceptance of suffering, as well as our ability to skillfully control rather than be controlled by our mad-wraith desires. It’s no longer a matter of us versus them, good versus evil. We are all messengers of God and we are all godless. Energy is neither created nor destroyed. All those who have lived and don’t yet live share our bodies through the food we eat, the air we breathe, the cells that ferociously regenerate throughout our lives. Prayer wheels fill these halls with unbound intent that passes through the walls, the streets, the world: may all beings be healthy, may all beings be happy, may all beings live in peace.
Thank you to the editors of Buddhist Poetry Review for first publishing this poem.
SIMULTANEITY When you touch me—I am breath rather than a woman breathing. One thousand wings, a single beat, split sky with summer rain. Breath rather than breathing fills the empty glass. Split sky with summer rain to reveal horses carved in stone. Fill the empty glass with wine of roses, lilac, heather; reveal horses carved in stone but not hands that formed their symmetry. With wine of roses, lilac, heather, toast grass that fractures concrete blocks but not hands that formed the symmetry of streets concealing streams. Toast grass that fractures concrete blocks beside the woman reaching towards you; on streets concealing streams she begs for food, shelter beyond grasp. There is a woman reaching towards you; her face is old, possessions few, as she begs for food, shelter beyond grasp, and I see you, I see myself within her mask. Her face is old, possessions few; she came to laugh—she came to love, and I see you, I see myself within her mask reflecting how the earth breathes. We came to laugh—we came to love; one thousand wings, a single beat reflecting how the earth breathes when you touch me.
My doctor asked if anyone in my family suffered from mental illness. I said, "No, we all seem to enjoy it."
Jeff’s daily humor