Last Days…

poem & photo by Elizabeth

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.


art & poem by Elizabeth


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.

Thank you to the editors of Screbendi for first publishing this poem and to the National League of American Pen Women for giving this special mention for the Soul-Making Literary Prize.


poem, art, photo by Elizabeth


beneath surgery-bright restaurant lights was the unspoken 
collusion of employees and patrons to ignore the bone-defined 
man as he tapped thin-paned glass to beg for food.

He shoved skeletal hands toward his gaping mouth as if to fill the gnawing 
we could not imagine while digesting pasta and merlot rather than 
our muscles to survive as this man’s body had, his hollowed face 
pled as he mimed across the chasm of language, culture, class. 

After the waiter returned our leftovers, snug in Styrofoam, 
I took them across the restaurant, my legs heavy beneath 
reproach’s hypnotic weight from those unwilling to squander 
etiquette’s rules that insure our warmth while others freeze.

Through my breath outside, I saw him accept a dollar from two 
spike-heeled women as they scuttled from a bar across the street,
yet money’s a tool for future trade, no immediate relief for a churning gut. 

Drunk with hunger, he wavered in the crosswalk till a horn startled him
to the curb. Waving, I caught his eye, offered the bright box. Our eyes 
locked yet he wouldn’t move, suspended in a code more compelling than 
starvation, a code older than the south and dangerous as asphyxiation. 

Cloaked in privilege, I left our paltry leftovers on the bus stop bench 
and returned to the interior’s glare, each of us visible through glass walls. 
He sprinted across the street, gulped what would have been tomorrow’s lunch, threw away the box, and returned to the window beside us. 

He smiled, waved, tried to thank me, but I saw him only peripherally, 
embarrassed to accept gratitude for so little before he walked away.

Thank you to the editors of decomp magazine who first published this poem.