From Telling The Difference

From Telling The Difference Recently in Journals Haiku, Senryu, Tanka Translations

 

Temple of Kali

1.
Natural World

If you’re easily bored
or need a parable, I recommend
driver ants, called
siafu in Tanzania, called
Africa’s foremost predators
on TV, where they can be seen pouring
twenty-million strong upward
from the ground complete
with sound effects, the chattering
clicks of a stream
in spate, a freshet of wood
fragments and nails, hurrying
themselves along channels formed
by their own scent, hurrying
to the meat market
with a short list: FLESH
of the beetle, the poison-spined
caterpillar, mixed worms,
assorted reptiles, chickens
when available, seasonal rodents
and large mammals, choice
human babies, the fortuitous
drunk passed out
in the wrong place, granny
when she falls and can’t
get up. A wet-
weather phenomenon, they strip
the field of pests, and only
occasionally of the Masai
gardener, too. The siafu,
industrious, self-effacing,
taketh away, taketh away
ugly-style, swarming
into our lungs, clicking chips,
nails, a river of hard
water carrying us off,
down, back home below.
Their Teachings: hang babies
out of harm’s way; don’t
save your heavy boozing
for Tanzania; when grandma falls,
keep an eye on her.

2.
Laundry Session, Sunday, 63rd Birthday, VT College
Writers Conference

Small load. I’m estimating
like a dumbass, The end’s
not so close. But
a buddy in his 50’s,

last week: two
strokes—cerebellum,
parietal lobe. Nobody can tell
him why they came

out of nowhere. People here
shared out just enough
quarters for my machines. I sit
in this dorm room, hopeful

I didn’t over-lavish cadged dish soap
on my only jeans. Centuries
back, by a river, Issa,
the haiku guy, tuned in

to bugs floating past
on a branch. Still singing,
he remarked of them. Good
man, that. Died young.

3.
Bon Voyage Party

My friend, you’re dead, late
fifties. The big C. Showed up
three years ago—cervical,
advanced, and from cutting
to new age wholistic whatever, nothing
did the trick.

You licketysplit self-
created as dragon,
star, (mediocre) poet,
exponent of love,
transitioned
into coma without the slightest
hint you were vanishing
headfirst down
the gullet
of a giant
crocodile.

This
is your memorial
service bedizened with
harping, evangelical
harranguing. Despite
Rumi, Hafiz in English
platitudes, I will stay for the inept
drumming, officious mourners, stay
though only women
who liked you better fat
will speak. Stay to be
assured the body
alone expires, that ectoplasmic now
you travel cheaper, lucky
lucky you. I will stay
until the end when, all grief-
struck, everyone’s urged
to choose a polished stone
of yours—one
apiece—and at the exit required
to drop it in a ritual
pot of water—adios
goodbye—for repossession
by your executors.
I wind up left alone
on the patio with nada
tangible, nada keeping
me company except
ice tea, lemonade, and
an Irish barman grim,
resigned.

                —Next time
she dies, says I,
I’ll bring a flask.
—I’ll pour, says he.
We nod.
Irish Landscape with Spouse

A good disposition
has taken the hotel’s
seventeen-year-old spaniel
quite some distance,
presently out to the bench
at the head of a little
cement dock,
to the woman in her blue
sweater, who dislikes
canines for their noxious
odors, unappetizing
hair, servility,
barking, snappishness,
who has been studying her maps,

gazing seaward along
the rock-bound cove.

His legs work poorly,
making the dog bounce
and wriggle, though he can move
fast enough.  A matted
brown-and-white coat,
and the red growth
under his right eye
don’t help, nor
do creaky moans beseeching
love. The morning deliciously quiet,
a sailboat slightly turning
around its mooring,

she so prefers cats but
pets him anyhow.
Thruway Blizzards, 1968-9

1.
NY City/Buffalo

This used shitbrown Mercury Meteor contains girlfriend,
yours truly, and our pet parrot. 150 miles north
of Manhattan, a cold, clear day, most of the aftermath
snow scraped into shoulder berms, we’re worried. The bird’s
apathetic, irritable when awake, feathers dull, ditto
eyes. Dealer’d assured us it’s a youthful yellowhead, well
worth our C note, only moulting.

                                                     How could he, mere
Kommandant of a Lower East Side reptile and avian
concentration camp, perceive that sweet, simpleminded,
charitable Typhoon had sacrificed himself by swapping livers
with a cirrhotic merchant-mariner? The car, which I believed
also possesed a bombproof provenance, in sympathy
with Typhoon was sputtering. My father insisted, thanks

to a busybody’s stale tip, we must snap it up
from a bedraggled gas station in Queens, and he didn’t realize
an ex-con several life-terms yet from going straight
was the new proprietor. Like my bird that Merc
had a rolled-back odometer, moved reluctantly, and coughed.
On his deathbed—macadam covered with sheets of crisp,
compacted icy snow—

                                        Meteor san, kamikazeing out
his miserable destiny, blows a cylinder, oil spattering
the windshield. The heap chatters, heaves, its cabin fills
with gasses, the sort my owner’s handbook advocates for parrot
euthanasia: Ventilate, stupid! Roll down window. Apply
antidote—oops, frigid air. See tropical sailor wafted
straight to cryonic shock. I’m 24, and want to die.

2.
Buffalo/Rochester RT

Dusk subsides in snow. Sporting a motor too powerful
for its frame and engine mounts, my poop-hued sucessor
Chevy Nova, palmed off cheap by the dermatologist dad
of a dubious childhood friend, vibrates alarmingly over
fifty-five. In the diffused, reflected, gustblown shine
of headlights it’s hard to see, let alone pass, semis,
with their eccentric winds attacking larger winds, savage
eddies, sloughing us off to leeward.

                                                           Everybody parties:
shotgun rides our revered teach; his claque
of students stuff the back. We wallow like a piled-high
garbage scow. I’m losing my buzz, whimpers the mentor,
through his grizzled mustache, through his dishevelled, mumbled,
ill-attended book signing, then from car to bar to bar until
the 2 AM close, and again a maelstrom. We race
upstate, massaged by the lilt of Gaelic pipes—I’ve lost
my buzz—as if a sober transit were utter calamity.

3.
NY City/Buffalo

Next winter, same girlfriend, same overjuiced
monster, balder tires, low on gas, beautifulest
nightstorm, windless but exceptionally cold, a quiet
stretch of oceanic spaces between towns, sparse
traffic, less and less. Crystalline waves accumulate
and suggest love, rapture of the snowy deep, our rare,
relaxed intimacy a disarming gift from shaggy-maned
boreal gods smiling down into our cushioned
potently heatered obscurity.

                                               When the fuel
gauge redlines we spot a service island rising
on our left, churn up to it, park among heavily-mounded
comradely vehicles, then knee-high in glitter break
trail toward a crowded cafeteria, where angry cops
demand we justify why the devil we were out there,
the Thruway shut for hours, with more than one bogged-
down tank-dry lost soul already stiff as ice.
Who Knows

if a dead man cares
whether he gets paid
in women or dried grapes,
whether he can tell the difference when

he makes it to Paradise,
whole again from his holy
explosion, heart aflame for his
compensatory virgins, his
houris, and trips over a dagger
in the Koran, beside hur,
directing him to the small
print, the footnoted
Aramaic fundamentals: an adjective
in the feminine plural meaning
simply “white.” If

he bothers to read
further will he find
peace upon learning
Paradise referred to a garden
of flowing waters, abundant
fruits and... hur, a prized
delicacy in the ancient Near East—
“white raisins” of crystal
clarity. Here,

on earth, this haven
of belief, there’s always something worth
fighting for, something
to sink your teeth into.
The Girl with the Leash

doesn’t appear to worry much
about its other end. Fun-loving, power-
mad, a thoughtlessly
vindictive woman of action, the perfect
Abu Ghraib patsy. Already
an irresistible wave of
retribution gathers behind her
back, curling above her bobbed

head. Her leash, poor child,
connects to the nearly-wriggled-
out pin of a fragmentation
grenade. The brass
will use her body as a hand
towel, shred it like paper
wiping themselves
clean on her fatigues.

If she were paper I
would write upon her
atrocity photo my
implausible disavowals, my
poems of innocence.

Here under her left nipple,
and again across her smooth-shaven
mons Veneris, I would inscribe
anti-war protests, my solidarity
with the oppressed. Poet,
not a shooter of rifles,
I do what I can with the time
at my disposal. But we

are attached, possessing
and possessed,
my mistress,
my bitch.
Rural Diptych

1.
A Son of Adam, Only Nominally

Cold morning, the absolute damp
stillness of air. Sun
designates the north
side of the drainage,
the tall bare creek alder, the young
oak’s top, the bishop
pines, unkempt
laurels, while shade categorizes the apples,
rhododendrons and grass: all this
nameable, but so? Labels
ignorantly bestowed, indifferently carried.

When I ponder
the neighbor’s roof blanched
like my comatose lawn, who cares
whether I’m absorbed by
dew or frost?

2.
Noticeable from the Lawn

The long-gone tenant,
slight, romantic, subtly
beautiful, had seemed depressed
between boyfriends. One of whom,
a housepainter, superimposed
a red heart on the white
arch curving over the porch
steps. They broke up.

                                    Years ago
she moved. His love-
cartoon survives, even in this
time of thieves and fanatics. Has she

a boyfriend now? Has he
a heart?

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