THE BODY HUMAN
Water is also called a body.
It has many phases,
steamy chaos, frozen stillness,
but usually flowing in between.
The sea feigns its freedom of movement,
seemingly active but actually reactive,
an otherwise stagnant broth
stirred by wind, sun and moon.
A fluid face to the sky,
brief flickers of sunlight off a restless surface,
and strange cold lights glimmering below.
The lower depths are turbid,
an opaqueness roused by deep currents
and unnamed leviathans stirring the sediments.
One could drink from this cavernous well
if all the salt were filtered,
but these waters have never been naturally sweet,
and the volume is overwhelming.
No vessel could stay afloat
taking on so much of a body.
Today my charity given on a seedy corner of fourteenth street
will save a stranger.
I slip a quarter into a video game slot
rather than press it into the palm of a beggar.
But he isn't that special stranger I'm thinking of.
He is bedraggled, but there's a certain wisdom in his eyes.
He still has his wits.
Surely he must know that we're all charged
to give all we have to the neediest.
That's a tenet of our professed religion.
So I have spared him the dilemma,
of keeping his coin or passing it on to the yet needier.
Heaven's gate will swing on its hinge while he decides.
But there is one who would be even more distressed by charity.
In a righteous world all quarters should cascade,
like ants falling down an ant lion's funnel,
into the hands of that most legendary of beings,
the neediest of the neediest.
It's that poor soul I'm thinking of.
He who would witness the concavity of his world
flip into convexity--there he'd be
on the apex, on an Everest of quarters,
and having no one needier to give to except to the one just below him.
And for him to give unto that penultimate neediest--yea verily--
would put that soul in the same peril as his.
To put another's soul at risk is also a sin.
Verily I have saved him from this dilemma.
Now surely he will pass through the needle's eye,
while I play at shooting video blips
My watch was once set a minute or two behind,
but that was when no one impatient was waiting for me,
and I always could linger a few more moments,
for appointments were few and of my own making
and those who waited also had slow watches.
The past and present were terminal points
bracketing a long line of the present.
Now the impatient world seems to stamp its collective foot,
angrily waiting my arrival.
The termini of my lifeline have grown to segments,
much to regret, much to finish before the end.
I live in a tyranny of minutes.
My digital is now set minutes ahead.
Wherever I want to stay I make sure I leave early,
to rush to where I don't want to go.
I miss my old analog.
Its slow-moving hands are like the arms
of the ancient Chinese men doing Tai-Chi in the park.
How gracefully in the morning their bodies unwind,
pausing only to watch a passing bird.
I've searched all my dressers for my old timepiece,
but I can't find it.
The diaphanous squid darting
so fast even the shark can't approach.
Its propulsion system, jet-like water streams, never
allows anyone, anything near.
Like dust specks in the air they evade
on the penultimate day of their lives.
Clinging, male, female, their tentacles
searching to touch, to place, sperm with egg.
Copulating, couples, threesomes, foursomes, by the billions,
a fog of squid above the ocean floor.
And the shark, and the porpoise, swordfish and salmon streak
with funnel-like mouths through the squid cloud.
The clumping squid in their frenzy seek even
to touch, to mate with, their predators.
The nuptial night ended, lying like snowdrifts
upon the ocean bottom, males spent, dead; and females
struggle to eject their egg capsules, then
their function completed, join their mates.
in a day, in two, the bottom
barren again except
speckling the sand waiting,
Suppose our fantasies about them were true,
they really had refined their songs
into a melody of words, and merged
their herds into tribes, invented politics,
became aware of death, and finally
yearned for a faith.
All their feelings would be expressed lyrically
and through the flux of pressure waves.
Comrades would swim in tight formation.
Soon a whale messiah, a supreme bard, would call the wayward,
singing that none should swim alone,
each should buoy the other in his slipstream.
In a world of motion, this messiah's call
would travel the deepest currents
across the oceans, and all whaledom would gather
and be swayed as he moved, and be anointed
by the gentle touch of his fluke.
The common prayer, a breach into the air.
They'd feel the winds which by their creed
would sail upward to the inverted blue sea.
The clouds would be worshipped as the sprays of ancestors.
Purgatory would be the rocky shore,
the shoals pressed hard against their breasts
in a world where hardness was unknown
except at the end of their lives.
But their bard would see
beyond the dry terrain to the most distant shore
where the heavenly sea curved down to the land.
He'd sing of their loved ones who had washed ashore,
those ancestors who crawled on earth,
their sins scraped away by sand and stone
till they reached the horizon of the heavenly sea.
There they'd rise again, swimming upward,
breaching, spouting, filling the air with clouds,
while below those left behind
would swim together with their bard.
In their world the living and the eternally living
would swim in tandem across parallel seas.
AISLE OF IMPROBABILITIES
Glimpses of Elvis on Mars,
a two-headed baby baptized twice,
a world of improbabilities reported
by brazen tabloids stacked neck-high
on the checkout aisle racks.
I pass through this world
with a basket full of toilet paper, cookies, and pickles.
Her cheeks are shrouded by her long brown hair.
Her deft, long fingers move the merchandise,
the cost quickly rising as the laser scans.
She pauses and offers me a smile,
revealing a slightly crooked tooth among the pearly whites.
She scolds me with her delicate fingers.
They point to an expiration date.
The cookies are put aside;
she has rescued me from a stale sweetness.
Her graceful fingers get back to business.
Deftly she processes my purchases.
I give her dollars; she gives me change.
Her fingers press my hand
longer than needed to exchange currency.
But the coin is cold with no time for warming.
Our skin must separate,
for the sum has been totaled and paid.
A line of commerce waits behind us.
Her eyes are blue. Her hair is brown.
Her fingers have touched and moved me.
Nearby movie stars cavort on metal racks,
arm and arm at gala events.
But right before me stands,
a long-haired girl with one slightly crooked tooth,
and blue eyes that almost wink at me.
Beyond the glittering Hollywood doings
one more tabloid solemnly proclaims
that aliens from Venus are invading soon.
Once upon a true time
in a long extinct cafeteria,
(it was one of those roach on the wall, last dime eateries,
an edifice of low cuisine,
where you'd push your tray along rails
and a sneezy server would plop food
half on your plate and half on the floor,
then you'd throw down your copper, silver,
and occasional dollars
and run to claim a seat
hoping that the fellow slob next to you didn't reek)
I was a 3 A.M. diner.
A disheveled Joe stumbled in looking for the john,
but was evicted by the manager
with a "Scram bum."
He had already spent his last cent;
we inside were yet to spend ours.
And he stared at us all
through the wide front window---
just a glass pane and pennies away.
He zipped down his fly,
and washed away window grime
as he marked his territory.
All the dining denizens dropped their knives and forks
and looked away,
I raised my spoon in an almost salute
and slurped my chicken soup.
The manager chased him away with a bat.
So much for marking territory without cash.
I would have feigned nausea
and skipped out on the tab
to keep a few more coins,
but I was dining in a cash-in-advance dive.
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