Here are ten of my poems. some long and some quite short: ‘Making Friends with MS’, ‘The Cat’s Laws of Motion’, ‘ICU’, ‘Breakfast Served 24 Hours’, ‘Road to Washington’, ‘The Ghosts Enjoy Klezmer’, ‘Harpers Ferry Ghost Walk’, ‘Geology, Sociology, and Impermanence’, ‘Calendar’ (Haiku set), and ‘Gratitude’.
If you find anything that interests you, there will be a collection below, “City Perspectives” It includes over two hundred poems in nine categories, including over a hundred haiku, with some humor and some music, an explanation of what I mean by haiku and graffiti haiku, and a brief bio.
Making Friends with MS I’ve had MS – multiple sclerosis - since 1988 At first it was ‘remitting-relapsing.’ Then it progressed. I can stand up, but I can't walk unassisted. I once loved dancing the hora. I didn’t really know how, but that didn’t slow me down. I remember the family square dances in Grandma Paula’s side yard I still remember some of the singing calls. Until MS limited my mobility, my favorite kind of political action was not my electoral politics, with street lists and strategies. It was the peace walk: one foot in front of the other, then repeat. I’m still putting one foot in front of the other. even when I’m sitting in my wheelchair. My vision is impaired, and I no longer drive. But now I’ve got a power wheelchair and it goes on the bus. Mobility! Freedom! When I'm praised for demonstrating in my power wheelchair. I explain that my chair makes it easier. In a way, I should thank MS for facilitating my political action, and also thank Medicare that paid for the power chair. I still enjoy reading, even if I'm slower. My memory is a little worse, but I'm sharp enough to enjoy the harder Sudoku in the newspaper. I have no sense of smell, but I still enjoy eating. and everyone enjoys the potato kugel I make for potluck dinners. About 2003, I found myself “at liberty.” They didn’t turn me down for jobs because I was 60, and had MS. That would have been illegal. When my unemployment comp was running out, some friends encouraged me to apply for disability. MS is a “listed impairment,” which made approval easy. I don’t think of myself as ‘disabled.’ Happily, I’m in no way out of work, just out of a job. I’m still busy. I support public transportation I support neighborhood power, especially in Oakland and Bellefield. I do some law and some politics. One foot in front of the other. Everything will come, including the next bus. I won’t run again for Pittsburgh City Council or any public office, I can’t even run for a bus. But I'm an officer of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee, the Fourth Ward secretary. I'm on the Executive Committee of the Allegheny County Transit Council, the citizen advisory body for PAT, which runs the buses and trolleys. I’m on the board of my neighborhood council, Bellefield Area Citizens' Association, I rarely litigate, but I keep my license and do some legal work, mostly free advice for friends. I can’t canvass door-to-door for the candidates I support, but each election my wife and I send out a newsletter. MS does me a favor by teaching about death. Each lost capability is a little death, like the death of anyone we loved, or even liked, like a broken friendship. A day lost to a serious illness is also little death. These little deaths help us prepare for the big one. MS kindly reminds me to appreciate the kindness of strangers in small mundane things, like helping me put on my overcoat, as well as my community work. MS gives me appreciation of little things I can still do, like bending down to pick up a dropped pen. I appreciate what MS lets my nerves and muscles do. And I still push the envelope. Buddhist teacher Judy Lief's book, “Making Friends with Death,” is wise. I appreciate that MS is always close to me. MS certainly strengthens a core Buddhist teaching: live in the present moment. Don't regret the past or worry about the future, So, what’s my relationship with MS? Til death do us part? I hope not. Sometimes it’s intimate in unpleasant ways. But appreciation is not love. I’m not forsaking all others. Respect? Oh yeah. Acceptance? Yes, but not resignation. I relate to my MS as an activist. I don’t spend hours on the web, hoping someone has found the cur I go in my power chair on a local MS Walk, to raise money for research. I'll help my constant companion go away, I’ll keep on, with my computer, my power chair, and especially. 'with a little help from my friends.' I'm happy I can still make a difference. One foot in front of the other.
The Cat's Laws of Motion Hommage to Sir Issac Newton and his 'Three Laws of Motion' A cat at rest is totally at rest. A cat in motion is totally in motion. A cat totally controls whether it is at rest, in motion, or both.
ICU ICU: three fearful letters: a fear full place – brightly lit. Why is it so noisy? Why is it so cold? Someone is lying in a hospital bed. Machines and tubes administer 'meds'. They can help you eat piss, shit, and breathe: intensive care. ICU: Her friends and relatives just stand there, or sit in the hall, patiently, powerless. They can do nothing, Silent solidarity. She is now quiet, nothing to say. They hope she is really sleeping, until she's awakened by a nurse for her meds. for palliative care, and they hope, for more. Even the busy doctors are powerless. Prognosis? The Buddha taught: We all suffer from a terminal condition. I see you. You can't see me. You can't just flee. You can't just hide behind the tree. Would you like to play with me? A child's game – you win and lose. When it's your turn, you can't even choose. Soon you'll be 'it.' But when? And then? You'll see, you'll see. I see you. I raise you, too, with one ace down, and one ace up, another eight makes aces and eights. That might win the pot – but maybe not, maybe not. The dealer takes two. Now, what'll he do? It's table stakes. So what has he got? Even before the game begins, everyone knows the house always wins.
Breakfast Served 24 Hours The sign in the window promises “Breakfast Served 24 Hours” 12:30 am: Just got off the job and changed, second shift at the plant. It's for younger guys, but a man's gotta work. On days off I get to see the kids when they're not asleep. Two eggs over easy. And decaf, please. Don't want to stay awake when I get home and hit the sack. Half past one: Just a quick cuppa coffee and a doughnut. Supposed to be walking the beat. But it's cold. Take a break now. At two the bars close and the street won't be so quiet. Maybe a desk job wouldn't be so bad after all. 2:30: Want to hit the loading dock as soon as it opens. Just a couple more hours on the road, they unload me, then real sleep in the motel. Bacon and eggs with home fries, juice and coffee.. The waitress will keep the cup full. Quarter to seven: It’s still dark. But I might as well get started on the paperwork. Look busy, so no one can tell me all about their date last night, or all about their kids. This sure beats fixing my own breakfast at the apartment. Waffles. She got the waffle iron. 10 o’clock: It's late. I didn't get much done this morning. No real reason to spend money on breakfast. But it's nice to sit and just talk with someone, face to face, not on the phone or on the net. Me and Cathy - just girl talk. I've been working at home since the baby got out of diapers. Cathy's been working at home since her company downsized. I can't sell her my computer graphics, and there's nothing I can buy from her. Guess that's what they call 'networking'. Orange juice and pancakes for me. And separate checks, please. Sometimes you need a fresh start. Noon: Coffee? Oh yeah. You bet. And two eggs. Scrambled. What was that place we went to after Chief's closed? and what was her last name? Ohh, my head. Almost six: Gotta do a sound check.. A cup of coffee and a piece of toast for me. Something in my stomach, in case some customer wants to buy the guitarist a drink. Sunny side up for my buddy. He’s got a day job. But whenever I’ve got a gig, he'll come and listen, 'til closing. Then we go home. Nine p.m.: Left the house after he went to the bar, again. A cheerful neon welcome, checkered tablecloths, and no "mixed drinks." An omelet. And another decaf, please. Fortification, I’ve got a lot to think through. Now I’m watching the patterns that the milk makes in the coffee, swirling around, not yet dissolved. We don't ask questions. Of course, if you want to talk, hon, we'll listen.
Road to Washington By four the buses stretch along the pike. The road is darker for their string of light. The barren fields and snowy hills are black. The moon is down; no guiding stars in sight. To Washington against a war again. We read or talk or snooze; the hours creep. The bus, I know, runs swiftly through the night. And serves our stand for peace in winter deep. I want to help the dawn. I want to see the spring green spread across the hilly dark. Would daybreak come if we stayed home asleep? At least each turnpike mile we see a mark.
The Ghosts Enjoy Klezmer Published in "Crossing Limits - African American and Jewish Poets" The ghosts enjoyed the klezmer concert last night. They always do. The ghosts come from Vilne, from Cracow, from Lvov, from countless ghettos and vanished shtetls. The ghosts have grown accustomed to hearing their music in fancy places, seeing a roomful of people who just sit. Nobody is dancing. Some of the melodies are unfamiliar; some instruments are complicated, and large.. But the freylachs and the bulgars still bring back memories of happier times. So they travel across space and time like smoke, rising through gray stillness until it reaches the upper winds. Dispersed, disappearing, and everywhere present.
Harpers Ferry Ghost Walk I. Jefferson Rock Climb up the old stone steps in daylight, past the shattered church ruins. Climb out on the rocky ledge above the Shenandoah where it meets the Potomac. Now we call this high place ‘Jefferson Rock.’ What did Old Tom see? The steep valleys were mostly still green. He knew that the river valleys were rich and fair. Maybe he knew that Mohawks fought Powhatans over this valuable land. Maybe he knew that the river tribes that lived here were slaughtered. Perhaps he saw rivers of trade through this gap in the mountain wall. Did he foresee the rivers of blood? Later he would write of the "firebell in the night," that forewarned of the conflict to come, that would bring a cleavage that seemed to follow the river's line, and would sunder even his own home state. II. The Old Arsenal Armory: where weapons are forged. Arsenal: where weapons are stored. Harpers Ferry was both, And a center of weapons research in its time. This was once a town of war. Thousands of rifles were stored here when John Brown's band seized the town. Brown dreamed of another slave revolt This time they would have guns! But the rebels were quickly surrounded and trapped, Captured or killed by the U.S. Marines led by a colonel named Robert E. Lee. And Old Brown remarked from the back of the cart that took him from the Court House to be hung: "This is a beautiful country." III. Blue and Gray Eighteen months later War came back for the duration. War came to this town where munitions were made, where rivers and railroads met in the shadow of mountain walls. No one but War itself held Harpers Ferry for long. This town of war could not stand siege. Battles were fought for the commanding heights. The stone steps up to St. John's Church were slippery with the blood of the wounded, carried up for refuge and any possible treatment Since the war trees have grown in the hollow remnants of the church. Stone window frames are empty, like the eye sockets of a skull. The long dark hills still stretch voluptuous in the moonlight, inviting strategies - vain strategies. This war was too fundamental; It would not be settled by heroes and battles. Below Jefferson Rock there are now wooded islands where cotton mill and musket factory stood. Armory and arsenal are sites for industrial archeologists. Once again we see green valleys and hazy blue and gray. IV. High Street Back down on High Street, the stone and plaster buildings glow in the setting December sun. A cat sits on an old stone stair, then vanishes into an overgrown foundation. Now this is a tourist town, quaint, renting beauty and history. Shoppes beckon where soldiers were bivouacked. But behind their facades lurk lessons, and more. This place was always beautiful. This town seems peaceful. Harpers Ferry has ghosts. There are ghosts of buildings. Sometimes their foundations peep through the grass. You can see walls and roofs where houses used to stand. Sometimes there is only an emptiness between two buildings. like a missing tooth. V. Ghost Walk On winter weekends there is a tour by candlelight Let us join the Harpers Ferry Ghost Walk. "In this house after a party some officers threw a boyish POW from a window. At night sometimes he still cries For his home and his mother. "In this house across the street even today things are found smashed. Paintings are thrown from the walls. Here a soldier was smothered by his mates. When he died they tried to hide the body. "This is called Hog Alley. Here Dangerfield Newby was eaten by the pigs. He was a freed slave who joined John Brown He had tried to buy the freedom of his wife and youngest child. When he came up with the money, the owner doubled the price. He was shot and captured. We think he was dead Before they fed him to the hogs." VI. Jefferson Rock Walk up the stone steps after dark to Jefferson Rock and the graveyard, leaving the ghosts in the town. The wind blows wild, and the trees' shadows dance around the old headstones. But here, at least, the dead are truly laid to rest, Some of fever, some in childbirth, But most in season, most full of years. Here fathers were buried by their sons, Not sons buried by fathers. The storefronts on High Street are more ghostly in sunlight then this graveyard under the moon. There are ghosts in the town below. Hard deeds linger in stone houses. Wounded soldiers linger in the courtyards. The dead leaves, wind-blown, chitter across the stones, like barracks-room rumors, like rumors of war. This is a beautiful country. With unquiet ghosts not bound by space or time.
Geology, Sociology, and Impermanence The Vermont dirt road is not as new as the meditation center where I began this walk. The road is not nearly as old as the stone walls, half tumbled down and overgrown, more green than grey. The road depends on us. It seems permanent as long as we use it. The hills are tree-clad again. Briefly, they were denuded when people came up the nearby river, with axes and saws, They needed wood. They wanted land. Now many have gone away, seeking urban amenities and job opportunities. The trees are back, while the stream still chatters all the way down to the river. It is still cutting rock, removing soil. The stream is relatively young, younger than the rocks it plays with. Unlike the Connecticut that it flows into, it was not around when the glacier came and conquered. Rocks are everywhere, large and small. Some are nearly in situ. Some were brought down from higher slopes as water turned mountains. into hills. Some traveled hundreds of miles, carried by the ice. Then they were left behind as the ice retreated. They will stay where they are until they are moved by water, ice, or people. Once upon a time there were tall mountains here. Going back farther, the land had been low: silt, sand, and mud, often covered by seawater. Rock was formed, layer upon layer. Then continents collided. Rock layers were squeezed, pushed upward, torn and crumpled, made into mountain ranges.. Heat and pressure metamorphosed the sedimentary rock. After the uplifts, came erosion. Streams carried away the fruits of erosion's work. Briefly, glaciers ruled. Water continued its slow work, sculpting the rounded hills we love. Eventually the land will again be silt, sand, and mud. The polished wood floor in the meditation center seemed solid as we sat. The ground we walk on certainly seems permanent, at least to us.
CALENDAR (Twelve haiku) Snowflakes chalk the night sky. The wind erases. The snow blows butterfly kisses. The moon hides. Undeterred by pale buds, winter marches on. By the stream lie soiled white ruins of winter. An old fence may wades thru the melt. Spring again. A deep blue surrounds the rain clouds. Don't fall in! Uniformed in blue, heat beats down like a club. White puffs sail across clear blue skies motionlessly. Summer, says the sky. The breeze says September. Gold and red Jewels adorn a sky Dressed in blue. Leafless, dark. November. Nothing left to lose. Black branches In the driven snow Grope and mesh.
Gratitude I wrote this as a Buddhist recitation. I chant it daily when I do my morning exercises. I do more than I could guess, in my years with MS. So, I have an attitude - gratitude.