* * * * *

Bus to Nairobi

It is simply not possible
To be this excited
Sitting on an idling bus
In a hot noon city
In a crowded station
Waiting for the aisle to fill
So far beyond the bus’s seating capacity
That people no longer can be squeezed inside
Yet here you are
Taking out your
Laptop computer
Worth a year’s salary for most Tanzanians
To capture the drama
Of the last slightly drunk hopeful
           being thrown a bit too forcefully off 
the bus
Bumping hard into the cigarette and peanut vendor
Passing by at that very moment with his rattle and basket
Whose wares spill onto the street
Where they are scooped up by dozens of passersby
Some of whom reload them into the basket for later sale
Rewarded like trained pigeons
By the vendor’s simple thanks
And some of whom take them to consume
In gratitude for the gifts of alcohol and fate
As the bus fare collector raps hard on the side of the bus
Which signals the driver he can go
The driver releases the brake
A CD falls into a CD player
And to rhythms known to all
We glide into the flow of traffic
Headed for the border
Another crossing
Another unknown frontier

Mayan Prophesy Fulfilled

We come upon the lionesses’ kill
After the giraffe’s mouth
Has been clenched tightly shut
His nostrils sealed in the lioness’ jaws
His breathing and suffering ended
His world forever still.
The giraffe’s soft ears and lips
Are awarded to the matadors
And chewed off first
Then the lionesses
Rip the giraffe’s soft belly opened
Eating his tender heart and organs
Emptying the giraffe’s stomach and intestines
Of leaves and fecal matter
Shared with vultures
Digging into his thighs
Munching off neck cartilage
Leaving only ribs for jackals
On the very day the Mayan’s predicted
His world would end,
Centuries before his birth

Christmas Morning, 2012

At daybreak on Christmas morning
In Ruaha, Tanzania
Three jackals arrive at my tent
Wise men bearing small gifts of brown and fur
Peering at me when I call softly to them
From where I sit
Listening to the communicative call
Of red beaked hornbills
And nest weavers
The cloudy gray skies
Brightening over park brush
Crickets chirping
The air so still
Not a blade of grass or a leaf is moving
Only the huffing breath of three visiting elephants
Passing on their morning amble,
Their gentle footfall and flopping sandals
Obscuring the footprints
Of the man who brought the morning coffee
Last evening’s hyena visitors
The trails of snails
The iridescent residue of millipedes
Thicker and longer than a woman’s ring finger
The deep and distant lions’ roar
Bells of a Christmas morning

Weekend Alone

A man’s weekend alone
Begins with his home in good order,
The beds made,
The washing machine empty.
And with effort it ends that way,
Though in between
Drawers forget to close,
Entire wardrobes renew friendships
With floors, carpets,
and the inviting edges of doors
The kitchen sink suggests there has been no water for weeks
Books and papers
Find freedom from files and shelves
Moving as if released from stanchions and stalls
Backing out slowly
Then headed toward the barn door.
No longer knowing or caring where they belong
And clearly not wanting to be there
Every available naked surface
Is covered with clutter
And the man’s shoulders
Have dropped down below his earlobes
The toilet seat up
The bed littered with paper plates and plastic saucers
Crumbs marking newly hewn trails to the pantry
Where mice and chipmunks now share in his bounty
And insects abide.
The car never leaves the driveway
The TV is inert
A good book about passion and poison
Falls off his chest every time he nods off to sleep
Never out of his pajamas
The air conditioner vibrating against closed windows
No outside inside
Just his pill bottles
And beer bottles
The last fry pan used
So that washing at least one pot
Becomes a necessity for survival
And although take-out is a possibility.
It is amazing what can be prepared
with refrigerator residue:
Whole casseroles and compotes
That taste spectacular
And shall never be recreated
The only known recipe being one for disaster
Which he avoids
With about fifteen minutes to spare
The dishes washed and cleared
The sink empty
The bed made
The floor clean
Mice and chipmunks on busses back to the west coast
Books and papers in neat piles
Waiting to be driven back into the barn
To slot themselves into the stalls where they belong
The man shaven and showered
And looking forward with great appreciation
To his woman’s immanent return.

Stand off at Gate 927

It is a beautiful sunny morning
At apartheid gate 927
The Israeli soldiers are listening to rock music
They are in their 20s
They have automatic weapons
Uniforms, walkie-talkies
Humvies, tanks
F16 fighter jets, a nuclear arsenal.
We are Palestinian farmers
With donkeys and tractors
With seed, fertilizer, and lunch in plastic bags
We are four Americans over sixty
With cameras, cell phones, and bottled water
We are Bedouin with sheep and goats and identity cards
We dismount from our donkeys and tractors
And wait
Wait long enough to see the falcon hunting,
To see the wild dog with the stolen chicken,
Wait to be admitted through the small gate
To the turnstile
Then into the concrete bunker
To wait at the counter, to show our passes,
To be released into a holding area
To go back through a sliding gate
To get back on our donkeys and tractors
To pass through the big gate
Opened only certain hours
On certain arbitrary days
To get onto our land - our own land -
On the other side of this abominable fence
That separates us from our fields
From our trees and fruit
From our grass, our rocks, and our graves
On the other side of this fence
That separates us from our brothers and sisters
We stand in the sun waiting hours
On the side of this fence
That separates us from our livelihoods
On the side of the fence
That separates us

I Meet My Newly Born Grandson

i meet my newly born grandson again
when he is a grandfather
when his own children have grown.
he tells me of the good life he’s had,
of hellos, goodbyes,
and weddings,
of the children he adored
much as he was adored,
looking now into the rearview mirror
of the vehicle that transports him
and his own young grandson
to land he loves
for a weekend
of whispering trees
ash and snow,
the jowls of life
descending upon his face
as he remembers
or imagines
when he was a boy
and his own grandfather
held him dearly
and promised him exactly this.

His Dry Bones

Father visits
Complaining his bones are dry
And although I long to succor him
All I can offer is cheese and pine nuts
Still in their shells.
I wonder what his visitation signals
What father is telling
Or asking of me
What the message from my unconscious is
Why the Great Spirit has chosen to be thus manifest
I listen carefully
Through the opened windows
On an unusually warm and silent summer night
When the moon is obscured
And the leaves are still
But all I can hear
Is a rumbling in my gut
And the occasional croak
Of a solitary frog
Longing to be kissed

American Wedding, 2011

The bride and the groom appear in traditional garb
As the wedding unfolds with vows, rings, toasts, cake,
And scallops wrapped in bacon.
But when the bride’s handsome father
Dances with his ninety-year old mother
While his Ethiopian-born husband
Dances with the father of the bride’s second wife,
While her very gay and muscular son,
The bearded half brother of the bride,
Dances in a circle
And as the music fades
Falls in a mock swoon
Onto the dance floor
And no one bats an eye
You know you are at an America wedding.

alan is dead

The last I spoke with Alan
He was asleep in a wooden box
With the lid closed
A blanket covering his casket
Embroidered in some foreign language,
That reads, “Dead person inside”
which he was.
He needed that blanket
The chapel was cold
and he was so thin
Having eaten nothing for days
And chilly like the dead.
I stood guard over Alan’s body
The last person in the chapel
A candle burning
And the air conditioning on.
I stood there a long time
Not wanting him to be alone
Waiting for someone to remove his body
Only to learn the staff was waiting for me to leave
So they could.

I called Joy
Sitting alone in her office
Near the sea
And proposed
We chant together
Which we did
My cell phone resting on Alan’s wooden coffin
The speaker on
Joy chanting softly into the phone
Me chanting out loud
Alone in the chapel
wondering what if anything
the body in the box
felt of the vibration
of our hearts
our breaths
and our voices
our prayers
and our intentions.

We live in a small town
Joy and I
In a small cottage
With a dog
And one mouse
Who - while I was away at the funeral -
Must have been practicing
His high wire act
And had fallen somehow
Straight into the dog’s water bowl
and drowned

Like the mouse
Alan had known years of high wire balancing
And had fallen off his wire
Only to land miraculously on his feet
Dazed but still breathing
A dozen times
He just kept running
Every time but once

Two weeks after his death
I sent Alan an email
With Picasso’s line drawing
Of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg -
It was the anniversary of their deaths -
And about the struggle in Palestine -
Which I knew he’d want to hear about
And would have had something to say
That would have helped put my pain
In perspective
But the email returned,
With a note that read,
“Out of Office,”
Whereupon I noticed my own high wire perch
And losing balance
Fell down praying
And so glad
I had chanted
Over Alan’s coffin

the waterfall

this tale is made possible
on the boney feet of an old man
who walked to a waterfall
one winter’s day
in Hsipaw, Myanmar
that took him hours, and decades
taking a left at the noodle factory,
recognizable by the hundreds of racks
of long white noodles
hanging in the sun like baleen
in the jaws of a great whale
passed rice fields and gardens
streams and narrow wooden foot bridges
the Muslim and the Buddhist cemeteries
some gravestones crumbled
into the hollowed hallowed earth
some with portraits of the deceased encased in the stone
some randomly scattered
others in rows and files
like crops of the dead
passed the town dump
where trash is burning
and boys with sticks probe the garbage
and oranges rot in the sun
where the path crosses
over single log bridges
and the natural gas pipeline being built to China
leavies a nasty gash in the bleeding earth
and even strong oxen
have a hard time crossing
where dozens of butterflies
circle flowers and dung
all sacred
the land rich and red
the falls feeding dozens of small streams
that irrigate thousands of hectares of vegetables
on farms sparsely scattered
smoke arising from cooking fires
clothes hung on lines
children born to well-tended earth
a walking meditation of discovery, divinity
and a newly born ox calf
its mother still licking it dry
as beautiful a creature as you shall ever see,
not able yet to stand,
tended by a boy no older than ten,
comforting the mother
who worked so hard
to deliver her package
visited by hens with dozens of chicks chirping
waving leaves and grasses
smoke from sacred fires
bees and breezes
all of whom come to say welcome
as you do
all inspired by the voice of the falling waters
that i finally reach crawling on all fours
an infant in the ascent
over silty hard packed soil
dry, rich and fertile tasting
falls i will never see again
falls i have no idea
how i actually found
cascading down great tall cliffs
a symphony of water molecules
a chorus of falling pooling water
that draws me in and under
where i will never be again
and will never leave


the young child
in her beautiful clothes
adored and held
by her doting grandfather
shines with promise
proof of the brilliant creative spark
of our explosive origins
and although she can be petulant
spoiled too
ice cream staining her blouse
as she says, “no, no, no”
and won’t wash her hands
or sit very still
or do anything it seems
the way you want it done
as she ignores you,
insults you,
adores you,
and touches you
actually rubs her hands across your grizzled old face
those soft incredibly talented hands
with the sticky ice cream on them
looks you in the eye as no man or woman ever does
and breathily says, “i love you”
like a starlet
and in her exhale you smell and remember
the sweet pure baby’s breath of her mother
the diapers you changed bent over the crib of her youth
when your back didn’t ache
though your heart and soul did

crow visits the river

You’ll notice
The very shiny crow
Who presented himself
So barefaced on the lawn
This morning
Between the house and the river
Stared straight at us
And came alone
Unusual for crows
And as if on a specific mission,
Called out a few crow bars
To make sure we were watching
Picked up a single oak leaf
And then flew off

I ask you now,
What does a crow want
With a single oak leaf
On the day before the equinox
Other than to provide a kind of cover
So that his visit as messenger
Does not embarrass us
Nor appear too ridiculously
Obvious and blunt

Well, if the message is so blunt,
You ask, what might it be?
And although always a matter of interpretation
I suggest to you this one said:
It is never too late
To find and add what is needed
Nor ever too late
To withdraw what is not. 

coyote in the house

coyote strolls into my house,
through the back door,
on a balmy night
after the rains have ended,
a night remembered for the sound of crickets
and coyote’s toenails
tapping on the wooden floor.
coyote smells everything,
the old newspapers,
the knitting,
the bowl of fruit she finds
with one paw up on the counter,
when she also notices me -
having hoped for mice,
or duck pate -
and having gotten humans.

then, so as to detain her briefly,
i slide the door closed,
holding in her beauty,
as moonlight breaks through the cloudy night sky,
and a ban on nuclear weapons is announced,
health care is guaranteed to everyone as a fundamental right,
palestinians and israelis form one democratic state,
music appreciation classes are funded and returned to the curricula of public schools,
and a symphony orchestra of children under twelve
serenades our congress
while coyote walks round my bedroom,
squatting to pee near the bookcase,
as i pull the quilt up to my neck
and fall asleep
trusting in dreams
and awakenings
and in the morning
find the door ajar,
an old sword turned into plowshares in my very back yard,
and coyote picking through my garbage

morning in jerusalem

I awaken to the sounds
Of men and machines speaking Arabic
a stone's throw from Damascus Gate
Gate of the Pillars
that people and animals have passed thru
for more than 2000 years
the hopeful, the hurried,
the merchant, the mendicant
some in love
some in pain
some both
and in a brief blessed silence
the sounds of construction cease
replaced by songbirds and mewling cats.
I look for you Jerusalem
think of you in the cool mornings
of this holy land
consciously grateful for your breadth
Staring in wonderment at your form
oh magnificent city
before moving toward your portal gates
to brush against the vast
history and strength
held within them
and the softness of the dew upon them
unfurling my mat
facing the holy gate
inside my tiny monastery cell
your fragrance calling
me nuzzling beside your head
so full of hair
and air
and the glory
of the story
making me want
to speak in ancient tongues
to pierce my flesh
as witness to desire
to say, amen
And mean it
and I do.

the bug's kiss

on a humid summer night
temps still in the high seventies
streetlights not working
i step from my car
as a large fluttering bug
perhaps a moth
or furry flying beetle
afloat in the darkness
lands on my lips
and although i do not see it 
nor hear it
i feel its touch
in the very center of my closed mouth
smack in the middle of my pressed lips
as i blow and brush the bug away quickly
feeling its dimensions only slightly
responding without fear or disgust
but surprised
as i know instantly
i have not been assaulted
but rather sweetly touched
and although my rational mind
recognizes this event as merely probability expressed
a happenstance of fate
a random intersection of invertebrate and human
i am also aware i have been kissed by an unseen stranger
a princess living in the body of a bug
the light but explicit tapping of god’s finger
calling forth my attention
“wake up,” the bug commands
“we’re in this together, man,
flying around in the muggy dark
come kiss strangers with me,
and let us fly in each other’s company
as often as we can bear”
and we do


Alan was so smart
He would actually inhale books
And then remember what they said
Explaining them to you
In new and coherent ways
Brave too, heroic even
Like Odysseus
Arriving back home
After a decade of imprisonment
       and life threatening illness
Ready to go to work
To provide AIDS care
To the most vulnerable
The homeless, the psychotic,
the orphans of Africa,
Breaking new ground
Invited to speak at the U.N.
Less than three years out
Of the dark and smelly jail cell
reserved for political prisoners
in the infamous
Marion Federal Penitentiary,
to emerge sane,
maybe even saner,
with a medical license
that has never been suspended.
Still a revolutionary,
whatever that means,
at any given place and time
the issue always tactical,
making decisions and choices
of great magnitude,
until he was  

Wilton Mkwayi (with love to Irene Khumalo)*


human being
on robbens island prison
lived feeding pigeons there
for over 20 years,
holding the moon in his pocket
and angering fellow prisoners
because of the droppings.
the Spearhead of the Resistance
he was know when free,
now but a prisoner
sharing his meager rations,
with pigeons,
arguing with fellow political prisoners,
not about sacrifice
but pigeon poop,
petitioning the warders,
for his pardon and their grace
denied by all but the birds
who gave him hope
and kept him sane
who cooed 
and fed him more
than he ever fed them


*Wilton Mkwayi lived over 20 yrs with Nelson Mandela on Robbens Island Prison.  Each year he petitioned the authorities to be allowed to marry his sweetheart, Irene Khumalo, and each year he was denied.  In his 21st year of imprisonment his petition was allowed for the following year.  Irene died of cancer six months later.  Wilton was still in prison.






A Poem is Born

A poem is born
By describing what is sensed or seen
And never saying the word it
Without describing what “it” is
The pumpkin pies you made
Baking and playing until two in the morning
With home grown pumpkins
Roasted seed, and ginger
Feeding warm pie by the spoonful
To the lover you’ve awakened
Admiring yellow squash flowers
Among the riot of purple morning glories
In the fall gardens
Which greet the day
Crows standing pensively
Rocking back and forth on their toes
In black wing tipped dress shoes
Hands intertwined behind their backs
Engaged in a familiar dialogue
About road kill
The harbor
And their diving neighbors the cormorants
After transplanting small flowering plants
Who convey their irresistible desires to be potted and loved
After the demonstration at the bank
Calling for corrupt lenders
To hold very long meetings inside federal jail cells
After yoga, and music,
And even an unwelcome creeping sense of paranoia
That emerges of its own accord
And leaves the station on its own schedule
At the end of a good day
A present day
Where pain and stiffness are at a minimum
The mail is taken to the post office
And you approach life and death with hands raised high
In the universal sign of surrender,
And are warmly welcomed home.