THE ALLIGATOR SUITCASE
A cheap cardboard suitcase purchased
at the PX before I left for stateside.
It went with me everywhere, a tagalong,
like a little brother I couldn’t shake off.
Eventually, it served as a collector of scraps
of writings I hoped someday to turn into a great novel.
It went with me the summer I spent in Montana
cutting trails and working as a lookout,
scribbling and filling notebooks with youthful thoughts.
Alas, I let it down. And lingering there,
collecting dust, and turning yellow are clippings
of old newspaper accounts of stories I wrote
in my early days—some even promising.
I call it my alligator suitcase because the designers
of such cheap merchandise made the exterior look
like alligator skin—a feature in those days
mostly for expensive stuff, and copied by vendors
of really cheap materials—they do that a lot these days, too.
My Japanese souvenirs are images of little kids
and little old ladies foraging in garbage cans
for something to eat amid a surrounding
beauty of cherry blossoms and wild sunflowers.
The suitcase harbored many memories and notes,
even a love letter or two, and evaluations of life
which a young man thinks will cure the world’s illnesses
and inequities. It loomed now in the dusty, drafty attic
where dreams are stored. It finally made it downstairs
into our home again, where we sat around as if discovering
a lost artifact of some bygone age, a slice of life
suppressed for so long by everyday, hard-working,
humdrum chores too mundane to overcome.
The alligator suitcase has seen better days.
It’s like a natural appendage now and will stay
downstairs until the time comes for somebody
to inspect and discard or save its contents,
maybe even try to make heads or tails about
what is in it and why it was held onto for so long.
An old suitcase, brimming with young and old ideas,
resting there, hoping the spirit will breathe new life
into it and save it from the eternal ashcan of oblivion.
Oh, for a chance again to face new challenges ahead,
alligator suitcase in hand, heading out, hoping
to find a new burst of cherry blossoms
and wild sunflowers in the spring.
The term “fugitive beauty” came
to me in a letter. A friend’s wife
had used it in conversation. My friend
is a painter who studied in Paris.
I sought his opinion on poetry.
Fugitive beauty, evanescent, fleeting,
as if it implied a criminality
I did not understand.
Did all art start that way —
alone, furtive, so coiled
in its incubation that it feared
possible success or failure?
Fugitive, running away,
not standing with the norm, the herd,
not strong enough
to be judged?
Or did it mean beauty as Keats meant it?
“Truth is beauty, beauty truth” —
a raw truth, or a new dimension of beauty,
a new adjective
to describe eagles soaring,
like prisoners breaking out.
Out there by itself,
not great, not mediocre,
but flying in its own space
against all normalcy, blasting off
to its own truthfulness,
its own freedom.
A TINCTURE OF TIME
Unlike afternoon tea,
cappuccino brimmed their cups
with foamy, sudsy, hot milk.
The ladies talked and drank, wasting the afternoon.
They frittered away a tincture of time,
a threshold, a window
that doctors called a healer
when no other diagnosis existed,
and they waited until the tincture kicked in
and helped heal all maladies.
Medical men are superstitious, too.
The ladies rose and left,
not noticing where time went
or how much of it they had spent
or how valuable it was
when it was so sorely needed.
No Cure, No Peace
An advertisement breaks
into the morning radio talk show,
and says it has the panacea,
God’s solution to your pain.
The advertiser is legitimate,
the NYU Health Center.
It can help cure arthritis,
spinal stenosis, osteoporosis, neuropathy,
shingles, diabetes, piss and bliss,
almost anything that might restore
the spine to a normal state
and get you standing straight.
But what about Fallujah?
You see a new life ahead,
the cane swallowed by the wind,
a trip to Europe – Italy, Paris, Spain –
who knows, maybe even Machu Picchu.
You recite your ailments,
the list is very long.
You want to straighten up,
go window shopping,
send the bent-over stoop
But what about the treacherous
streets of Baghdad?
No more dragging ass
like an old fart, who has grown invisible.
You sense sympathy from the lady
on the phone – maybe you don’t sound so old to her.
“Is the procedure noninvasive?”
“No, it’s like a regular operation.”
“You mean you rehab for 6 months?”
“That’s about it.”
“Then why the big promo on radio?”
And what about the wounded
and the paraplegics at Walter Reed?
Why are you listening
to the fucking radio anyway?
It’s just one more con
the world is putting over on you.
There’s no cure-all, there never was.
You’ll take back the pain,
go back to the cane,
your old trusted friend.
But what about the dead and maimed
strewn on the desert plains,
the youthful seedlings that might
have blossomed into flowers?
The majestic maples, elms and oaks
that lined our neighbor’s property
were like old friends, friendlier
even than the grouchy neighbor
who posted No Trespassing signs
on the grounds. Their size testified
to their grandeur, big and leafy
and old, perhaps 50 years or even 100.
They offered restfulness, solitude and dignity.
Children leaped and played beneath
their branches. They withstood wind,
rain, snow and sleet—Nature’s way of cleansing
and purifying the air, an affirmation
of permanence in a world bent on disruption.
In his small world, our neighbor
saw the trees standing in the way,
impediments to his capitalizing on the land.
So workmen came with saws
and trucks and “cut ’em all down.”
It was like a blitzkrieg.
Hurricanes could not have inflicted such damage.
Other neighbors, some sad, some indifferent,
watched as the giants of Nature succumbed.
When the buzz saws stopped,
there was a loud silence. “Good job,”
our neighbor said as he paid the workers.
To the hired hands, killing trees was simply a way
of making a living—no remorse, no emotion.
In the global scheme of things,
does the death of a few trees matter?
Does the death of a few human beings matter?
A Talmudic verse reminds us: “I did not find
the world desolate when I entered it,
and as my fathers planted for me
so do I plant for my children.”