Friday, March 25, 2011

R.I.P. Swami Bua

R.I.P. Swami Bua
(12/25/1889 – 7/22/2010)

When you need education
When you need enlightenment
Who you gonna call?
Swami Bua
Swami Bua
The funny little man
All dressed in white
With the great big
Sad saucer eyes
As gentle as a lamb
And tough as nails
The best Hatha yoga teacher
It the whole wide world
Swami Bua
Swami Bua
When I first met him
Some thirty years ago
I was a broken vessel
Shattered by divorce
In so many different ways
Burned out
At the age of thirty
I was referred to him
By mutual friends
(Juliet and Charles Seaver)
And welcomed
Into his ashram
As a welcome guest
And I sat at his feet
For four joyous years
Where I learned how to be
Truly healthy
Where my heart was repaired
And my life was turned around
Begin the day in love
Spend the day in love
End the day in love
That is the way to God
He would always say
After he would greet you
By asking if you were happy
Am I happy? Not sure. I don’t really know
Well if you do not know
Who should know?
He would answer
And of course he was right
When I found the asanas too difficult
He would always be there to encourage
And when we complained
The poses were too hard to do
He would say
I will cripple you
And he was right
The day after some sessions
I could hardly walk
The most gentle and stern
Taskmaster I have ever known
And just to prove he could do as he preached
He would spring into the pose
As if he were made of rubber
When I began to drift away
To pursue the rest of my life
I took his life lessons with me
And when I would call him
To say how much I missed him
He would say that I should come home
He would say that his eyes were aching to see me
And this week I learned that he had died
That he had given up his body
At the age of 120 years
Because death is a habit of the body
And no one can escape death
As he would always say
And he even gave me advice
About how to die
When the grim reaper
Comes inevitably to pay his call
Life is but a bubble in the ocean
So just let it go
he would always say
So just let it go

Philadelphia, Pa. 2011

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Harmonic Convergence or Let’s Do Lunch

It was to be a Super Perigee Moon
Which occurs very rarely
Maybe once every twenty years or so
Or so I am told
And so I began to realize
That the sun, stars and moon
Were all in alignment
For special things
To happen
I had not seen my friends
Douglas and Prue
In almost a decade
Such long absences
Are not good
Where friendship
Is concerned
Like a plant
Friendships need
Husbandry and loving care
If they are to survive and thrive
Neglected too long
They tend wither on the vine

But not this time!
Douglas e-mailed me
Out of the blue
A week or so
Before the Perigee Moon
Was to make her appearance
To say
“Let’s do lunch!”

Yes, I said
Great idea
But how to make it happen?
Doug and his wife Prue
Were going to be sailing
Into Philadelphia
Like the Comet Haley Bop
Depending on whether or not
They get out of jail
After demonstrating
Against the war
At a rally in D.C.
To take place
That same weekend
(Which war
Were they going
To protest?
Well, suppose
You just take your pick).
That same day
The USA, France and England
Started bombing
The country of Libya
I guess that was Prez Obama’s reply
To all the protesters
Who only wanted to get themselves
A little peace
(Talk about
Your harmonic convergences)
How ironic

So trying to hook up with
Doug and Prue
Would be like trying to lasso
A bucking steer by the horns
While at full gallop
No easy trick
Even for a trained
Rodeo cowboy
Needless to say
I am not a trained
Rodeo cowboy
I am more like
An untrained
Rodeo clown
But their visit was timed
To coincide
With the Super Perigee Moon
A harmonic convergence
Of cosmic proportions
And all of the augurs and signs
Were all most auspicious
So I was feeling optimistic
To say the least
A rarity for me
The worlds’ biggest believer
In the sanctity of Murphy’s Law
Nuff said

A mutual friend
Betsy Robertson
Was to be the mid wife
Of this cosmic
Even though
She said that she had to be in Jenkintown
Precisely at a quarter
To three

Good thing Betsy had her daughter
To keep her on her toes
When the planned meeting day
Finally arrived
Everything went off
Without a hitch
So to speak
Thanks to the Super Perigee Moon
And Betsy’s mid wifery
And Lilly’s steadyfastedness
And my suggestion
To meet downtown
At First UU church

Though Lilly is only eleven years old
And a star student in the fifth grade
She was nonetheless forced
To eat a slice of rich
Delicious chocolate cake
Whilst a beautiful Macau parrot
From Costa Rico
Named Lulu
Put on a wonderful impromptu show
Of multi-colored feathers
In every color of the rainbow

I proceeded to meet Douglas
At First Unitarian Church
In the very heart of the city
And we shared the last
Half of the service
And also heard
The spanking new minister’s sermon
Regarding the Apocalypse
And coming End Times
A fitting fun topic fit
For Earth Day
As it also turned out to be

The girls had been waiting
At the coffee shop
Just down the street
When the two of us
Barged in on their
Special reverie

Soon we all retreated
Like ducks in a row
To the pizza joint
Across the way
On the sunnier side
Of the street
Where we quickly found
A cheery little table
Complete with an umbrella
To shade us from the sun
Should the sun
Become too hot
And inhospitable

We ordered lunch
From our waitress
Who was very blond
And very thin
As all waitresses
Are required to be
If they want
To keep their jobs
In this pitifully weak

And we watched
The passing strollers
Whose faces seemed
To be a bit less strained today
This Sunday
This Earth Day
As we sat under
The Perigee Moon
And bathed in
The Harmonic Convergence
while enjoying the people parade
That floated past us
Like players in a carnival
Side show
All shapes and sizes
Some in their Sunday best
And others looking like they had
Just fallen out of bed

We watched and ogled the passersby
As we sipped our drinks
(Pure Philadelphia Schuylkill Punch)
And ate our brunch
All of us feeling
Quite at home
And at peace
When suddenly
Some total strangers
Tourists no doubt
Suddenly began to dance
An impromptu tarantella
I would have like to have joined them
And I would have too
Were I of less girth
And less clumsy
And more of a jolly good fella

And so it went
As we ate good food
And talked good talk
For endless hours
Or so it seemed
Renewing all of our friendships
And promising to keep
In touch
As friends almost
Always do
But then most often
Do not

By the time
We parted ways
We had renewed
Our bonds of love
And good cheer
And I felt refreshed
In spirit
And renewed in hope

So we parted
Each other’s company
In love’s rosy embrace
Promising to once again
“Do lunch”
Another time soon or
Whenever the cosmic forces
Again align
In such cosmic harmony
As to allow
Such festivity

“So let’s do lunch again some time!”
Said my friend Doug
As he and Prue
Once more
Saddled up
On Comet Haley Bop

Yes I agreed
“Let’s do!”
And let’s promise to do it
Whether there happens to be
A Super Perigee Moon
Or not

Philadelphia, Pa. 2011

Monday, March 21, 2011

Have You Ever Noticed?

Have you ever noticed
How you can
Always tell
Who has a job
From those that do not?
The ones who do have steady work
Are fat and sleek
And their skin is polished
And shiny
No doubt from all
The pig fat that they consume
They have nice clothes
And are usually dressed
Appropriately for the season
The ones with solid jobs
Also have nice teeth
Paid for with dental insurance
And the ones with good jobs
Get to take vacations
And go on holidays
And take pictures
Of their exciting experiences
With their spanking new digital cameras
That one of them may have received
As a gift
For Christmas or Chanukah
Or some such other gift giving event

And the working ones
Have good shoes
And some of them
Even have walking shoes
And running shoes
And shoes for evening wear
To go with their basic black
Dresses and pearls
For when they go out
In the evenings
All primped up
To paint the town red
All dressed up
In all their fancy finery
While grandma and grampa
Stay home and watch the grand kids

But the ones without work
Only have some dirty old clothes
That have been passed down
And around so many times
That you can hardly tell
The colors apart
And the ones without work
Do not go gallivanting
Around the town
To show off their finery
For all to gawk at and see
Instead they hunker down
In shanty towns
And up the side alleys
And behind the store fronts
And in between the dumpster bins
Where they try to stay invisible
Especially at night
While trying to snatch
A few hours of fitful sleep
On some old dirty pee stained
If they are lucky enough
To even have a mattress
And their idea of a night on the town
Is hoping to escape the ever watchful
Eyes of the police
Who otherwise find it necessary
To keep the peace
By chasing all the neighborhood bums
Who may very well
Have once been their next door
Neighbors in better times
But these are not better times
So the bums get chased
From park bench
To park bench
While being told
To keep on moving along,
To keep on shuffling along
Because there are laws
Against vagrancy
And loitering
Don’t you know

And if the bums
Become bull headed or
Are just too drunk
Or too sick
Or just too bone weary tired to obey
They risk finding out
For themselves
What those long night sticks
That the cops carry around
On their hips
Can do
And trust me
That mace bomb
That they also wear?
Well, I’m here to tell you
It ain’t just for show

I have been rich
And I have been poor
And you can take it from me
That when other folks say
That being rich is better
much, much better
Than being poor
You can believe it
And you should take their words to heart

So, if anyone ever offers you the choice
Between having a job
And being unemployed
You go ahead and grab that job with both hands
And do not let go

That is unless you like being poor
And want the chance to go on living
The life of riley
While your pockets are as empty
As your stomach
In that case just tell the boss man
No thanks
You’ll be passing on the kind offer of paid work
Because you like the vagrant life
And the accommodations on skid row
Suit you just fine

For hadn’t the boss man heard
The good news that’s written down
In the Good Book
Where it clearly says
That a man does not live
By bread alone
But by every word
That procedeth
Out of the mouth of God?

Philadelphia, Pa. 2011

Friday, March 18, 2011

Cherry Blossom Time

Every April
About this time
I get very excited
About the prospect
Of cherry blossoms
Bursting suddenly
Into full bloom
Before our very eyes
Like facing a firing squad
A cannonade
Of pink petals
Sending shock waves
Of pink
Through every corner
Of the ether

Let a thousand cherry blossoms bloom
Let ten thousand cherry blossoms bloom
Let millions and millions of cherry blossoms bloom
And still there will not be enough of them
To satisfy the heart’s yearning
Or need
Or desire
After such a dreary winter
Of dirty snow
And charcoal grey skies
Another winter without you

And now, today
Whenever I happen to think of us
As we used to be
Just the two of us
I can still see the cherry blossoms
Of years past
Dancing in your eyes

Philadelphia, Pa. 2011

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Nation Is Drowning

I am watching
An entire nation drown
An entire people drown
On live TV
I am watching
A nuclear disaster
Ravage an entire nation
Japan is no more
Japan is radioactive
Once again
Sixty years after
Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Hiroshima, Nagasaki
And now we can add
The name of
To the list
Of nuclear horrors

First the world’s worst earthquake
The Haitian earthquake all over again
With her 200,000 dead
Followed by world’s worst tsunami
Banda Ache Indonesia
All over again
Only this time
One thousand times worse

And on top of all this
Nuclear catastrophe
Chernobyl all over again
Only a hundred times worse
In the world’s
Most densely populated nation

Even the very word
Is enough to freeze
The human heart
With paralyzing fear
Entire villages washed away
Cars, trucks, houses, people
Erasing everything alive in its path

In living color
And talking heads
Experts of every kind
Explaining, explaining, explaining
Drowning in their own ignorance
Drowning in their own ineptitude
Pointing to charts
Showing the pictures
Of so much suffering
And devastation
Over and over again
Until numbness sets in
And the mind refuses
To accept such massive misery
Until the emotions
Shut down
Because the heart can only
Bear so much grief
Before it too breaks apart
Who will suffer the most?
The children, the elderly
Rich and poor
The halt and the lame?

On BBC I am watching
An entire nation drown
I see
But I cannot believe

Philadelphia, Pa. 2011

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

I Need My REM

I can hardly
Keep my eyes open
I can barely
Stay awake
I am so bored
At my job
Sunday they changed
All the clocks again
Spring one hour forward
Lose one hour of sleep
One hour of REM sleep
The kind of deep sleep
That knits up
The raveled sleeve of care
If you miss out
On REM sleep
You feel like a dog
You feel like your ass
Is dragging
All day long
All you want to do
Is to find a place
To sleep
To curl up for
Just fifteen minutes
Or else drink another
Cup of black coffee
Or try to take a hit of
Red Bull
Or a chocolate candy bar
They think that we are
They think they can
Manipulate us
Any way they want
But we are not machines
I am not a machine
And I will roll over
And take another hour of sleep
If I want to
Screw the timesheet
Screw the alarm clock
Punch in
Punch out
Punch drunk
Kiss my ass

Philadelphia, Pa. 2011

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Doctor Visit

So I go to see my MD
For a scheduled
Visit and checkup
Every time
I see this pill pusher
He puts me
One step
To the grave
This time
I was complaining
About how
My varicose veins
Were acting up
And causing me
Some swelling
And pain
Did you ever have
Phlebitis before?
He asks
Like he’s surprised
I haven’t already
Kicked the bucket
By now
No, I said,
Is that what I have?
That’s what that is.
The swelling is caused
By an edema.
You don’t say
I say.
He asks me
If it is okay
To bring in his nurse trainee
To show her what an edema
Looks and feels like
On a man of my age
I don’t mind
I say
What the heck
In comes this very
Sexy nurse
Who proceeds
To put her hot little hand
On my inner right thigh
To feel my edema
That in truth
Is hot and painful
To the touch
“Notice that it feels swollen
And hot to the touch”
Says the MD to the Nurse
“Yes Doctor I see”
Says the nurse to the MD
As she playfully
Pats my inner thigh
As my emotions begin
To stir
I kept thinking of an old
Vaudeville routine:
A woman puts her hand
Down the trousers
Of the straight man
Searching for loose change
I feel foolish she says
I feel silly she says
A little more to the left
Says the straight man
And you’ll be feeling nuts
Thank you nurse
Thank you doctor
Then the nurse
Turns to me
With a smile and says
Thank you Mr. Markowitz
And I reply
You’re very welcome
My dear
Throwing her a little wink
Come back anytime.
She winks back at me
Smiles and gently closes the door

Philadelphia, Pa. 2011

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

9/11 Plus Ten

I used to work
In the World Trade Center
86th floor of Trade Tower Two
Also known as the South Tower
And I would often look out the window
And I could see airplanes
Flying twenty stories below me
Sometimes it would rain and snow
And the raindrops and snow flakes
Would move upwards in the updrafts
During fire drills
It took half and hour
At best
Under perfect conditions
To evacuate the buildings
With the necessity
Of having to change elevators
On the 32nd floors
The elevators were the size
Of studio apartments
And could carry fifty people
At a time
When there was no panic
In the event of actual fire
The elevators were useless
And the only other means of egress
Were the tower stairs
Miles and miles of stairs
I would often tell my co-workers
That if, God forbid, anything serious
Were ever to actually happen
There was no way we could get out in time
It was best to hope and pray
That no such calamity would ever befall us

I had been separated for some time
from my good State job
By the time that the terrorist attacks
Of 9/11 took place...
Like many millions more
I watched the towers burning on TV
From the comfort and safety
Of my new office in downtown Philadelphia
It had been such a beautiful morning
That fateful day
Crystal clear blue skies
Puffy white clouds
And then the unthinkable happened
As the world watched in horror and disbelief
As the two fuel laden jet liners struck
First Tower One
Then Tower Two
And the terrible black fires
Began to rage and burn
Who could have done such a thing?
To what possible purpose?

I watched in horror
As the people fled the scene
My fellow co-workers still
My fellow Americans
My fellow New Yorkers
And I could only imagine
The particular kind of hell
Those magnificent buildings had become
With so many innocent souls trapped inside
I felt a surge of pride and love
As I watched the fire brigades
And legions of police officers
Rush to the rescue
Fearing the worst
Yet hoping for the best
Who would have believed
That those two giant buildings
Could ever fall?
Who would have believed
That thousands of people
Who had simply gone to work
To do their jobs
To feed their families
And to keep a roof over their heads
Would never again be able to see
Their loved ones ever again?
Over and over
The last phone messages were exchanged
“Honey, you know how much I love you”
“Hug the children for me”
“I don’t think we’re going to make it”
Then came the terrible
The seismic clouds
Of debris, glass and dust
Choking out the light
Blinding the rescue workers
Covering everything and everyone
With a new kind of volcanic ash
And then the deadly silence
With only the chirping of rescue beacons
Chirping like wounded birds
“Over here”
“We are here”
“Look over here”
But there were no bodies to be found
No walking wounded to be treated
And triaged
To be rushed to the waiting ambulances
To fill the empty emergency rooms
The would be first responders waited in vain
For survivors who never came
For all that remained
At the end of that first horrific day
Were those terrible piles of volcanic dust
“For dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return”

Philadelphia, Pa. 2011

Monday, March 7, 2011

I Am Walking Up the Hill

I am walking up the Hill
Towards the campus
To Silliman Hall
Where I have a late afternoon French Class
With Professor Frank Hamlin
“French Poets of the 19th Century”
So round up the usual suspects
Hugo, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Lamartine
Les Fleurs du Mal
Le Bateau Ivre
Le Lac

It is a grey mid-February day
Plenty of snow
Remains on the ground
From the previous night’s
Adding another foot of snow
To the already considerable
accumulated piles
Providing an answer to the query
Of Francois Villon
“Mais ou sont les neiges d’antan?”

Already the sky begins to turn darker
As the afternoon sun
Fades into the oncoming night
And the chill of the air
Seeps down the back of my collar
And a shiver works its way up my spine

I take a deep breath
And let the cool, clean air
Fill my lungs
I feel a slight flutter
As my heart
Seems to skip a beat
Adjusting to the freezing air
I exhale a cloud
As my warm breath hits the cold

And my legs start to burn slightly
As I trudge uphill
Through the piles of freshly fallen snow
Blazing a new path
Like Shackerton
In search of the North Pole

Finally I approach
Silliman Hall
Its blazing lights
A welcoming sign
As I stamp my feet
On the hard stone steps
To shake off the clinging snow

Inside my school mates
Are waiting
Books open
Faces turned toward
The good professor
Who did not wait
For my late arrival
To begin his lecture

“Late again, Monsieur Markowitz?”
“Je m’excuse, Monsieur le Professeur”
“Pas d’excuses! Assiez -vous!”
He says not meaning to sound harsh
I take my usual seat
The old steam radiator is hissing
I can feel the heat
Warming my bones

We are reading Victor Hugo’s
Classic poem “L’Expiation”
Describing the retreat
of Napoleon’s Grand Army
From the Russian Steppes
“Apr├Ęs une plaine blanche, une autre plaine blanche!”

I could picture
In my mind’s eye
the defeated French soldiers
Leaning on their rifle butts
Dragging their rag-wrapped feet
One step at a time
Through the endless and merciless snow
How many miles
until they can find shelter and rest
How many more miles to go?

I chose to study French
Out of sheer intoxication
And love of all things French
Instinctively following my heart
In defiance of all things practical

Today I write my poems
Out of sheer love
For the sound of words
A love that I honed and sharpened
All those late afternoon nights
Studying at Silliman Hall
With my dear professor Hamlin
Whom I loved best of all

j.h. markowitz
Philadelphia, Pa. 2011

Star Smelled Like Milk

He would look forward
To seeing her
Every time he had to visit
The Bronx with his mother
To see his aunt Lilly

Her name was Star
A twelve year old
Fifth grader
Who lived across the hall
From his aunt

Star was the most beautiful girl
That he had ever seen
And the only one
Who ever noticed him
Let alone spoke to him

Star was from Puerto Rico
And everything about her was exotic
Her name, her hair, her eyes, her voice

Sometimes when his mother was busy
Talking to Star’s mother and his aunt
The two of them would sneak into Star’s bedroom
To curl up into each other’s arms
To cuddle and to share their first kisses
Over and over again

It was heaven
It was paradise
And Star smelled like milk

Her gentle kisses
Made him flush with a kind of fever
He loved to stroke her hair
And her slender arms

Such adventures were always a secret
And only lasted
Until their names were called
By their suspicious keepers

And then it was off to roller-skate
The two of them
Hand in hand
Down the steep hills of the Bronx
Their steel wheels growling like jet engines
Sending sparks of stones and gravel
In their wake

If times like these
Could only last forever
Wouldn’t that be grand?

Philadelphia, Pa. 2011


She sells her body
On the street
For the price
Of a Taco Bell
Or White Castle…

When the police find her
Her face smashed and purple
The handiwork
Of some ham-fisted goon
She manages a painful laugh
And says through swollen lips
That it was a Big Mac attack

Or whatever his name was
You know
They all look the same to me…

Philadelphia, Pa. 2011

A Day at the Beach

In the roiling surf
A trumpeting herd of
Sea froth elephants
Raise seaweed
Trunks and tusks
To the turquoise
Ocean turtle sky
Pebble and beach glass
Legs akimbo…

With the next hissing wave
A herd of spotted giraffe…

Philadelphia, Pa. 2011

Sidewalk Buddha

Homeless sidewalk Buddha
Sitting lotus posed
Wrapped in billowing
clouds of steam
King of your sewer grate throne
Though the swirls of vapor
Be thick as cotton candy
No cloak of choking smoke
Can hide your nation’s shame…

Philadelphia, Pa. 2011

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Yiddish Melody in Swing

Were you there for the wedding
The night Klezmer married Swing
When Goodman’s clarinet
Taught the Rambam how to sing
Cheery beery bim bom
On methamphetamine?
At a night club in Harlem
They danced to Yiddish Swing
Only in America
You get to see such a thing!
By Mir Bist Du Shoen!
Maxene! Patty! And Laverne!
The first big Yiddish smash!
They were raking in the cash!
Sung by the ganse velt!
They were swimming in the gelt!
Ella! Judy! Louie!
Even Norman Felt!
Hear it play!
Start to sway!
Boychick Bennie
Take it away!
It don’t mean a thing
If it ain’t got that swing!
Swing Heil!
Swing Heil!
Swing Heil!

Philadelphia, Pa. 2011

Thursday, March 3, 2011

We Fought All the Way Back

We fought all the way back
From the hospital
That cold October day
That our newborn daughter Amy
Was brought home
to our shiny new house
for the very first time

I have no recollection
Of whatever it was
That we were arguing about

I just remember
That the words
Were bitter
And angry

Amy was in the backseat
Snugly wrapped
In her swaddling clothes
as she soundly slept
Blissfully unaware
That her parents
Were on the verge
Of divorce

We had been married
For all of five years
When Meredith
Gave me the ultimatum
“I want to have a baby
or I will kill myself” she said.

Did she really mean it?
Was she just bluffing?
I was terrified
What kind of madness was this?

Not wanting to admit
That my marriage was over
I meekly complied
With her wishes
And one year later
Almost to the day
Amy was born

“I am happy” said Meredith
as she held Amy
in her arms for the first time
the one and only time
that I had ever heard her say the word

In those days
No one ever said the words
Post partum depression
In those days
It was even rarer to hear the words
“I want a divorce”.

Why have babies
If you knew all along
That you were planning
To divorce the child’s father
At the first opportunity?

If all she ever wanted
Was a convenient sperm donor
Why not just go the nearest sperm bank?
I guess that was my role
I guess that was my job
Last hired
First fired

Philadelphia, Pa. 2011

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

I Love the Way

I love the way
The sand feels
Between my toes
Whenever I walk
Along the water’s edge
At the beach
I love the way
That the wind feels
Against my skin and hair
As the beach flags
Snap and crack
With every gust
I love the way
The salted sea air smells
Like jasmine and citrus
And gardenia
I love the way
The piper birds
Dodge in and out
With every wave
Picking off the sea brine
And crab eggs
From the bubbling sands
I love the way
The fresh air
Fills every corner of my lungs
As children laugh and play
And build their special sand castles
Under the watchful eyes
Of nervous parents
Ever on the alert for trouble
I love the way
The ocean envelops my body
And makes every nerve tingle
As I revel in being alive
Feeling rejuvenated
I love the way
The powerful waves
Crash over my head
And push me down
Into the frothing surf
Until my lungs almost burst
For want of air
And I come bobbing to the surface
Like a porpoise
Like a leopard seal
Like a beached walrus
In search of some sun drenched rocks
A place to take shelter
To bask in the glorious sunlight
To dry my skin
To stretch out my body
To hear the seagulls
Calling out to each other
Until the sun
Finally sets
And everyone goes home
Waiting for tomorrow
For another majestic day
To dawn

Philadelphia, Pa. 2011