Image: Zagranyasha, via Unsplash.

This Legendary Sea

Damouchari, Greece, September 21, 2023

I will miss these early morning hours,
the sun filtering through the foliage,
rippling waters in the cove beneath the balcony,
as I scribble these lines.
Journey where I may,
to points north, south, east,
or to my westward home,
the vista will never be the same.
So despite the storm which pummelled the coast,
the heartache so many have endured,
the debris scattered along the shore,
I will recall this scene after I have gone,
this legendary sea
that will always hold me in its grip.

Sitting in Judgment

December 23

In the tit for tat between Shoah and Nakba,
between the victimhood preceding that fateful day in 1948
and the victimhood that followed,
how is one to choose?

Hegel may have claimed
that world history is the world court,
but historians bring their own biases to the bench
and rarely are their judgments beyond question.

Perhaps the Latin has it right,
“Vae victis,”*
though in the long run even the winners may lose out,
even if those alive today will never know.

The choice it seems
is not really between right and wrong,
but between the pain and suffering of each side
and between who will have the courage to reach out.

* Woe to the vanquished

On Democratic Politics

February 6, 2024

Creatures of habit,
those who live by ideas and abstract thoughts
easily forget
that most of their fellow citizens do not.

They live in the here and now,
coping with the concrete tasks of coming of age,
raising a family,
earning their keep as best they can,
dodging speed bumps barring the way.

And when catastrophes strike,
wars, plagues, disasters anon,
they usually pay a disproportionate price,
struggling as best they can to survive.

So why the surprise
when self-interest fuels our politics
and when lofty ideals that some proclaim
usually lose out to those who engage
in a less grandiose game? 

If This be a Valentine

February 14

“I’m not afraid to die,”
he said with a shrug,
though he knew it was a lie
to lull himself to sleep
on a cold February night,
dreaming of hands
touching across the deep ravine
separating the living from the dead,
of the sea of words
in which poets through the ages drown,
of the spear that pierced
a fallen soldier on a Grecian vase
and mortars in the killing fields
where Muscovy encounters Kyiv,
of kisses blown in the fevered heat of youth,
oblivious, as was each generation’s wont,
to trysts gone stale
and vestiges of love
strewn helter-skelter in the sands. 

The View from Spanish Banks

February 26

Strollers can count the vessels
lined up in the bay
awaiting a berth in the nearby port,
many heavily laden with containers
stuffed with all that Asia
sends our way.

Vancouver is this country’s gateway
to our Pacific interface,
and through the highs and lows
of plagues and wars
the ships keep coming,
for commerce cannot sleep a single day.

Sometimes one wants to shut one’s eyes
and wish it all away,
too much consumption to sustain,
sometimes one is amazed
at how rapidly this Cinderella of a lumber town
has come of age. 

On a Sea of Contingency

March 6

It crept up surreptitiously,
the realization that things
we’d once believed with certainty
had proven as fragile
as figurines made of clay,
that the postwar years of affluence,
of carefree indulgence,
were but an interlude
between one era of conflict and the next,
that what lay ahead,
we could feel it in our bones,
was not the harmony of imagined communities
come into their own,
but the unfolding of scenarios gone rogue.

Holiness

March 31

For Patriarch Kirill,
head of the Russian Orthodox Church,
Putin’s assault on Ukraine
is nothing less than a holy war
defending “Holy Russia” from the onslaught
of globalism and a satanic West.

For hard-line Islamists of whatever stripe
theirs is a holy war
in defence of the only true religion
against miscreants of every other creed.

For hard-line settlers on the West Bank,
the whole of Israel – Gaza included –
is part of the promised land
sacred to Jews and to them alone.

O! We foolish secularists of little faith
who dwell in darkness
while others bathe in light. 

Navigating the Current

April 2

Let us acknowledge the perspicuity
of a Machiavelli or a Hobbes
who saw without illusion
into the underlying cupidity and fear
that constitute the oft unspoken truth
of our political universe.

So too let us salute,
despite their imperfections,
the visionary leaps of a Rousseau or a Marx,
unwilling to countenance the ills
with which the privileged weighed down
the masses over whom they ruled.

Somehow in our own uneven way
we seek to thread the span
between the poles of genuine equity
and incipient dread. 

In the Nick of Time

April 12

As members of successive generations
drop off one by one,
the norm is to offer condolences
to bereaved family members
and others closely linked
to the deceased.

In our generation’s case,
we lucky ones who had an unbroken run
through the affluent postwar years,
it seems more appropriate,
given serial catastrophes
bedevilling a now perilous century,
to offer congratulations, not lamentations,
for departing in the nick of time. 

La condition humaine

May 29

The human thirst for self-torture.
— Edgar Allan Poe

An instinct, perhaps as deeply ingrained
as our need for nourishment,
for companionship, for sexual fulfillment.

Why, after all,
keep harking back to the epics
with their catalogue of blood-curdling warfare,
the tragedies where everything is ultimately
out of kilter,
the hardship tales of memoirs and novellas,
the medical traumas
that haunt so many of our fellows,
the climatic catastrophes
that promise horror upon horror?

Is it any wonder
that somewhere in the background
Poe’s raven is croaking “Evermore”?