I Drank Tea For The First Time

After searching the land
For curative, palliative, preventive
Drinkables for health and for pleasure,

I sampled 72 plants a day
Some days poisoning myself
72 times.

On one occasion
I was lying on my back in the brush
Having taken a poisonous plant,

My mouth open and gasping
A potion dripped from a bush
Into my mouth and saved me.

From that plant
We make

It restored me
And protects me from all contamination.
I am Emperor Shen-nung.

I Invented Tea

I Invented Tea

I made the trip
Grueling as it was in those days
From India to China
For the Buddha
[I yearned for a pure act of worship].

When I arrived
I cut off my eyelids and buried them
To devote myself
In ceaseless contemplation.

My eyelids grew into the plant
When mixed with water
Produced tea
And the kind of alertness —

Mindfulness required.

That’s how I invented tea.


Miniatures: Making a Living

I was spending some quality time with my hair dresser, walked across the street for a little late lunch, ordered a tuna sandwich with a splurge of those crispy chips and sat in the corner checking my e mail on the free WiFi. I finished the sandwich and within a few minutes I was already suffering the aftershocks in my alimentary canal, having become more sensitive of late than usual. There was an eruption threatening near my imagined duodenum and I was sitting in front of my Facebook wall reminding myself to draw a mental note never to eat tuna sandwich there again. No crispy chips for sure.

I saw him asking the manager to use the phone. The manager pulled out his own cell phone and let him make a call. He was wearing institution-issue clothes, I noticed that first off, gray on gray, big bulky cottons that were much too large for him. His skin sallow against the gray of the uniform, the brown generic cap, I was surprised, delighted, to see him because I had thought he was dead.

My good pal F. and I had discussed him many times. We went back almost thirty years with him, he was newly sober then and F. especially followed him throughout the years, his inability to stay sober, still he kept in touch with F. and I know F. was thinking about him now and then and wondering how he was doing. Every once in a while F. or I had run into him, he was rarely sober, usually living off the public largesse in a group home or some other low rent flop after he had lost everything – wife a long time ago, a kid that kept intermittent contact and would be in college by now. The last time I saw F. we talked about him, and F. or I (can’t remember which) had heard that he was dead. There he was, I noticed the clothes first, then the face, drawn, old for wear, color not good, but it was him.

I was drawing out my own strength over that corrupt tuna and not sure I was up to the encounter with him just then, but when I looked back he had disappeared anyway. I looked around the restaurant, and I didn’t see him. I figured he had walked out, caught a bus, gone. I went right back to my screen, signed on to e mail, and sent F. a message to Minnesota where F. now lives that I just saw him and he was not dead. I knew F. would want to know.

I sent a few more missives and got up to throw my detritus away. I was standing at the waste basket, threw away the paper ware, stacked the plastic tray in its designated place, and at that moment I looked up and just as I did he looked at me from the corner where he was sitting, hard to see him from the corner where I was with my computer, we were both in corners, I saw him as he saw me and the recognition traveled between us and he motioned me over.

Can you come here? He asked.

Hold on, I gotta pack up my stuff.

I went back to my seat and packed up my machine. I sat down at his little table in the corner.

Some small talk, I recognized the old stolid sarcasm that distanced him in life, and some attempt at his form of humor. Then he launched into big talk and told me he was thirty days sober, he was homeless, living in a shelter, hoped to get into the Salvation Army. He was aspiring to enter the Salvation Army shelter. He does not give up.

We talked about how hard it was for him to stay sober over the years, how he hadn’t, and when he didn’t he ended up homeless. His was no polite story. He had off and on contact with his daughter. Still, he perseveres.

There was a table of three women next to him, and almost all the other tables in that part of the restaurant were also occupied. I could hear the three women talking behind me.

They used the word serendipity, he said, gesturing to the group of women behind me. I was eavesdropping, I guess (they were also kind of loud I thought). I don’t think I believe in serendipity, he said, I mean – I talk to God all the time now. I really do, he said, I never did before. You know that. But I don’t think much about serendipity, as a matter of fact, listen to this. Just when they said that word, I asked God something, I said in my own way – show me something. And at that moment, just then, I saw you. Now that’s – not – serendipity.

I didn’t make too much of that in my head, and I didn’t tell him that I saw him before he saw me and didn’t jump up to embrace him, that my stomach was still roiling from lunch, that I first sent off a note to F. telling him he wasn’t dead because both of us had thought he was. I just didn’t say anything.

Can we pray together? He asked me.


How do we do it? Who starts?

I’ll start, I said. Let’s close our eyes first and be quiet. Then let me say it. So we did that in the restaurant, I dropped my self consciousness, we closed our eyes and found our silence and when we did I half spoke half sang a prayer about the accompanying angels who we invoke to help us heal, and ended with a request to the Great Healer, I made it up in a new form and then I said, Amen.

When we were done with the prayer, we sat there together in silence for a moment and then said goodbye. I wished him luck or something and we made no plans to meet up again but I was happy he was thirty days sober and what the heck – maybe I’ll bump into him again in another ten years, twenty years, and he will have become, he will have become – who he was supposed to become.

Marlon called me not long after that with a take on a prayer he had made up. I told him I would tell him the story later, this story, so I wrote it out and sent it to him. I sent it to F. too and I read it to myself, several times.

jsg, usa

Making a Living

Making a Living: Hope
March 4

I showed up at 6:15. Hope is located across from a University Medical Center. It is not on the priority list of Medical Center resources.

I found my way to the room. There were about twenty individuals around two long tables placed lengthwise, some sitting and chatting, many sleeping or nodding, there was talk about medication and the joint and some other small talk about who didn’t show up that week.

“Here’s your speaker for this week.” That was my introduction.

I explained to them who I was.

“Are you a Jewish rabbi?” someone asked.

“Yes, I am a Jewish rabbi.”

The only woman at the table looked at me and with great solemnity and respect asked me:

“Do you read the Torah?”

“Yes,” I said with equal seriousness, “I read the Torah.”

So it began. I looked around the room and made a spot decision: I could give a lecture about spiritual health, my subject, or I could go for the center, the heart of the matter. What the heck, I thought.

I looked at the group and I began to explain the connection between breath and soul as found in the Hebrew Bible, Genesis chapter 2, verse 7 particularly. I stared at them and told them we are going to dive into the notion of soul, the deep sense of self that is Divine, the same in me as it is in you, and that nothing loftier than our breath is going to take us there. When you enter the realm of soul, I told them, nothing can hurt you.

“Now close your eyes,” I heard myself saying, and everyone closed their eyes and for the next ten to fifteen minutes I taught them how to enter the deep inner resource we call soul through our own breath, the breath that God breathed into us, and turned us all into living souls.

When we had finished, I sung a little and asked them gently to return to the room. Everyone had made the journey with me and the room was inhaling and exhaling in unison.

“Now—“ I said (I was improvising like crazy), “I am going to bless you,” and I blessed them with the words of the holy priests of the Temple in Jerusalem, I blessed them with physical and spiritual sustenance, then I translated, and a hush fell over the room when I finished. No one moved.

“Can you do that again?” one of the people cocked an eye open and asked.

“Yes,” I said. And I did it twice more.

jsg, usa

Miniatures: Everywhere Is Whole

Once the divine integration was made in my presence,
delirious you said I love the world,
did you mean all of it or some of it?

I love the partial, the broken, individual, incomplete,
the fragment, the wounded,

I love the separate, you said,
because it integrates,
and even if not,

it is whole.

jsg, usa


You are present, hidden —
you appear at the beginning
then recede to where you live
— the heart of the story.

You are an empty vessel —
plenty of room for God
and students.
You recede so creativity happens,
the vessel cannot be too empty
but it can be too full.

Because of you
we know the difference between
what is rooted
and what is derivative

what is source
what is appearance

what is heart
what is bone.

jsg, usa


Miniatures: Prince and the Prophetess

I ran into Prince at Schnuck’s
He was with a woman
Dressed in heavy boots
Fleece jacket signifying
She had been to the peak.

Who is that?
I asked the Prince.
She’s a prophetess.

About Prince she said —
He is a vessel.

In the check-out line
Three kids came up to Prince
And asked for his autograph.

He signed a cantaloupe with this:
I love you with all my broken heart.



Fearless, a prayer

We will receive
Each of us
To our own capacity
[this journey of secret destinations]

Instruments working out all things partial
Becoming whole

Schooled by our lives as poetry —
Our hearts unlocked

God entered through
Our wounds

The last place we expected.

jsg, usa


Coming down the mountain
Like a river on wheels
Our teaching inscribed
mi-zeh u-mi-zeh [Ex.32:15]

this way And this way.

The And –
So unlike either/or.

This and also this
Me and you
You and God
And all the others —

This and this.

[Sometimes I feel so

Radically And –
We know this mostly –

This and this
No that

No that at all.

jsg, usa

One and the Many

From One and the Many
a Fragment

We removed the obstacles,
became masters of the mask,
the surfaces released
and God appeared everywhere,
the unexpressed everything.

We are with each other always,
because of what happened to us.