Category Archives: Agony in the Garden

Beach Music

That’s what hunger can drive you to

said Brian pointing at the Harrier hawk

diving for a late-flying godwit

half a moment behind the flock.


Little chance the hawk’s slow stalking body

could knife past the long-beaked bird.

Still, he tries, before slow circling

his surrender at the screech of the only word


uttered by their one tongue at the ascension.

Below, anemones, the color of candle wax

dry to death in the sun, while sea stars

pull apart mussels lying too low on stone backs.


Here is where my hunger drives me,

leading me to the sea’s grassy edge

where I hear nothing but, above me, the screech

of laughing girls dancing on the sandstone ledge.

Sensing Death

Death smells like honey here,

melted in the rotting coast live

oak, stinking of cinnamon,

and lemony eucalyptus leaves

lying uncensored together in state.


Death tastes like the soft fur of a field mouse

in the tight grin of my cat

who has leapt up from outside onto the sill

to please us, smearing small blood

onto the cold glass.


Death feels like the bone shard

in my small toe, shivering, flashing

gentle electrical pain into my shoulders,

my calves, my earlobes, nailing me

to the hard wooden floor.


Death sounds like the long in-drawn breath

my daughter took when she backwards flipped

off the sofa onto the brass lamp base, silence

lasting longer than her animal screech.


Death looks like nothing I know, everything

I am turning into, my body degrading

into entropy, into apathetic skin flakes,

into the smell of armpits,

the taste of mold on nectarines,

the sound of bone cracking on wood,

the feel of these keys on calloused tips,

tipping me to the fact that death and I

will be playing poker in the caboose

for high stakes in no time soon.

by Paul Totah, July 1, 1997

Siddhartha and Me

Siddhartha under the Bo tree

sits, kills desire, finds

the middle way.


Yesterday, a 9-month-old

pup bit my son above the ankle,

tugged at his pants, knocked him down.

My wife, hearing his screams,

chased the dog away, held my son

as he sobbed high breaths of air.


Today my father pulled 20 pages

from a manila folder, certified delivery;

a lawsuit filed by a crippled man

claiming discrimination

because the cheesecake shop my father owns

has a two-inch concrete lip before the door.


Siddhartha saw the five daughters of Mala,

an army of demons shooting flaming arrows,

his own shadow self offering him praise;

he saw through these attacks,

knew them to be illusion,

knew the spirit to be inviolable

and compassion the only rock

on which to build belief.


And now Siddhartha sits

under the Bo tree

promising Nirvana

enlightenment, the dharma

to my father, my son,

and my holy self.


All we have to do

is believe.


Lord I believe.

Help thou my unbelief.


by Paul Totah