20 November 2009 | Vol. 9, No. 3

Sermon to the Trash

Everything passes, said the Buddha,

and I saw it myself on the river—

tennis balls and condoms,

waterlogs and dead dogs,

styrofoam battleships,

the mastless schooner of a rubber sandal,

subaqueous plastic bags

rippling their ghoulish curtains,

a belly down, drowned waterfowl

legs splayed, plucked clean by the waves.

But what the Buddha didn't say

is that everything returns

a few hours later, when the current flips direction,

shuttling eternally in the limbo of the tides.

For life is not a river, but an estuary.

And what is delivered undigested to the sea

is spat back by the sea, whole rafts

of trash sailing upriver

like salmon to the spawning ground.

I saw this too—the same bloated and

unidentifiable fowl returning like the Antichrist.

The sodden tennis ball was also resurrected.

The rubber sandal walked

backwards upon the waters.

The condom too returned, a false prophet

to the land of its extraction.

As it is written—"Cast thy bread upon the waters,

for thou shalt find it after many days."

Yet what Ecclesiastes failed to mention

is that man does not live by bread alone,

but by plastics and foam rubber and latex

and spandex and synthetic polymers,

and, lo, every foul and unnatural thing

under the petrochemical sun,

which clogs the primordial waters

like unforgiveness in the heart,

to muck up the spawning grounds of love,

and choke the teeming rapture of the marshes,

and sore rebuke the eyes of the disposer.

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About the author:

Richard Schiffman is a writer who splits his time between New York and New Mexico. He is a former journalist for National Public Radio, and author of two biographies. His poetry has appeared in the Atlanta Review, the Christian Science Monitor, the Southern Poetry Review, Potomac Review, Rosebud, and 32 Poems, amongst other journals.

For further reading:

Browse the contents of 42opus Vol. 9, No. 3, where "Sermon to the Trash" ran on November 20, 2009. List other work with these same labels: poetry.

42opus is an online magazine of the literary arts.

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