A MESSAGE HOME

What I want to tell her is this:
it’s fitting, perfectly, that you
who so assiduously hid the past
from me, your past and mine,
now bars your entry, refusing you
even the briefest glimpse.
You want so to grab onto it
to have it carry you to a place
removed from here by time
and distance, where it is warm
and most of the time, cozy.
It is also fitting that you
call out his name, as though
he was in the yard
pruning a tree, delaying dinner,
the same he you cursed
glad to have him out of your life
and out of your house,
you wished him dead
so that you might call yourself
a widow and share
condolences with the other
black draped women.
You never mentioned
the six months of foster care
or the little sister who came
and went so quickly
when he had the audacity
to drop dead on you one morning.
This is what I would say to her,
this is the curse I would
place upon her
but she no longer
recognizes me, I am no more
than a well dressed orderly
come to remove her lunch tray.


First Published in Riding the Meridian 1999/1;2

ADOPTION FOR DUMMIES

There is one thing that none
of the books on discovering
who you are when you are
adopted bother to tell you.

If they did, it wouldn’t change
anything, but it is a burden
you assumed you’d easily bear
that grows heavy with time.

What they don’t warn you is
that you will discover yourself,
and your heritage that was denied
to you for one engrafted on.

But you will not be prepared
for the hidden tax that is levied
with that knowledge, for your
mourning is too soon doubled.

SELF?

There is one thing that none
of the books on discovering
who you are when you are
adopted bother to tell you.

If the did, it wouldn’t change
anything, but it is a burden
you assumed you’d easily bear
that grows heavy with time.

What they don’t warn you is
that you will discover yourself,
you heritage that was denied
to you for one engrafted on.

But you will not be prepared
for the hidden tax that is levied
with that knowledge, for your
mourning is too soon doubled.

A CHILDHOOD

I have fond memories
of a childhood I never lived.
Those are the best childhoods
from for they reflect life as you
meant it to be lived.
In this life my father
is in his late nineties,
still smiles when he sees me, not
didn’t clutch his chest
sixty-one years ago,
didn’t fall to the floor,
didn’t leave me half
an orphan again,
doesn’t live only
in the periphery
of my dreams.

SLIP SLIDING AWAY

Merriam-Webster declared me an orphan
yesterday morning, when my father
slipped away from his morphine dreams.
Some would argue I cannot be an orphan
at my age, that is a sanctuary reserved
for children, but I am long past
admitting my age, and my behavior
gives no lie to my claim of childhood.
I will continue to miss him, for his dementia
stole him memory by memory over the years,
and I was left to fill the void
with stories of my childhood, remembered
and imagined, to him there was no difference.
I can now fully mourn my birth mother,
gone for years before I found her, and
my birth father, who I can now claim and
at the same time assume dead, more
a commentary on my advancing age
than any reflection on him, save
in the mirror and the faces of my grandchildren.
And now the two men who adopted me
and the woman they really wanted,
and I are no longer part of the same package.

UNKNOWING

I don’t know what
                                               I am, the Buddha said.

I don’t know why
                                                my mother gave me up at birth
                                                or how many cousins walk
                                                                    the streets of Lisbon
                                                or where I lost my first tooth
I don’t know what
                                                became of the nickel
                                                or why the tooth fairy was so tight
                                                or who will wash the blood
                                                                    from the streets of Basra
I don’t know how
                                                my Walkman eats batteries
                                                                    like Hostess Twinkies
                                                or why fungus grows underground
                                                or why the Somali child stares through
                                                                    starving eyes
I don’t know why
                                                my dough rises, only to fall mockingly,
                                                or why forced to eat matzoh, the Jews
                                                                    didn’t go back to Egypt
                                                or why I poke my sore knee to insure it hurts

I don’t know
                                                my birthright name.


First Appeared in Children, Churches and Daddies, Vol. 141, October 2004.

UNTO TARSHISH

In this place
there is a fatted,
sacrificial silence.
It is the large
Jewish Cemetery
nestling the road
where Maryland
and the District are loosely
stitched together.
It is a small plot
goldenrod dirt
outskirting Lisbon.

This ground is sacred
not for the blessing
of one who
has taken the tallit
of holiness.
The sanctity of this
ground leaches
from the simple pine
boxes that return
with the body
to the soil.

The stones, mostly simple
with neatly incised
Hebrew inscriptions
are all blank
to me, worn
smooth by memory
denied.
I place my ear
carefully to each, wanting
to hear a voice,
a fractured whisper
that will resonate
in the hollow spaces.

I pass by those
with shared names
for if he or she is here
each must share
the isolation
they willed me.
I look
at the faces
of passing mourners —
none resemble
the morning mirror.

I grow tired
of the search, sit
in the paltry shade
of the ricinus plant
knowing we both will
be gone by sundown.


First Appeared in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 29, No. 1, 2005.