ALTERNATE HISTORY

My mother wanted to tell me
of my great-grandmother,
a woman she barely knew,
but who she imagined more fully
that life itself
would ever have allowed.
History, in her hands
was malleable, you could
shape it in ways never happened.
She wanted to tell me
but she knew that
her grandmother wouldn’t approve
of adopting when your womb
was perfectly serviceable,
certainly not for a man
more than a decade older
who could not uphold
his most sacred obligation.
She wanted to tell me,
but I am adopted
and this woman can be
no more than a story
of passing relevance to me.

A SHORT LONG LINE

There is a statue of William Penn
atop the city hall in Philadelphia
seeming to stare down over the city
with bronze eyes incapable of seeing.
Hagar wandered the wilderness
after she was evicted by Abraham
at Sarah’s urging, the price
of jealousy, with bread and water
and the promise of a great nation.
It is pure speculation whether
Hagar was enslaved and freed
or, as we would claim it today,
employed by the family. In the end
the distinction matters little.
Penn remains blind atop the building
Hagar and Ishmael are long dead,
and Jefferson likely had children
with one of his slaves, or so
the DNA evidence indicates.
I am of Norwegian and Scottish
patrilineal heritage it appears
though my great nation is
a six year old girl and
almost three year old boy.

DISCOVERING ME

They were always almost mythological,
heroes of a people I could only
imagine as my own, knowing I came
from a far different place, one
of shtetls and pogroms, of seaside
villages, the beaches of Cascais.
It was half a lie, but I couldn’t
know it then, couldn’t guess
my dream was reality, my reality
a dream torn away by DNA.
In a moment my unknown Portuguese
father was unborn, replaced
by a faceless man of Celtic
soil who marched to the piper
highland or uillean, the bodhran,
who stood alongside Pearse
and Connolly, Bonnie Charlie,
and a century on, I’ll lift
a pint of Guinness in their honor,
take a wee dram of Talisker
and whisper Slainte to
the unknown generations
that brought me here.

DREAM WALKING

Tonight I will again
walk through my dream
scrapbook re-creating you.
For a bit longer, at least, I
have full creative expression
knowing now that you died
six years ago, never married.
I will search from
the carefully or inadvertently
dropped clue, your obituary,
bits and facts that could
never have come from the
adoption file, beacons
however faint that will
lead me into the harbor
of my true identity.
But for now I can imagine you
sitting in a corner at
the singles dance, looking
as your sisters pleaded
for a nice young man, long
past being fussy.
It didn’t take much
for him to sweep you
away, at least for
that one evening, away
from the teletype keyboard,
away from the cramped apartment.
I do wonder if your brother
finished college, was at
the same one you left
when the war made money tight.
I can fashion all of these things
into an ever shifting mural
of my own life, but soon enough
I will search, and with some luck
will find our shared name.
I may never see your face
save in the mirror or
the eyes of my granddaughter,
but in her smile, in the smile
of your grandson, I know
you better than you
could ever have imagined.

ADOPTING A HISTORY

She likes to tell him that he
came from a small village in Lithuania.
He prefers to remind her that he
was born in the District of Columbia
which has never been mistaken
for a small village in Lithuania,
although he knows he could find
several who speak Lithuanian there.
And, he points out to her, that would
only be half the story, for he is certain
the father he has never met
never set foot, genetic or actual,
anywhere in Lithuania.
Still, in his dreams, he can sit
with the grandfather he never met
and they will converse in Lithuanian.

THE FACT OF ADOPTION

The fado fades
under the weight
of the Highland pipes
and dreams of Cascais
fade into the Scottish sky.
Where once I thought
of wandering Lisbon
looking for my face,
I imagine I see it
in the Grampians, reflected
off the lochs whose
headwaters now feed
my dreams.


One joy of being adopted is that what you imagine is not always what really is. For years, based on what my birth mother told the adoption agency, my father was “a Portuguese Jew.” DNA later showed that I had no Portuguese blood at all, and I doubt my Russell and McDonald paternal ancestors spent much time in Lisbon.