ADOPTING A NEW SELF

At some level, he always knew. It was what he hoped, but he had given up hope. He was glad when he was Portuguese, imagined himself on the beach at Estoril or Cascais. Imagination was free and unfettered, and he was a bronze god in those dreams, chiseled of flesh, wanted by all. You don’t imagine yourself short, barrel-chested, hairy and aging, there is no romance in that. He was happily Portuguese. You are happily anything really, after years of being nothing. He knew there was no hope of meeting his father. He knew he saw his father every morning. It was the only reason he considered looking in the mirror. Otherwise he hated mirrors. They refused to lie to him, to bend to his will. Actually they lied all of the time, for he knew the old man he saw wasn’t him, couldn’t be. It didn’t matter, he was finally connected to the land, plucked from the ether of ignorance. He was, in a word, cognito, and this suited him.  It was early evening when the word came. You are not what you think. Estoril is a place to go only if you want to feel alien. The streets of Lisbon deny you. Your imagination has betrayed you. But listen, carefully. Do you hear the highland pipes? Do you taste the Talisker, the Oban, do you see the sky from Skye? For this is who you are, the person you always wanted to be but could not. But were. Now about that kilt . . .

GENETIC DREAMS

The hardest part, surprisingly, is
finding that one odd thread where
you least expected, and following it
back until it merges with another,
and another still until you recognize
that it is a weft, and the warp
slowly becomes more apparent.
Still it is nothing but carefully
interwoven threads until you allow
yourself to step back, and a pattern
appears slowly, growing more clear
as threads are recognized, and
the twisted threads of DNA
eventually reveal a rich tapestry
of the family you never knew,
never expected to know, whose blood
runs through your veins and arteries
and, ungrounded from your long
held beliefs of self, you find
footing in a soil unexpected,
but which touched deeply
does feel so very much like home.

ORPHAN

I was a foundling
wandering from Guinness Stout
to Ouzo and back,
in search of identity.
In Schul I would cry out
to Him asking, “Who am I?”
and He would answer,
“you are, you are.”
The balalaika
of my mother’s grandfather
sounded tinny,
a cacophony lost
in Oporto, Lisboa.
On the streets of Vienna
I thought I saw him, and ran
to find only shadows.
In villages along the Douro
he disappeared
into fields shorn
for winter’s approach.
The Capitol’s penumbra
found him laughing,
reflected in my mirror,
staring at my thinning hair
slowly whitening.
I was of all places
and of none until
on Glasgow’s streets
I walked his steps
and smelled the Clyde
and Talisker, his breath mine.

AKEDA

My father
never walked me
up a hill,
never asked
two servants
to wait below,
never bid me
be strong,
never asked me
to have faith
in the Lord,
never raised
the blade
only to see a ram
in a thicket.
My father
never did
any of these things
and so I have
no special birthright
to pass to my sons
for God
has moved on
to more
important matters.

 



Akeda first appeared in European Judaism (U.K.), Vol. 33. (2000). Reprinted in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 29, No. 1 (2005)

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 Glasgow
                        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 Fallujah

I don’t know how
                        my iPhone drains batteries
                                    like a thirsty drunk
                        or why fungus grows underground
                        or why the Sudanese child stares through
                                    starving eyes

I don’t know why
                        my dough rises, only to fall mockingly,
                        or why forced to eat manna, 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

REFLECTIONS ON A FATHER NEVER KNOWN

The sun is obscured by half-lidded eyes.  We are standing together on a small beach.  Twenty toes are curled in the wave packed sand.  We are in Cascais, or perhaps Estoril. The waves spread their foam capped fingers through the rocks and cradle us.  He wants to drive down the coast, to see the boats at Sesimbra.  “The bay is calm there,” he says.

He is shorter than I expected.  Fathers are supposed to be tall, that’s their lot in life.  His face is burnished by the sun, the same sun against which he shields my forehead.  He knows I will tend toward leather.  He stands, hands resting lightly on his hip bones, in his sleeveless T-shirt.  A Gauloise dangles from his lip, its ash growing, until as he speaks, it breaks loose.  It skitters down his chest, a tiny sand crab in a manic dash for the rocks.  He imagines himself Errol Flynn.  He rests his hand on my shoulder, and stares out, beyond the waves, just past the horizon.  It is what he imagines a father would do.  He started to tell me of life in Lisbon, in the Diplomatic Service, as a Jewish businessman, a deckhand on a fishing trawler.  He was all of these things, he said, and none of them.

I walk slowly along the Avenida de Liberdade, toward the Praca do Marques de Pombal, staring deeply into the sun-creased faces of elderly men.  I stop for a coffee, sitting along the walk.  The old woman, at the finely formed wrought iron table, stares at me, I at her.  A smile crosses her lips as I lean toward her and ask “Tēm voce visto meu pai?”  She clucks, tilts back the small cup and snatching overburdened shopping bags, shuffles to the street, silent.  I walk through the park in the fading light.  turning to a middle-aged woman, her vast hips spread across the bench, “Mim estao procurando meu pai, voce via-o?”  She reaches inside her purse, slowly withdrawing a metal compact, its face reflecting the fire of the setting sun.  She opens it lovingly, thrusting it at my face.  “Eere,” she says in school drilled English, “eere.”  I stare into the mirror.