ON LOSSES

By the way, the headstone is lovely,
designed by your niece, it pays tribute
to you as aunt, as sister, as friend.

I do wish it had said mother as well
but I know I’m the one secret you thought
would fit into a corner of the pine box,
buried with you, to be, like you, reclaimed
by the rocky soil of West Virginia.

Little could you have imagined that
a few cc’s of saliva could expose
what you so carefully hid, and you
were helpless to avoid it regardless.

My adoptive father, the second one,
slipped away slowly, dying before death,
under the living eyes of aides and nurses.

You just lived your life your way,
answered to yourself and perhaps God,
and decided it was time to go, needed
no permission, made no farewells,
and in that regard, I am one of the family.

A VISIT

I’ve always imagined that one of these nights
I’d see my mother’s ghost. I would welcome the sight
welcome she that bore me, not she that stepped in
in a way,absolving my birth mother of her sin,
while assuming adopting me would make her complete.

She hasn’t visited yet, neither has done so,
but I hold out hope, it is after all the last to go,
and I do hear her voice, faint and all too distant,
sounding very much like my own one instant
and then no more than a faint whisper in retreat.

I don’t need a long conversation, a few words would
more than suffice, but some at least, a child should
in advancing age hear the sound of a mother’s voice,
if only to find solace in the fact that her choice
to yield the child was made from love not defeat.

NEXT IN LINE

It was the moment they said, we picked you, that I knew they had not. They thought they had to say it. They knew they shouldn’t. I was the next gumball down the chute. You put in your nickel, move the lever and wait. Actually it wasn’t quite like that. If you don’t like the color or flavor of gumball, you throw it out or give it to someone else. Spend another nickel, simple. In adoption, there was no do over. In my case as well. Well there was, actually, but if you give one back, you don’t get another unless there was a really big and hidden problem. Read the fine print, the lawyers say, adoptees come with no warranty, and you take us as is. You wouldn’t buy a car that way, would you.

DOG DAYS

Growing up my family always had dogs,
only one at a time, of course, since we
were a modern suburban family,
which may be why we had a dog.

It clearly wasn’t because they loved dogs,
they tolerated them on good days,
ignored them the rest of the time
and the good days were few if any.

I never asked for a dog, knew
the daily care would fall to me, for
my sort of brother and sister would
never lift a finger if they didn’t want

and they rarely wanted for other than
themselves, but I didn’t mind, for each
dog became my true family, we all
shared a common blood among us,

which is to say none, and we all said
in our own languages, which we all
understood while no one else did, that
we were orphans who beat the system.

FORMAL PROOF

First Proposition: You were put up
for adoption because your birth
parents couldn’t or didn’t want to raise you.

Second Proposition: We or I adopted you
because I wanted you and not another
and to give you the good life you deserved.

Argument: Given all of the possible
alternatives, you ought to be thankful
that we saved you from that other life.

First Fallacy: My birth mother feared
rejection for getting pregnant but would
have been a loving, educated parent.

Second Fallacy: My adoptive mother
had two children with her second husband
after they married, her children at last.

Opinion: You will he told that you are
one of the family, a coequal part inseparable
from and of the others, and the same.

Fact: You were made an orphan and
always will be one, and the best you can
hope for is to be just like family, a simile

that you know will always be a transparent
wall that you can never hope to climb
and which keeps you always separate.

PARENTHOOD

Two headstones
Name, rank, branch
of service, dates.

One New Jersey, one
Virginia, both Bittle
neither certain.

An email from
another Bittle, never
knew my father

but his was
William, and in
that moment,

James Owen became
a father yet again
and I complete.

And later still
a single picture
he in the back

row and the mirror
agrees that we
are truly family.

THE VILLAGE

I’d like you to tell me
about the village in which
you grew up, and how odd
it must have been for you
to have met my grandfather
so far from any village
in the heart of Lithuania.
I suspect you left
with your parents, exhausted
by pogroms, exhausted
by the Jewishness
that to them defined you.
I’d love to know
about my mother who
I never got to meet,
the seventh
of your eight children,
but like you, she
is silent and all
I have left
is a small photo
and a volume
of imagined memories.

TIDAL SHIFTS

It’s difficult enough, Mom, that I
never got to meet you, to see your face
save in a college yearbook, to have
only a few relatives acknowledge
my existence despite the DNA test
that clearly links us, one to the other.
What makes it more difficult is
trying to figure out my heritage,
my geographic roots before our family
arrived in West Virginia, back
in the old country which for most
was Lithuania, but for some Poland
and still others Russia, as though
their village was loaded onto a horsecart
and dragged around Eastern Europe
always heading to the next pogrom.
Couldn’t our place have settled
on a country, rather than riding the tides
of the insanity the leaders then?

MITOCHONDRIAL

I always imagined it would somehow
be romantic, not in the Hollywood sort of way,
but in an idyllic, picturesque manner,
even if that denied basic reality.
Reality, when it comes to origins discovered
is overrated, for the normal percolation time
is denied, and the impact is sudden
with no restraints to temper the blow.
Way back when, you learned by stories
told by the elders, who know, or led
you to believe they did without question,
who painted word pictures, drew out
fading photographs that barely seemed real.
You believed them because they knew,
knowledge directly proportional to their age.
For me it was the inside of my cheek,
a wait, and an email, and then news,
place names barren of detail, Lithuania.
Later, village names, and only then visions
of pogroms, of flight, of a desperate search
for freedom and West Virginia.
Details were added, but the picture
was monochrome, a barren, wordless
palette and no brush to be found.