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.

REMEMBERING ANOTHER FATHER

It was scrawled on the back of a grocery receipt, barely legible. Charles H. Boustead Tunnel, fryingpan river. The river is lower case, its capitals dangling by serifs in one of the tunnel grates that constricts the water’s flow.

Outside the full moon is ensnared in the gnarled, barren branches of the white birch. She struggles vainly to break free, but the maple wraps its limbs around her. It is only when she retreats into the earth, covers herself over, that the trees cede their grasp.

When Luna curls against you, is she chilled from the night sky, or does she reflect the warmth of the distant star? Does she press against the shredded satin, wrap herself in the fringe of your kittel? And when she tires of you, does she leave by the rotting, split pine boards through which you, bit by bit, return to the soil to nurture her captor?

I stand outside, shivering under a full January moon. Fading impressions of you are shunted into the tunnel of my memory. I never know where or when they will emerge, what they have gathered, what has been lost along the way. I hope for their return, regardless of form. The Boustead Tunnel carries about 54,000 acre feet of water annually from the river to the Turquoise Reservoir.

STATELESS

I suppose it is oddly fitting that
I was born in the continental U.S.
but can claim no state as home.

I was a Federal child, and that
meant nothing at all to me, a child who
left town at two after a father’s death,

a sister reclaimed by the government,
which was no State, just a Federal
enclave, and we all know how bad

things are inside the Beltway, those
trapped there are denied even the small
joy of self governing, waiting for Congress.

But I was an adoptee, stateless
in heritage from birth, so that was
a familiar condition, until the moment

my DNA took voice, and I suddenly
had two heritages, fully mine and
my mother’s cherished Mountain State to boot

FINDING

Even when I was briefly in Edinburgh
I dreamed of walking the streets of Lisbon
or Porto looking into the faces of older men
and wondering if this one was my father.
the father I had never seen, never known.
Was the one my Jewish mother described
in detail to the social worker who took me
from her shortly after she gave me life.
It is many years later, now, my mother
has a face, discovered in the twisting path
of a double helix, good West Virginia
Jewish stock, Lithuania left far behind.
I may someday visit Lisbon, I hear
it is a lovely city, but the faces will all
be alien to me, and there I will dream
of my day touring the Highlands
of Scotland, the Isle of Skye, and which
of the McDonald’s and McAllister’s might
be kin and which Tartan I can now
rightfully claim is my own.

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.