LISA, ONCE

A phone call, a lawyer’s clerk:
Can you tell me about Lisa Landesman?
I pause for that is a name I have
not heard in forty years, save
in a poem I once wrote,
now long forgotten.

She was my sister for two
or three weeks, adopted like I was,
and then Mike, my then father
dropped dead of a massive
heart attack and she was soon gone.

We were Federal adoptions, our
birthplace under Federal law, not
getting its own for two decades,
and her adoption wasn’t final so she
was re-placed and never replaced.

She won’t inherit as I will from
my cousin who died having no
siblings, spouse, children,
nieces or nephews, who left
no will, who left only kind memories.

UNTIL

I was the adoptee,
was the whole for years, until.

It is always the until
that is your undoing, was
mine when she
remarried, then two births.

I was one third then, never
again truly whole and when
she died I discovered
in her will I was only
one twentieth, and
then never even that.

I want to forget her,
forget them, deny
them, but all I
know how to do is forgive.

UNKNOWING

Twenty years ago today
and there was no band playing,
at least not for me, for I knew
nothing of you yet, and you
knew nothing of me either.

I have met you since
in a moment of silence,
looking at a yearbook picture
knowing what was not, what
never was or could be.

I recite the Kaddish
even though my Judaism
has been laid to rest,
knowing what is, and
imagining what might have been.

THE DOTTED LINE

Now that I have discovered
my Catholic and Protestant ancestors
I know it is time to consider
what hell must be like.

I know it is not fire and brimstone,
that went the way of old lore
when the Impressionists came along.

So I imagine Hell must be
very much like getting caught
looking at the new cars
in the showroom while you wait
for your car to be serviced,
having already figured out how
you will raise the money to buy it back.

The devil is defnitely the nice
young salesman who knows just
what you want in a new car even
though you have no idea, what
options you obviously need,
and before you know it he
has you at his desk discussing
how you can finance the car
that you did not want
and cannot afford after
buying your old car back.

STET-US QUO

The mind can be
a brutal editor, revising
history, rejecting memories
without a substantial rewrite.

My step sister, many years
dead remains five, that
young face engrafted
on the woman ravaged
by unrelenting cancers.

My first wife of 30 years
is mostly faceless, the
mental pictures and dreams
edited until only she
is unrecognizable.

And in moments of reflection
I am no longer adopted,
the step-siblings were,
but they are now
just like family, almost.

MAGIC MIRROR ON THE WALL

The face in the mirror this morning
was not mine, perhaps it was
that of my grandparents, all
I never met, having only
old and faded pictures that vaguely
resemble the mirror’s face.

It might be my parents, both
dead before I found them only
yearbook pictures and just possible
a vague similarity to the face
that i see in the mirror each day.

I tried to ask the mirror who
it was hiding in the glass, but
like most mirrors it was silent,
a sad reflection of its ilk, so
the old man peering out will
continue to be someone
that I have never met.

REAR VIEW MIND

I spent too much time looking
backward, looking into the past,
looking into the mirror
to frame a dream history
of my desires and fears.
He called one morning, left
a message, “Mother died,
more details will follow.”
A mother his by birth,
mine by legal act.
I should have felt stunned
anger, I said quietly to myself
he’s cocky, has issues, and went
about momentary mourning.
That is the psyche of the adoptee who
was never family, always an adjunct.
Later my antediluvian dreams
gave way under a torrent
of deoxyribonucleic acid rain.
She who I imagined in the mirror
took name, took shape from
and old yearbook, offered
a history, a family, a heritage.
When I knelt at her grave
she told me her story
in hushed tones, or was it
the breeze in the pines on the hill
overlooking the Kanawha?
I bid her farewell that day,
placed a pebble on her headstone,
stroked the cold marble
and mourned an untouched mother.

WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN

My history is like an ill-
sewn quilt, odd pieces
of parents stitched loosely
together, always ready to come
apart, fade or be thrown away.

Perhaps my history is
more like a beloved
old pair of jeans, holes
appear and are patched,
patches wear out and are
replaced, or the hole is
just left, as if it were
somehow a fashion statement.

There is little normal
when you are adopted, loved
perhaps, but always
on the edge of being
an outsider, and when that
is repeated, the distance
grows exponentially,
until you find a birth parent
or two and the holes
are patched with dreams
of what might have been.

MY LIFE AS A CAT

In my next life I think
I want to come back
as a cat, and not just any
cat, but a domestic
shorthaired spotted tabby.

I have it on good authority
that there is nothing finer
in the animal world
than being a domestic
shorthaired spotted tabby.

There will be much work
involved in the early days,
right after adoption, for
people tend very much
to be slow learners.

But with enough time,
the occasional well placed
claw, and earned affection
you can bend them
finally to your will.

At least that is what
my cat tells me in
moments of abject honesty.

IN MY BAG

I carry my past
in a monk’s bag
that rests on my shoulder.

In it you will find
my history, or bits
of it, names I have
been given, given up,
memories of childhood,
pictures of my parents
who I never knew,
aged in my mind from
the photos in yearbooks,
all that I have of them..

I still have room
in my bag, perhaps
more room than time.