PATER INCOGNITA

He often comes to me in dreams.
In most he is faceless, but intently present,
speaking in a voice I instantly know,
nothing like mine and totally mine.
On occasion his face appears, blurred,
as if seen through a scrim, back-lit,
vague, an actor in some film I have seen,
but yet not that person, that character.
For a while I saw my own face, but I knew
that was just my wishful mind filling in a gap
which has yet to be filled, knowing
that it likely never will.

VIOLIN

We sat at the table,
sucking the last of the djej
from the bones piled
along the edge of the platter.
“I played for seven years”
he said, “under Tilson-Thomas
and later Rudel, bad years those,
I sat two rows back
second from the stage edge.”

He was unremarkable,
forgettable until he nestled
the violin under his chin.
Balding even then
the fringe of hair clownish,
lacking only a red nose.
At the old metal desk
he struggled over applications
for insurance policies,
forever asking if he had
the premiums calculated right,
stumbling over the pitch,
dreading the word death,
preferring to talk of his bow
dancing across the strings.
He sold just enough policies
to make his monthly draw
and generate an override commission
to help pay our mortgage
but he would, my father said,
never make much
of a career in insurance.
When I sat in the office
on the old leather sofa
he asked me to marvel
that an old man, bitter
and stone deaf, could hear
so clearly, alone in a small room.
I listened politely, waiting
until he might be distracted
and I could return to neatly
arranging the pink sheet
between the whites
feeding it carefully through
the rollers, and slowly peeling
it back to reveal
the dark sepia copy.

He sits on the metal bed
fingers bent into talons
and cringes at the screech
of the walker
dragging along the hall.
He wrestles with the radio knob
and hears the strains of the concerto
as a tear runs down his cheek
and he waits for the nurse
to change his incontinence pad.


First Appeared in Licking River Review, Issue 28, Winter-Spring 1996-1997.

ASKED AND ANSWERED

Only the ducks remain,
and they aren’t saying.
Ask a Muscovy where
all the ibis have gone
and he will say, “good riddance,
they’re ugly and get in the way.”
Ask of the pelicans 
and they will remind you
that now there are more fish,
and they’ll be back eventually,
but things are much calmer
in their absence.
Anyway, they say,
the moorhens are still here,
but thank heavens the coots
have gotten a room
to do their mating this year.
And for a moment, in this senior
community, we think
they are speaking of us.

WALKING

Like the Anasazi’s sudden
departure from his cliff dwelling
I too snuck away, with hardly
any trace from a life no longer
in clear recollection, only faint
images survive, of hours
in the City Lights Bookstore
reading Corso, Ferlinghetti
and Ginsberg, then buying
the slim volume “Gasoline”
not because it was my
greatest desire, but its price.
Now the worn volume sits nestled
between Wilbur and Amichai,
a fond memory, like an afternoon
in the park in Salt Lake City
the tarot spread out before me
whispering their secrets
for the slip of blotter,
the small blue stain
bringing an evening
of color and touch
and that momentary fear
that nothing would again be
as I knew it to be.
The Anasazi knew
the arrow of time had flown,
had passed the four corners
where I lay in the street
another senseless victim
of a senseless war, while Karl
held the placard
demanding peace,
until the police urged us
to move along, and offered
the assistance we
were sworn to reject.
Now the corners seem
older, more tired of the life
that treads on them daily,
on my path to the Federal Courthouse
to argue a motion
where once we spilled
the red paint
the blood of our generation.
Now there is a wall
with their names,
a permanent monument
while we, like our Anasazi
brethren, are
but faint memories.


First Appeared in Ellipsis Literature and Art, Issue 35, 1999.

MY REFLECTIONS

Each morning
I stare into the mirror
and see the same white hair
and wonder who I will be
today and what I was
on all of those other mornings.
I ask the mirror what life
has in store for me this day
but it only smirks, never answers
as if it knows something
I don’t and wouldn’t tell
if I asked.


First Appeared in Short Fuse, Issue 74, December 1998.

FROZEN

At 4:53 this morning, all of the clocks stopped.
Time simply froze although we kept moving,
going on with our lives.
But time ceased to matter at all.
That was fine with us.
For the first time in memory, we
did not grow older,
for no time had passed.
It was a strange feeling,
one we hadn’t had since we
were babies and unable
to comprehend time.
At some point the clocks
began moving again, we
began aging, and soon
we awoke from our dreams.

UNTO TARSHISH

In this place
there is a fatted,
sacrificial silence.
It is the large
Jewish Cemetery
nestling the road
where Maryland
and the District are loosely
stitched together.
It is a small plot
goldenrod dirt
outskirting Lisbon.

This ground is sacred
not for the blessing
of one who
has taken the tallit
of holiness.
The sanctity of this
ground leaches
from the simple pine
boxes that return
with the body
to the soil.

The stones, mostly simple
with neatly incised
Hebrew inscriptions
are all blank
to me, worn
smooth by memory
denied.

I place my ear
carefully to each, wanting
to hear a voice,
a fractured whisper
that will resonate
in the hollow spaces.

I pass by those
with shared names
for if he or she is here
each must share
the isolation
they willed me.
I look
at the faces
of passing mourners —
none resemble
the morning mirror.

I grow tired
of the search, sit
in the paltry shade
of the ricinus plant
knowing we both will
be gone by sundown.


First Appeared in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 29, No. 1, 2005