NIGHT AT THE PUB

It’s a fading memory now,
a hole in the wall then,
CBGB’s, loud, but nothing
happening at Tommy Makem’s
and here the cop and his pals
play angry Irish with
a foot in reggae and ska.
I’m too old to be here,
but no one really cares
as long as I buy my Bushmills
or Anchor Steam, and sit quietly.
It isn’t 1847 but it’s just as black
and when I step out in the night
and flap like a bird for a cab,
I hope the reverberation
of the pipes will fade by morning.

GENESIS

Cain slew Abel
in a moment of anger,
a crime of passion
would be his defense today.
We can only imagine
what Isaac might have done
to Ishmael, had Hagar
not been sent off by Abraham,
after all he was a child
who saw the knife first hand
and helped sacrifice
the thicketed ram.
Joseph tasted the pit
at his brothers’ hands
mourned by his father
only to emerge and forgive.
It is little wonder
we Semites can’t get along,
Jew and Jew, Israeli
and Palestinian, we’ve
been rehearsing this act
for millennia.


First published in Children,Churches & Daddies vol. 141 (2004) and later in The Right To Depart (Plain View Press, 2008).

THE FACT OF ADOPTION

The fado fades
under the weight
of the Highland pipes
and dreams of Cascais
fade into the Scottish sky.
Where once I thought
of wandering Lisbon
looking for my face,
I imagine I see it
in the Grampians, reflected
off the lochs whose
headwaters now feed
my dreams.


One joy of being adopted is that what you imagine is not always what really is. For years, based on what my birth mother told the adoption agency, my father was “a Portuguese Jew.” DNA later showed that I had no Portuguese blood at all, and I doubt my Russell and McDonald paternal ancestors spent much time in Lisbon.

NO MONSTER HERE

Macbeth had a witches problem,
but that hardly made him unique.
It’s true that Scottish witches
are more difficult to deal with
than those of much of the rest
of Western Europe, something to do
with being under English dominion
for so damned long that Erse
is a nearly forgotten tongue,
but you’d think a General would
at least speak the local lingo.
Still, you have to wonder
just how things could have
turned out if only he had
a pair of ruby slippers
to get him back to Inverness,
for an afternoon dip in the Loch.

CASTLE HARLECH

High on the battlements
of Castle Harlech
the winter wind cuts through me
like scythes slashing the grasses
in the meadows that roll out
toward the distant, mute hills.
The plaintive cry of bowmen
whose bones are dust taken
deep into the Welsh soil
are whispers lost in the wing sweep
of the circling starlings.
I turn to the moss crusted stones
and beg them to tell
of all they have seen
but they sit silent, defiant.
It is only the occasional
bleat of the sheep, grazing
in the ill sheltered keep
that sounds in answer.
Ask us, they say, we have
many tales to tell
but the screech of the lone gull
begs them be silent.
In the dining room of the Plas Café
stealing warmth from the coal fire
I am the sentinel, ever watchful
over the sleeping sea.

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 . . .

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.