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 one I had never seen, never known.
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 or McAllister’s might
be kin and which Tartan I can
rightfully claim as my own.
There is little you can do about it,
less that you want to do,
although they are not pleased
with your decision.
Remind them that they
are the ones that left the decision
to you, mostly in the hope you
would do what they hoped, taking them
off the hook, but they now realize
they have been hoist
with their own petard
and the walls, gates they wanted
breached still stand
with you on the sideline
watching their farce unfettered.
They will not ask again
and you laugh, for if they did it
you would give it a try
just to see the look on their faces.
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.
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
First published in Children,Churches & Daddies vol. 141 (2004) and later in The Right To Depart (Plain View Press, 2008).
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
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.
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.
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.