As a Jewish kid in a small city I suppose I had it pretty good, enough of us that I didn’t totally stand out, and it helped living a single block from the Jewish funeral home, some just didn’t want to travel all that far when the inevitable time came.
But we soon moved to the suburbs, the shtetl neighborhood was gone, and I was a Jewboy to more than a few, so the Temple felt like a safe place, setting aside all the OT stories which were wholly unblievable.
I took a fair number of lumps for killing Christ and all other imaginary sins freely attributed.
I wish I knew then that as an adoptee I was really only half Jewish, and that the other half among my distant kin were kings and saints as well as a fair number of sinners.
Between Scylla and Charybdis they cower amidst the ruins fearful to look skyward lest they encourage the rains of hell.
Now and then they visit the corpses, hastily buried grief drowned by the sound of the laugh of the gunner peering down from the hills. It is always night for the soul and lookout must be kept for Charon, who rides silently along the rivers of blood, that flow through her streets.
In the great halls, far removed from the horror, self-professed wise men exchange maps lines randomly drawn, scythes slicing a people. They trade in lives as chattel, reaping a bitter harvest, praying there may only be but seven lean years.
They offer a sop to Cerberus, three villages straddling the river, but the army of the hills knows they will take that and more and waits patiently for the winter when the odor of sanctity no longer arises out of the city to assail their nostrils and Shadrach is no more than a ghost.
First Appeared in Living Poets (UK), Vol. 2, No. 1, 2000.
Walking down the helical road, untwisting as you go you discover places you never imaginged visiting, nothing like the path you thought you knew well.
Stop and claim your new heritage, find yourself on an alien map, bury yourself in books of new and ancient history.
Pause here and consider a King of Scotland, knights and lords, in the far distance know that you claim a link to a man so honored that he died by hanging, but was then beheaded and drawn and quartered.
Too late to unswab your cheek, so simply enjoy your ride.
It wasn’t until I hit middle age, which on my scale will allow me to live past 100, that I discovered that cats are Celtic deep in their hearts. Our cat, she who adopted me and forced her then owner to marry me, like it or not, was in love with the tin whistle and the uilleann pipes playing had her in my lap, unmoving. But she had her Buddhist side as well, sitting zazen for hours, longer if accompanied by shakuhachi flutes. She said that cats were discerning, were connoisseurs of music loved cello, viola and violin but barely tolerated the bass. It was why, she said, all the great composers wrote for the higher strings. And, she would add, as for dogs, well they loved country music most, reason enough for pity.
Here, in these unmown fields where the morning mists gather once stood the ancient chieftain his clan assembled about him staring into the distant trees under the watchful eye of the gods. As the October winds blew down from the hills, they strode forward blades glinting in the midday sun ebbing and flowing until the moon stood poised for its nightly trek and they stood on the precipice of exhaustion counting fall brethren sacrificed to the blade of the claymore for glory of clan and entertainment of gods.
On these tired fields no chieftains stride and the mists no longer wrap the boulders left to mark nameless graves of kin. These are now ill sown fields, lying in the wasteland between chiefs who sit in silent bunkers, clansmen gathered to retell the tales of glory long vanished, to come. In these fields they till the begrudging soil and beg the gods for meager growth. As the moon begins its slow journey skyward they pause to count the craters torn into the rocky soil, and gather the bones of those newly fallen, sacrificed to the wrath of the claymores, the entertainment of the gods.
First Appeared in Main Street Rag, Vol. 7, No. 1, Spring 2000.
It has a certain heft that says something substantial lies within, waiting to be freed. It glides easily, suggesting an effortlessness you know is a tease, that labor still waits. Still, it does said comfortably, is appealing to the eye, has the deep jade green along its barrel, the knots interwoven top and bottom that say what lies within cannot be easily unraveled. As you draw it across the page you hope that somewhere in Neamh old Robbie will look down on you, smile and share a thought or two, but that you know, is for another day.
It is an ungainly beast and its cry, as much a bleat as a roar, can pierce the air and is never easily ignored. There are far larger to be found, and far more beautiful. Some have voices that melt anger incite passion, alleviate pain. Some sing in a register so low touch and hearing are merged. Even this beast has its smaller kin, gentler, if not ever soothing, happy to fill a room, not a universe. But the great beast has always known its place, held in the arms of and cradled informal procession, carried forward into battle by the so-called Ladies from Hell.
Three beers over two hours
and, giddy, I want to sing
along with the Irish house band
in my horribly off key voice,
just two choruses
of Irish Rover or Four Green Fields.
It’s beginning to snow outside
and it’s a four-block walk
to the Government Center station.
I suppose it would sober me up
but a couple of more songs
couldn’t hurt, I’ve got two hours
before the last train and we can
walk across the campus
through the tunnels
once we’re back in Cambridge.
I probably should have gone
with Coors or Bud Lite
but Guinness is, all said,
a meal in a glass.
I would stand now,
but my knees seem
comatose, so let’s sing
to Auld Robbie, a verse or two
of Scots Wa Hae, it’s damn
near Irish anyway
and from this seat
in the Black Rose
Cambridge is a world away.
First Published in Celt at Aberffraw (Wales, UK) 2000
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.