First, Peter Piper could not have picked a peck of pickled peppers. You don’t pick pickled peppers, you purchase them. And if he meant he picked a peck of peppers to pickle, then he should have said so. And he should have specified what sort of peppers he picked to pickle. Anaheim would be good, as would red, but Peter was a rebel, so it was probably Habanero or Scotch Bonnet. And I do feel for Peter’s wife, Paulette Piper, I mean what is she going to do with a quarter bushel of pickled peppers?
It wasn’t lost on me, mother, that this year
on the anniversary of death, you had been gone
eighteen years, Chai in your beloved Hebrew,
a lifetime for me, having never met you
save in the half of my genes you implanted
in me when I was implanted in you.
As you aged, alone, did you wonder what
became of the closest family you had after
your parents were interred in the soil of Charleston?
Did you ever regret not knowing, or were you
comfortable that the Jewish Family Service Agency
would make a selection of which you would
have approved had your approval been sought.
You have grandsons and greatgrandchildren
who will mourn me, carry my memory forward,
but know that I do the same for you, and you
never aged a day from that one when the photographer
took your college yearbook photo, a grainy
copy of which is tucked in my wallet and heart.
Today in odd places,
at the most unexpected moments,
a child will smile without reason,
a young girl will laugh,
the young boy will stroke
the neck of a wandering cat,
and in that place
at that moment
there will be a simple peace.
Only the children will notice this,
though it gives lie to those
who deem peace impossible.
A child knows that it is
that blind adults
to the peace that
There is a language
spoken within a family
that no one outside speaks.
It may sound familiar
but listen carefully
and learn otherwise.
It is so with my brother
even though there are
thick walls between us
and yet, in a few words
intentions are obvious.
He keeps me far
from a place
I’d just as soon not go
and in her panic
my mother hears only
our words and not
their hidden meaning.
It is when we fall silent
the conversation begins.
I have yet to wander the medieval battlefields
of Europe and it increasingly seems I never will.
I have visited my share of castles in Ireland and Scotland,
but the acoustics there are not good, and I did not
hear the anguished cry of soldiers falling in battle,
I have seen rivers, quiet now, where the blood
of the vanquished must have flowed in this war
and that, for Europe is a place of wars,
the perpetual gameboard for the greedy
and those who imagine themselves emperors.
I come from a distant place, where three wars
on its soil was deemed sufficient, but who will
freely give others the wars they have grown
altogether too used to fighting, and we gladly
offer up our sons to aid in the combat so long
as we only receive their bodies in the dark of night.
And perhaps that is our failing, for we know
war well, but we keep ourselves clean, and marvel
at the destruction we will never know first hand.
Each morning we stood
as the Principal intoned
the Pledge of Allegiance
over the tinny PA system.
One morning as we rose,
hands over hearts,
we noticed someone
had put up the Canadian flag
in the holder over the door.
The Principal threatened
to call all of our parents
unless the guilty party
came forward, and we
to swallow our giggles.
No one came forward
and they found
the Stars and Stripes
stuck in a large mixing bowl
in the kitchen.
The Principal scheduled an assembly
to remind us of our need
to honor the flag and the country,
because it stood for all that was good,
for all that we had
and that everyone else wanted,
but we were under our desks
in the painful tuck position
we would assume if they
ever dropped the bomb.
They didn’t tell us that
if we were close enough to ground zero
the position would let us
leave a neater shadow on the floor.
Some days we sang
My Country ‘Tis of Thee
all except for Larry
who preferred God Save the Queen
until the Principal told him
it was sacrilege, since
we created it and the Brits stole it.
Years later, outside the Federal Building
the Principal, now retired and girding
for battle with Social Security, saw me,
protest sign in hand, flag sewn
across the seat of my jeans.
He stared, then looked away
ashamed at still another failure,
not like his two sons who lay
in eternal repose in the Federal cemetery
on the Island of Oahu.
First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press, (2008)
My granddaughter is intensely
concerned with the growing loss
of species, and rightly so, and I
share her fears, though I feel
largely powerless to do anything.
She has the faith of youth, a belief
that she and her peers can,
with work, effect a lasting change,
climb up the slippery slope which
we have cast them down, and save
other species from a fate
nature never could have intended.
But she cannot fathom the losses
that I have seen, things I knew
rendered extinct by her generation,
and that of her parents, the cassette
player, the typewriter, carbon paper,
and stationery and a writing desk,
to name only a few, but at least
the haven’t outdated my Blackberry.
Sitting in stillness, the silence
is at first shocking, deafening
in a way unimagined but there.
Within the lack of sound lies
a thousand sounds you had
never heard in the din of life.
You hear the young monk at Senso-ji
approach the great bell and pull
back on the log shu-moku, straining.
You hear the laugh of school aged
children hand in hand walking through
the temple grounds as pigeons gather.
You hear the cat, sitting at the foot
of Daibutsudan, staring out
and the deer waiting at the gate.
You hear your breath and that
of a million others as they sit
on their cushions sharing a moment.
They say you cannot go home
again, although I have never
had occasion to meet them.
I’ve never been one to follow
the dictates of them, unless they
were my parents or spouse, and
in the case of my parents, often
not even when they demanded it,
so I went back to the home
of my childhood, a shockingly
new place as I remembered it,
setting the neighbors astir
as they saw it go up and out.
It, like I, am older now, but
seemed to have borne time
far more harshly than I.
I do sometimes have a gait
to accommodates arthritic knees,
move a bit slower than I
imagine, but the house seemed
to be looking for its cane
knowing it would soon enough
require a walker, and I knew
that while I could go home
I’d be happier if I didn’t.
First of all, Jack, you were sent to the corner for a reason. That pie was for everyone, not just you, we have told you endlessly about how wrong selfishness is. You won’t listen. And how many times do we have to tell you to use a fork or a spoon. Not only did you ruin the pie, no one wants to eat what is left once you put your hand in it. And how are we supposed to get that stain off your white shirt? Good boy? Oh, no, anything but, so you are grounded for a week.