DYBBUK

The evening slowly enters
Warsaw — along Aleje Solidarnosci
a lumbering truck backfires — some old ones
cringe — thoughts collapsing — into rail cars — lightening
bolts on stiff black wool uniforms — polished jackboots —
a wrought iron gate — Arbeit Macht Frei

The evening slowly enters
Warsaw along Aleje Solidarnosci
a truck backfires a sudden flock
of sierpowka Eurasian Collared Doves
rises gracefully from the trees
each carrying another lost
in the ghetto ’43 in the revolt ’44

Night settles on Warsaw – there is solitude

First appeared in Pitkin in Progress, Vol. 3, No. 1 (2002)

LADDER

You have to stop and wonder,
the child said, why people
can take joy in killing, why
people can scheme each other,
why people can cheat if they can.

Birds, the child added, only
try and scheme people for food,
why they cheat for the sake
of cheating, kill for pleasure,
yet we say we are the higher species.

Perhaps, the child concludes,
it is we who are standing
on our heads, looking up
the species ladder, and we
are actually on the bottom.

DRINKING TEA IN KABUL*

Rockets flash briefly
across the chilled sky,
plumes of smoke, ash
carried off
by impending winter.

Over the lintel of the entry
to the Inter-Continental Hotel Chicago,
carved deeply into the marble
Es Salamu Aleikum
staring implacably
through ponderous
brass framed doors
onto the Miracle Mile.
Countless guests
pass below it
unseeing.

My son and I
sit across a small table
spilling bits of tapas
onto the cloth,
laughing lightly
at the young boy
bathed in a puree
of tomato, his shirt
dotted in goat cheese.
My son explains
the inflation of the universe,
gravitational waves
cast off
by coalescing binary
neutron stars.
His words pull me
deeper
into my seat.
We speak somberly
of the jet engine
parked haphazardly
in the Queens gas station
unwilling to mention
265 lives
salted across
the small community.

We embrace
by his door, the few
measured hours run.
He turns to call
his girlfriend,
I turn my collar up
against the November night.

The Red Line train
clatters slowly back
into a sleeping city.
In my room
I brew a cup of Darjeeling.

*”We will drink tea in Kabul tomorrow morning, if God wills it.” – Basir Khan, Northern Alliance Commander, quoted in the Chicago Tribune, 13 November 2001.

First appeared in Hearsay, 2004 and in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008).

GIMME A HUG

It seems odd, as I am not
a hugger by nature,
I love trees and hug
familially but aside
from family, hugging
just is not something
I ever did.

Now, when hugging
is a potential death
sentence if finished
I see many around me
all at a safe distance
and feel a strong desire
to embrace some,
knowing they would
welcome my arms.

When this is over,
when distance is
something we keep
by choice, and hugging
is no longer risky
I will, I am sure,
be a non-hugger again.

BUCKET LIST

Crossing the Rubicon,
or any other European River
for that matter.

Skiing the backcountry
or Black Diamond at Taos Mountain
or Aspen or Vail.

Hiking to the basecamp
of Everest, or walking some portion
or all of the Appalachian Trail.

Standing shoulder to shoulder
with hundreds of others
at the jazz festival.

Hugging my sons or
kissing my grandchildren
on their birthdays.

Forgetting all that we have
lost and that we have
so far survived this damned pandemic.

PENNED IN

He stares at the collection
of pens crammed tightly into
a coffee mug whose handle
had long since broken away.

He knows some are dead,
awaiting a proper burial,
following a brief memorial
service paying homage
to their illustrious past.

He is certain that one
or more is secretly harboring
the poem or story that he
has been meaning to write,
the one that the journal
on the desk has been waiting
its entire lifetime to receive.

PARENTAL MOMENTS

My adoptive parents died
six years apart, I received
two announcement texts
from the son they had together.

We negotiated her obituary,
and I am waiting for her funeral,
but after seven years, I have
given up hope of that happening.

I did visit my birth mother’s
grave, placed a small  stone 
on hers, watered the ground
with tears of sadness and joy

at having a mother at last,
and I have a picture 
of my birth father’s headstone
so at last I can mourn my parents.

A FOOL’S ERRAND

Looking back, it is easy to see now
what was difficult then, not
looking like complete fools,
we all did, but knowing that 
we looked like fools and would
for the foreseeable future,
those of us lucky enough
to survive and actually have one.

We knew they wanted to 
break us down, rebuild us
in the desired format, always
bending to unit cohesion,
following orders thoughtlessly,
never questioning why we
were there, when those who
sent us were ensconced 
in their homes and offices.

Once a year some offer me
a free meal, on a day, they say
they honor me, and while I
appreciate the gesture, I know that,
for me, is one more fool’s errand.

QUESTION POSED, AWAITING A RESPONSE

I stooped and spoke
to a stone, asking the question.
I was here before you arrived
and I will be her long after you leave.
I held the sand in my hand
warm from the sun, asking the question.
I came after your arrived
and I will leave long before you are gone.
I held the winter wind on the tip
of a finger, asking the question.
I am not here now
and I have never been here.
I touched the waters
to my lips, asking the question.
I was above you when you came
and I will be below you when you go.
I saw the flames dance
before me, asking the question.
You were ashes once
and you shall be ashes again.
I stood mired in the clay
clinging to my legs, asking the question.
It is of me you were formed
and it is to me you will return.
I sat at the foot of God
blinding light, asking the question.
You cried to me at birth
and you will cry to me at death.

First Published in The Poet: Faith Vol. 1, Spring 2021
https://www.thepoetmagazine.org/spring-2021—faith

HAUNTING MOMENTS

All too soon, I will return
as a ghost and how you
and others deal with that
has yet to be seen, although
know that ghosts are
reflective, and your thoughts
will determine both my presence
and mood during such visits
as I choose to make to you.

You may not believe
in ghosts, I did not for years,
but as you approach
that state of post-being
you realize that ghosts
arrive in dreams and you
are helpless to control them,
so lie back, enjoy me
when I visit, for I have
an eternity of options
too soon at my disposal.