THE VILLAGE

I’d like you to tell me
about the village in which
you grew up, and how odd
it must have been for you
to have met my grandfather
so far from any village
in the heart of Lithuania.
I suspect you left
with your parents, exhausted
by pogroms, exhausted
by the Jewishness
that to them defined you.
I’d love to know
about my mother who
I never got to meet,
the seventh
of your eight children,
but like you, she
is silent and all
I have left
is a small photo
and a volume
of imagined memories.

HAIL AND FAREWELL

On very dreary days
I like to drive through the cemetery
meandering among the stones
until I find a freshly dug grave.
I stop, under the vigilant eye
of the caretaker and carefully place
a cassette of Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances
or Smetana’s Die Moldau into the player.
As the melodies spill forth
I hope they lift the spirit
of the resting, bringing them a moment
of unabashed joy, a memory to carry
into an eternity, a lingering riff, sweet
as the juice of the strawberry trickling
down the chin, a chocolate
slowly melting on the tongue.
Night will come soon enough
bringing a darkness in which they can see
their dreams take form
and seep away to mingle in the void.

First appeared in Aura Literary Arts Review Vol. 26, No. 1 (2000) and reprinted in Legal Studies Forum, Vol 30, Nos. 1-2 (2006)

RIDING THE WASTELAND

We set out with bold ambition,
egos saddled and reined
across a landscape left barren
by our leaders who saw
only carefully stacked boards
and beams awaiting the master
carpenter, great floral sprays
dotting the lobbies of glass
and chrome edifices, created
in their own images.
We ride in search of
the promised land, and turn
a deaf ear to the windwalkers,
to the spirits of the children
sitting in the packed dirt streets
their bellies distended, crying
out for food, for justice
as the warlords sit in their cars
surveying the invisible parapets
of their armed fortresses.
We look quickly away
from the chindi of the young men
who rise from the neatly heaped soil
of the common burial mound, who
rise up in neat array and perch
on the edge of the freshly dug pit
waiting for the rat-a-tat rain
of death they know await them
unrepentant, unwilling to curse
Allah, bidding farewell to Tuzla.
We pause to chant the blessing way
but we have forgotten the words,
Arbeit Macht Frei, the gates
reduced to rust, the chimneys
no longer belching the sweet
smell of death into the winter morning.
We ride on oblivious to the faint glow
from the craters we have torn
into the earth, of the clouds
that only vaguely recall
the mushrooms of our progress.
We ride toward the horizon
where the great pillars of gold
and silver rise up, glinting in the sun
that once warmed them before
we cast them out into the desert
of our lust and craving.
We set out with bold ambition
but our horses have grown tired,
our canteens are empty
and the inferno threatens
to consume us.


First Appeared in Alchemy, Issue 2, Fall-Winter 1999.

THE RUNES

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.

THE RABBI

The old man peers at the yellowing book
then places it on the arm of the chair.
He gives the walker a sad, angry look,
and still struggling, looks up in mocking prayer.
Clutching the book, he limps to the table
and sinks onto the chair, risking a fall
that could reshatter his hip. Unable
to hear, he shouts to his wife, down the hall,
who brings the hearing aid and his glasses.
His eyes glow as the ancient words bring fire
to his voice, arms dance as though his class is
full of young minds that are his to inspire.
He settles into the chair, bent by age
and curses his body, now more a cage.


First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008)

MESA MORNING

Out here, he warned,
you should always be on the lookout
for snakes by day, not that they
will go out of their way to attack you,
but stray into their territory
and the Western Diamondback
will give you a quick lesson in awareness.
They hide among the scrub sage
and in the arroyos, but you still
walk for this kind of beauty
demands your attention regardless.
And at night, he added,
don’t stray too far for the coyotes
wander freely looking for rabbits
and small game, and though you
would be too large a meal,
you’d still be worth a taste.
You are in their home, after all.


For Something Different, a new bird photo each day, visit my other blog:
Bird-of-the-day.com 

DEMENTIA

He can remember it as though it was just yesterday. Actually it was just yesterday, but for him that had little to do with memory. Bits of his childhood would come flooding back: the city, the cousins who took him in for the few dollars his mother could offer. But his grandsons are a vague shadow, sometimes present, sometimes faded into the background. He ex-wife is ever present, and he clings to her, despite her death, wondering if they will get back together. I don’t want to tell him that his wish will require a firm belief by them both in a hereafter, and that neither of them was very good at directions in any event, so who knows where they will end up.


For Something Different, a new bird photo each day, visit my other blog:
Bird-of-the-day.com 

KIKE

Third grade, religious school
kikes, us, then a backhand
raised, drawn, quickly dropped,
below a reddened face,
sleeve pulled up
145233 in black
between elbow and wrist
and a tear, perched
fearing to fall.
Never again, and nothing more,
later, same arm
ruffling hair, smoke
clinging to aging skin,
no older when he walked
in her arms into
infernos then smoke
rising slowly as he
labored, no more free
than on cattlecars
shivering in winter.
No hell to come,
never again, not Juden.
Mahogany doors
opened on oiled hinges
ancient scroll to be touched,
here is you, me, us, always
on Massada, in Vilnius.
Never again kikes,
dying only once.


First published in SNReview Vol. 9, No. 2  (2007)

For Something Different, a new bird photo each day, visit my other blog:

Bird-of-the-day.com 

CALLER

It’s Sunday, so I know, before long
I will have the nagging thought
that I should call my mother.
I’ve had this thought for years,
once acted upon it with regularity,
listened patiently for her weekly
list of things I needed to help her with,
since I never visited to do the work
with her standing over my shoulder.
I stopped the calls four years ago
because the dead make few demands,
and she didn’t bother to answer
except in the darkest hour
of my dreams.

KAFKA

June 13, 1896, Prague
a warm day, old stone schul
you stood before the minyon
wearing the skullcap
repeating ancient words
that lay on paper, rehearsed
sounding false on a tongue
swollen in anxiety.
Your tallit, white
woven with blue threads
hung at your knees
fringe fingered, rolled
and unrolled, twisted
until touched to skin
words inscribed, etched
into collective memory.
Seventeen years later
sitting with Buber
did words come back
and stick on your tongue
and later still
when you studied
under Bentovim, did words
take form, shape, dredging
up a past kept suppressed
walking in desert heat
knowing salvation was
down a hill, entry forbidden.
Lying in your bed
in Hoffman’s Sanitorium,
the trees of Kierling blooming
did you recite Kaddish
as endless night engulfed you.


First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008) and reprinted in Legal Studies Forum Vol. 32, No. 1 (2008)

For Something Different, a new bird photo each day, visit my other blog:

Bird-of-the-day.com