ON THE TENTH PLAGUE

Mark your doorpost with the blood
of the lamb for this may be the night
when God’s emissary arrives for the killing
of the first born. Will he be a night bird
half raven, half vulture or an aged man
concealing his weapon in shabby robes.

Mark your doorpost and check it
often for if your neighbor wipes
the blood away, you will be visited
and no amount of pleading will
deter him from his task. There
are no interim plagues remaining to buy
you time, if he chooses to come tonight.

Put your ear against the window
and listen for him. Will he come
on cat’s paws or the rasp of lungs
slowly drowning?. Will coins jangle
in his pocket, to pay your fare
to the ferryman?

But if you do not believe,
perhaps he will forget to come.

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

FINDING PEACE

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.

SENBAZURU

10,000 origami cranes
floated down over Tokyo
each bearing the soul
of one gone in nature’s recent fury.
Each crane cried freely
the tears flowing into the Sumida
forming a wave that washes
back to the sea, replenishing its loss.
We, too, shed our tears
and look skyward
sad in the knowledge
that with each passing day
still more cranes
will fill the sky
more tears seep back
to the still angry sea.

WAR

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.

EXTINCTION

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.

THE BEAST

Anger is an unruly beast,
slinking around out of sight,
bit always present on the periphery.

What is remarkable is that anyone,
anything might become its prey,
and no one will know until the moment.

But, and it is a significant but, when
it is a person who is the target,
the lurking anger can be shunted aside

if you simply stop and consider
that the person who offended, who
you wish ill, could quite easily

fail to wake up tomorrow, meet
a speeding car in an intersection today,
or forget to turn off the gas stove.

AND UNDER THIS ROCK

There is one thing that none
of the books on discovering
who you are when you are
adopted bother to tell you.

If they did, it wouldn’t change
anything, but it is a burden
you assumed you’d easily bear
that grows heavy with time.

What they don’t warn you is
that you will discover yourself,
your heritage that was denied
to you for one engrafted on.

But you will not be prepared
for the hidden tax that is levied
with that knowledge, for your
mourning is too soon doubled.

FOOTHILLS

The clouds well up
over the foothills
casting a gray pall,
bearing the angry spirits
of the chindi who dance
amid the scrub juniper.
Brother Serra, was this
what you found, wandering
along the coast, tending
the odd sheep, Indian
and whatever else
crossed your path?

The blue bird
hopping across the dried grasses
puffing its grey breastplate and cape
sitting back, its long tail feathers
a perfect counterbalance.
It stares at the oppressing clouds
and senses the impending rain.
The horses wandering the hill
pausing to graze
on the sparse green grasses.
The roan mare
stares at the colt
dashing among the trees
then returns to her meal,
awaiting the onset of evening.

The chindi await
the fall of night
when they are free to roam
and steal other souls.
Was your water rite
more powerful
than the blessing chants?
Did you ward off their evil
and purify the breeze
of the mountains?

First published in Progenitor, Vol. 55, 2020

THE POEM

The poem, all too often,
suffers from a solitariness that
borders on despair, alone
in a world that otherwise offers
no peace or quiet contemplaton.

The poem does not wish this,
it prefers to be the center
of attention in the midst
of all that is happening
at any given moment.

The poem never expected
to have to struggle so much
for even the smallest audience,
and knows it will be a battle
holding attention if it finds one.

The poem knows it has much
to say, that it has seen more
than most eyes could appreciate,
but has no voice, and thus
dies its slow death in silence.

NIGHTLY PRAYERS

My mother always told me to say
my prayers before bed, which was odd
given that she never prayed, and didn’t
as far as we could tell, believe in a deity.

I knew, as my Rabbi taught, that you do not
seek something for yourself in prayer,
and world peace and harmony did not
seem on the horizon despite my entreaties.

Now I kneel, and face the wall before bed,
and listen to the prayers of the birds
in the wetlands, although it is not clear
if it is a deity or the moon to which they pray.

My mother is long buried now, I will join
her eventually, and there is still no peace
in the world, merely violence and poverty,
but the birds have greater faith than I ever did.