MANDATORY, FOR NOW

They were not optional in our family,
once a week, half an hour, that and
at least 20 minutes daily, the youngest
got the choice of times.

He quit after a year, his sister
was three years in and went on another
and I was eight years staring
at the 88 keys, so many of which
would never get used, useless
as were the pedals I couldn’t reach
at first and rarely needed later.

It was upright, as I was supposed
to be, but only was in sight
of my teacher, and I thought
Bill Evans had it right, leaning
over the keys insuring that they
wouldn’t make an escape.

I stopped when my parents realized
how much they had spent
on what they would never enjoy
and I would as soon forget.

NESSLESS

There are no monsters
in this lake I tell
my granddaughter, answering
her unasked question.
There are bears in the woods
around here and there
used to be an owl which made
an afternoon visit.
There are deer, certainly
and there could be a coyote
or two. If you don’t
believe me, ask the crows,
everyone knows that they
can never keep a secret.

First published in From the Finger Lakes: A Memoir Anthology, Cayuga Lake Books, 2021

NYE

As a child, I only wanted
to stay up until midnight,
actually a bit after that time,
to see in the new year.

I didn’t need to be
at my parents’ party, it
was too loud and the adults
behaved more like my kid
brother and sister as
the magic moment approached.

And it was supposed to be
a magical moment, although
no one could tell me
why that was, or what
made it special other
than turning a page
on the calendar.

I no longer try
to stay awake until midnight
on New Year’s Eve
having long ago learned
I don’t’ want to be around
adults acting childish,
and knowing January 1
is no different than
December 31, save that
I will miswrite the date
on checks for at least a month.

ILL SUITED

My father wanted to take
me to buy my first suit, said
he knew a tailor who could
fashion one perfect for
my pending Bar Mitzvah,
a nice wool blend, he said.

Mother about threw a fit.
“Take him to the department
store or even Goodwill,
for God’s sake, he’s only
going to wear it once.”

My father had learned
that some battles are best
left unfought, so he
compromised and we went
to the men’s shop and I wore
that sport coat three times
before outgrowing it, and
donating it to Goodwill.

FOR A MOMENT

The cat takes her time,
carefully considers on which side
she will flop down so that I
can rub her stomach.

She says she allows me
to do this so I feel that I
have some role to play
in her life, validation she says.

She will kick me with
her hind legs when we
are done, “call you again
in an hour” she says in parting.

I cannot complain for I
do live in her house and it is
an honor to be admitted fully
into her world, if only for moments.

OF DREAMS

I am now of an age
where I can no longer remember
what terrors gripped my sons
in their dreams, causing them
to appear beneath our blankets,
I relegated to the bed’s edge.

Perhaps there were none
and I was destined to be
an edge sleeper, the boys
taking advantage as a joke
played out night after night.

I know what dreams now
can rip me from sleep, a
chill beyond that of the A/C
running down my spine like
nightmare sciatica, until I banish
the dream and wait to see
what its replacement offers.

FAMILY

You ask me to define what family is
and I tell you that I may be
the last person you want
answering that question, I
an adoptee who felt like
an orphan supplanted
by siblings who knew her womb.

But I do have an answer,
family is that insane person
who will drive six hours
to spend an hour with you,
family is the joy and aching
of your heart as they leave,
a bit of themselves remaining
deeply within your soul.

SUDDENLY MORTAL

I now struggle to remember just when
my childhood suddenly ended, when
I became mortal, and the childhood fears
were replaced by those of the real world.

It might have been watching the news,
the planes at Dover disgorging coffin
after coffin, each neatly flag draped until
the flag became a symbol only of death.

It might have been the first time a kid
on the playground at school called me
Jewboy and asked why I didn’t also
perish in the ovens with my Polish kin.

It might have been as they wheeled me
into the operating room, my fever 105
unsure of what they would find, I then
unsure I would be alive to learn about it.

It might have been that as an adoptee
I knew I never had the childhood
of my natural born siblings, I always
the outsider, mom’s words notwithstanding.

First Published in Cerasus Magazine (UK), Issue 3, 2021

IT WILL BE EASY

It will be easy, he says, you just
fish a wire down inside the wall,
find the hole you cut, put in
the box and wire it up,
no big deal at all, easy really.

She grimaced immediately,
then turned away from him to sigh,
for she knew that any time a man
decided something was easy,
no big deal, a day or more was gone.

He was convinced he could
do the job simply, save money
with his efforts and at first
it seemed to go well enough,
but that was only at first of course.

Three hours later, little progress
made, but much mess created
she smiled, stroked his back,
handed him his cell phone
and the electricians business card.