SATURDAY, OF COURSE

On a quiet Sunday morning, my cappuccino
in equal measures gone and cooling, I
paused to consider the mug on the table
adjacent to mine, alone, uncared about.

It stared back at me, from its perch
on the coaster pedestal on which it
had been placed so carefully, a bevy
of faces holding my eye trying to tell me what?

It was hard to read their moods, each
much the same as the others, a calm
perhaps, a hint of simple joy, almost
a childishness that begged my attention.

I wanted to ask why the red bows
in their hair, but I knew I’d get no answer,
for they were inscrutable, and that was
how they liked it, lost in a perpetual tease.

They did cause me to muse on why this day
they appeared in an unlikely place, and I
paused to wonder what Ode Keats might
have written in 1819 on this Hello Kitty mug

NEXT IN LINE

It was the moment they said, we picked you, that I knew they had not. They thought they had to say it. They knew they shouldn’t. I was the next gumball down the chute. You put in your nickel, move the lever and wait. Actually it wasn’t quite like that. If you don’t like the color or flavor of gumball, you throw it out or give it to someone else. Spend another nickel, simple. In adoption, there was no do over. In my case as well. Well there was, actually, but if you give one back, you don’t get another unless there was a really big and hidden problem. Read the fine print, the lawyers say, adoptees come with no warranty, and you take us as is. You wouldn’t buy a car that way, would you.

SENSELESS

You place the shroud
over my head,
it is dark, but I
can still touch her cheek.

You cut off
my fingers, leaving
only stumps, but I
can still taste her tears.

You pull out
my tongue, there is
only bitterness, but I
can hear her morning laugh.

You drown me
in a sea of noise
nothing breaks the din, but I
smell her sweetness.

You fill the room
with the acrid smoke
tearing at my nostrils, but I
can remember her love.

Publshed in Mehfil Issue #8, August 2020
https://medium.com/mehfil/two-poems-2f60ad081ee7

AROMA

What I want, no, need actually,
is to remember the smells of youth.
The images I can recall, but they are
aged pictures, run repeatedly through
the Photoshop of memory, and
cannot be trusted only desired.

The old, half ready to fall oak,
in the Salt Lake City park had
a faint pungency that lingered
even as I departed my body as
the acid kicked in, and drew me
back from the abyss hours later,

and my then wife, cradling our
first born in the hospital bed,
the scent of innocence and sterility
that neither of us dared recognize
as a foretelling of our denouement.

Those moments are lost in the sea
of time, washed away from memory’s
shore, but the smell of a summer oak
still promises a gentle return to self.

ON ARRIVAL

This morning arrived
with a painful slowness, the sloth
of irregular dreams refusing to concede
to the light struggling to creep around
the blinds that hide the oversize windows.

It had been that sort of night,
sleep arriving and departing with
a frustrating lack of constancy, my body
uncertain of its proper placement ,
the mattress offering no easy solutions.

Conceding the failure of the night
to provide shelter to an overactive mind,
I roll to my side, note the response
of sinew and muscles forced
into unaccustomed forms, and reach

out an arm which snakes across
your waist, as I press in more tightly,
squeezing out the last vestiges
of remorse, and I pull you close as you
reach back and stroke my thigh,

and we give ourselves over to a new day.

DOG DAYS

Growing up my family always had dogs,
only one at a time, of course, since we
were a modern suburban family,
which may be why we had a dog.

It clearly wasn’t because they loved dogs,
they tolerated them on good days,
ignored them the rest of the time
and the good days were few if any.

I never asked for a dog, knew
the daily care would fall to me, for
my sort of brother and sister would
never lift a finger if they didn’t want

and they rarely wanted for other than
themselves, but I didn’t mind, for each
dog became my true family, we all
shared a common blood among us,

which is to say none, and we all said
in our own languages, which we all
understood while no one else did, that
we were orphans who beat the system.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

He only wants to know
my spiritual name, “your false
world name is of no matter.”

I tell him I have only one name,
the one my parents gave me,
and it has worked to this point

quite well, and no one has ever
suggested I might need another,
although my Jewish friends have two.

“No,” he says, “your spiritual name
isn’t given to you, not by family, but
by one who has tapped into

the universal harmonic, who flows
along its energy as that energy
flows through him or her and they

don’t so much give it to you as
listen to the voices and tell you
what they are calling you, that’s it.”

“Ah,” I said, “well I know my Native
American name so that’s something,
call me Doesn’t Buy Into Bullshit.”

FATHERING

Recalling it now, the sight had to be absurd,
and I suspect it was at the time,
but as its beneficiary then. I dared
not say anything, I’d mastered that already.

My father in khakis and a poor excuse
for a flannel shirt, Goodwill no doubt,
but you had to have one just for occasions
like this, not that they would ever repeat,

struggling mightily to heft a bale of straw
from the roof of the Ford Country Squire wagon,
and haul it into the back yard, placed against
the wooden fence that backed the nursery.

He’d repeat this task two more times, using
language I knew well, but had never heard
him use before, wondering if my mother would
threaten to wash his mouth out with soap.

When the third bale was stacked, he pinned
on a target, and reaching into the trunk,
pulled out a fiberglass recurved bow, smiling
at me as he said, “I know it isn’t what you wanted,

but you are good at archery, the camp gave you
a prize for it, and a new three speed bicycle
isn’t something you need, the old Schwinn is fine,
and the BB gun you wanted is out of the question.”

FORMAL PROOF

First Proposition: You were put up
for adoption because your birth
parents couldn’t or didn’t want to raise you.

Second Proposition: We or I adopted you
because I wanted you and not another
and to give you the good life you deserved.

Argument: Given all of the possible
alternatives, you ought to be thankful
that we saved you from that other life.

First Fallacy: My birth mother feared
rejection for getting pregnant but would
have been a loving, educated parent.

Second Fallacy: My adoptive mother
had two children with her second husband
after they married, her children at last.

Opinion: You will he told that you are
one of the family, a coequal part inseparable
from and of the others, and the same.

Fact: You were made an orphan and
always will be one, and the best you can
hope for is to be just like family, a simile

that you know will always be a transparent
wall that you can never hope to climb
and which keeps you always separate.

PARENTHOOD

Two headstones
Name, rank, branch
of service, dates.

One New Jersey, one
Virginia, both Bittle
neither certain.

An email from
another Bittle, never
knew my father

but his was
William, and in
that moment,

James Owen became
a father yet again
and I complete.

And later still
a single picture
he in the back

row and the mirror
agrees that we
are truly family.