SENTINEL

She carefully noted all of the comings and goings. She dares not miss a thing, that would be unthinkable. She takes mental notes, has no need for recording devices. She will tell you when something is out of the ordinary. She will demand you act when that happens. She will describe to you how that appeared to happen and what she thinks caused it. She is ever vigilant. She has no choice, after all she is a house cat.

LAMBERT FIELD

The gravestones, in random shapes line the hill
the morning chill
creeps between them and onto the runway
until washed away
by the spring sun slowly pushing upward
as the jet noise washes the hill unheard

He passed away quietly in his bed
ending his dread
of the cancer slowly engulfing him
his vision dimmed
by the morphine that pulsed through his veins.
He paused to remember the first spring rains.

She selected the plot on the hillside
she would confide
to friends, so that he might see the valley
at long last free,
to see the flowers bloom in early spring,
the land that was his home and he its king.

One summer the caskets were carried out
while the devout
cursed the sacrilege of the master plan
of the madman
who decided that the airport must sit
on the hill, his valley forever split.

The jets rush over the cemetery
February
snows blown across the gravestones in their wake
as one snowflake
melts slowly on the ground, a falling tear
which, unheard, marks another passing year.

First Appeared in Candelabrum Poetry Magazine (UK), April 2002.

ANCESTRY

Children have an innate sense
of their ancestry.
I was a child of the city
it’s streets my paths, always
under the watchful eye
of my warden – mother.

Dirt was to be avoided
at all possible cost,
so I never dug my hands
into the fertile soil of my
village in the heart of Lithuania,
or tasted the readying harvest
that dirt would remember.

I never stole a nip of poitin
only the Manischewitz which,
in our home, masqueraded
as wine fit for drinking. It is only
now in my second childhood
that the ancestry very deep
in my DNA has finally found
purchase in my mind and soul.

YEARBOOK REFLECTION

Knowing that my
biological parents’
pictures were somewhere
in the yearbooks
I had before me
I thought that I
would search without
looking at the names.

No one looked
at all like the me
I see in the mirror
nor the me I am
shocked to see
in my own yearbook.

Yet finding them
by name I quickly
realized that I
was their amalgam
a face neither
would have recognized
no matter how
small the crowd.

CLOSE ENOUGH TO HEAR

We sit around the small tables
glad to be out of the sun
whose midday glare seems
to blind the drivers slowly
approaching the Jetty Park lot.

A family chatters, the children
laughing at nothing, at everything,
and nearby a dog lays out
dreaming of a good walk
and dinner, hoping for scraps.

We can hear the water
of the inlet, the waves breaking
onto the beach, visuals left
to our imaginations, but we
are satisfied with that, and
the fact that our tacos here
are far more reasonable with the
“without the view” discount.

JACKPOT

I’m not a gambler,
never have been, knowing
the house always had the odds
and every play was
a sucker’s bet for sure.
I might kill an hour
on a business trip
to Las Vegas going through
four dollars at the nickel slots,
one play for each
original nickel, winnings
set aside for rolling.

Twenty-one years ago
today I hit the grand jackpot
standing nervously on the steps
of an Indian restaurant,
and my good luck has
never changed so it’s fitting
that today I draw a perfect 21
even if there is no casino
to make a payoff on my winning.

TREASURES

I keep in my pocket
all the treasures of my family,
all of the keepsakes from my mother,
and those from my father
given to me when they died.

I would share them with you,
but they are highly personal
and would not mean much to one
who never knew my parents
or my step brother, the one

with whom I have not spoken
since the text announcing
our father’s death, so I cherish
what I have in my pocket for
nothing was all I hoped for.

IMMIGRATION

When you got off the boat
you must have been scared,
but getting away from that life
made the fear bearable.

I have no idea how you ended
up in West Virginia, it wasn’t
at all like Lithuania, and Jews
might have had two heads I imagine.

But you all made do, made
a community, invited others
and were tolerated if odd,
and I am certain you wonder

what happened, why now those
or their children’s children’s
children are so willing to shun
others whose only sin, like yours,

was wanting to get away
from horror, from persecution,
from fear, and make a life
in the hills of West Virginia.

PECULIAR?

I grant you cats can be peculiar
but they have one significant
advantage over all other pets,
except maybe hamsters
and gerbils, for when you
need someone to talk to,
to unload your problems on,
to try and wrestle with
a thorny issue of public policy
or geopolitical intrigue
and that night has swallowed
everyone you know, anyone
you might dare disturb
in the hours after midnight,
you may rest assured that
a dog would be sleeping
somewhere and will not be
roused for heaven and earth,
but a cat will be wide awake,
willing to let you go on and on
in exchange for a bit of play,
but there is the risk that she
or he will disagree with you
using a claw for emphasis.

ORIGIN

I am told that I should write
about my origins, that is the stuff
that long poems are made of, or
rather the soil from which they bloom.

I have written about my birth mother
and visited her grave in West Virginia
seen those of my grandparents, met
a cousin, I’ve written all of that.

So its time to write about
my birth father, about the places
he was as a child, a young man,
where he is buried, dead long before

I discovered his existence, our link,
but I know nothing of Burlington,
or Camden and my passing knowledge
of New Jersey is limited
to Newark and its airport.

That is hardly the stuff of great poetry
or even mediocre memoir, so he
will be nothing more than a picture
of a gravestone in a national cemetery.