WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN

My history is like an ill-
sewn quilt, odd pieces
of parents stitched loosely
together, always ready to come
apart, fade or be thrown away.

Perhaps my history is
more like a beloved
old pair of jeans, holes
appear and are patched,
patches wear out and are
replaced, or the hole is
just left, as if it were
somehow a fashion statement.

There is little normal
when you are adopted, loved
perhaps, but always
on the edge of being
an outsider, and when that
is repeated, the distance
grows exponentially,
until you find a birth parent
or two and the holes
are patched with dreams
of what might have been.

SUNDAY MORNING

Every Sunday morning my parents,
usually my father at mother’s direction
would drive me the four blocks
to attend Sunday school.

I could easily have walked, a long
block and a half by cutting through yards,
but they were afraid of I have
absolutely no idea what.

My friends that weren’t there with me
were probably in church so
it wasn’t like I had anywhere else
I might go, anything else I could do.

I never asked why my parents were
so insistant I attend the school, they
knew I’d be Bar Mitzvahed with or
without the Sunday mornings,

and they were Jews only in the loosest
secular sense, and I was in those
awkward years and the only thing
else that came to mind, fed by

my father’s not so well hidden stash
of Playboy’s was too grim to imagine
and given how little they liked to be
around one another, could be rejected.

IN MY BAG

I carry my past
in a monk’s bag
that rests on my shoulder.

In it you will find
my history, or bits
of it, names I have
been given, given up,
memories of childhood,
pictures of my parents
who I never knew,
aged in my mind from
the photos in yearbooks,
all that I have of them..

I still have room
in my bag, perhaps
more room than time.

OF THE CHILD

How many times have we
heard someone intone
the never ending expression:
“in the best interests of the child.”

Never, I imagine, has anyone
asked the child what he or she
thought was in their best interest,
for children, we assume, cannot
know what is in their interest.

A child would gladly tell you
but an adult would often disagree,
anchored to the memory
of their parents always deciding
what was in their best interest
whether or not they agreed,
and assuming that is how
things always ought to be.

HOME

I have never been
to Liszkowo but I have been
to Charleston, West Virginia
and visited the B’nai Jacob Cemetery
and for me, that is as close
as I need to come to Liszkowo
for I don’t speak Lithuanian
though it runs through my veins.
I have visited the Highlands
and the Isle of Islay
but I never saw my
father’s kin reach out to me,
although they speak to me
in my dreams.

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.

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.

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.

CALLING

In the dark heart of night
time is suddenly frozen,
the clock’s hands stalactites
and stalagmites, unyielding
denying the approach of morning,
leaving the sun imprisoned
under the watchful gaze
of its celestial wardens.

It is then you appear,
call out to me, beg me
be silent, not asking
the lifetime of questions
I have accreted, providing
my own hopes and
imagination for answers,
but you have faces, not
those of that weekend
but of other days, she
younger, in college, he
in a college yearbook
at a school he never attended
save as part of the ROTC
contingent of the Air Force.

I bid you farewell, finally,
and time again takes motion
and morning welcomes the sun.

KP

My younger step-siblings had it easy
once our father made seriouis money,
for then my mother decided we needed
a live in housekeeper, one who
could cook, clean and take care
of all those things domestic.

So my siblings had only to put
their dishes near the sink,
their laundry down the chute,
and keep their rooms marginally tidy.

I had missed most of that when
I was their age and father kept
us afloat with nothing to spare,
so I knew how to wash dishes,
how to run a load of laundry,
skills that served me well when
Uncle Sam gave me KP duty,
and waist deep in dishes and pots
I imagined how my siblings
might fare in that situation
for I needed a good laugh then.