LISA, ONCE

A phone call, a lawyer’s clerk:
Can you tell me about Lisa Landesman?
I pause for that is a name I have
not heard in forty years, save
in a poem I once wrote,
now long forgotten.

She was my sister for two
or three weeks, adopted like I was,
and then Mike, my then father
dropped dead of a massive
heart attack and she was soon gone.

We were Federal adoptions, our
birthplace under Federal law, not
getting its own for two decades,
and her adoption wasn’t final so she
was re-placed and never replaced.

She won’t inherit as I will from
my cousin who died having no
siblings, spouse, children,
nieces or nephews, who left
no will, who left only kind memories.

UNTIL

I was the adoptee,
was the whole for years, until.

It is always the until
that is your undoing, was
mine when she
remarried, then two births.

I was one third then, never
again truly whole and when
she died I discovered
in her will I was only
one twentieth, and
then never even that.

I want to forget her,
forget them, deny
them, but all I
know how to do is forgive.

STET-US QUO

The mind can be
a brutal editor, revising
history, rejecting memories
without a substantial rewrite.

My step sister, many years
dead remains five, that
young face engrafted
on the woman ravaged
by unrelenting cancers.

My first wife of 30 years
is mostly faceless, the
mental pictures and dreams
edited until only she
is unrecognizable.

And in moments of reflection
I am no longer adopted,
the step-siblings were,
but they are now
just like family, almost.

MAGIC MIRROR ON THE WALL

The face in the mirror this morning
was not mine, perhaps it was
that of my grandparents, all
I never met, having only
old and faded pictures that vaguely
resemble the mirror’s face.

It might be my parents, both
dead before I found them only
yearbook pictures and just possible
a vague similarity to the face
that i see in the mirror each day.

I tried to ask the mirror who
it was hiding in the glass, but
like most mirrors it was silent,
a sad reflection of its ilk, so
the old man peering out will
continue to be someone
that I have never met.

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.