MASKING

The Air Force shaved our heads, was it
because of the heat of a San Antonio
summer or that we’ll all look equally like fools,
and easier for Sarge to maintain unit
cohesiveness in his rag tag band
of semi-successful Army avoiders.

Now we all wear masks and assume
we all look equally foolish, knowing
the virus cares nothing for cohesiveness,
and normal is insignia only to dreams
and at times life is shit on a shingle now.

We want our childhoods back, before
the war, before the barracks and bad
food, before expectations, and those few
imposed could be ignored at minimal
parental retribution, we want what
never really existed, it is our right.

We marched and sang “Suicide is Painless”,
never believed it for a moment, but now
we consider it in passing as we walk
down the shortening pier
into the ocean of darkness.

First published in Circumference, Issue 4, June 2021

THE RIGHT WAY

In a world beset
by poverty and pandemic,
global warming and hunger,
there are a myriad
of questons urgently
requiring answers.

Among them
is not the question
of the proper way
to eat with a fork,
or more precisely
how to hold it
when bringing food
to the mouth
from the plate.

I was taught to hold
it like a pen, but
tilted so I looked
down on the tines
bent in concavity.

But in watching
too many European
films and TV shows,
it seems I should
look down on
the tines’ convexity.

This conundrum
is easily solved
by using only
a spoon.

CUISINE

When I was younger (much), I
could wander Manhattan and be
what any neighborhood required,
so long as I stayed south
of 110th Street or north of 155th.

I was Greek ordering gyros,
Russian at the Tea Room,
Italian along Mulberry and Canal,
although in Chinatown I was just
someone who wandered a bit far
from the heart of Little Italy.

I could order deli at the Stage
like a local, and complain
about the pastrami no matter
how lean it actually was,
and lift a couple of pints
at Tommy Makem’s Pavilion
listening to trad music late in the night.

Now I walk around man made
lakes in Florida, and cook
the ethnic foods so lacking here,
a bit of heaven, but really,
Cheesecake Factory is not now
and never will be fine dining.

COOKBOOK

As a youngster I thought I had
convinced my grandmother
to one day entrust me with
the old family recipes, since
my mother wanted little to do
with the kitchen and less with
anything that came from “there.”

It was a bit of a shock to learn
years later that grandma was
born in London, that her mother
shared my mother’s dislike
for the kitchen and both favored
take out whenever possible.

She did finally share her specialties
which I carefully wrote down
for posterity, only to discover
that someone in the family
was named Betty Crocker.

DEAR ERASMUS, DIE

Today we welcome the rain, hope
that the wheaty winter lawn will
show some other color under its care.

The birds ignore the clouds,
accept the rain, care little how
our lawn looks, their next meal
of always greater importance.

I am losing the vision in one eye,
know I may soon be king
of the country of the blind,
and sadly curse Erasmus
for his gift of proverb, one
that slipped off the tongue
when my eye could still see it.

We will welcome the sun tomorrow
or the day after, for too much
rain or sun demands change
and nothing is really ever
wholly within our control.

DIFFERENT TODAY

The air we breathe is different today,
and we inhale more deeply
with the energy of our youth.

The tears we cry today are not
solely tears of loss and sorrow,
but also of promise and hope.

The wine that we drink today
will be the same as before, but
now sweeter on the tongue.

The sleep that we sleep tonight
will be deep, nightmares banished,
dreaming of a brighter future.

The songs that we sing today
we have sung a thousand times
but on this day the words have meaning.

WE COULD

We could, if you want,
sit in the park on our folding
chairs or better a folded blanket
and stare out over the pond,
its silver surface shirred
by a midday breeze.

We could picnic, sandwiches
of brie and apples, or for us
hummous with tahini and
a bottle of chardonnay, carefully
poured into plastic glasses
imagining themseles crystal.

The dragonflies would ignore us,
busy doing what we cannot see,
though we might draw the eye
of a great egret, for they like
nothing more than to stare
at the strangeness around them.

DRINKING TEA IN KABUL*

Rockets flash briefly
across the chilled sky,
plumes of smoke, ash
carried off
by impending winter.

Over the lintel of the entry
to the Inter-Continental Hotel Chicago,
carved deeply into the marble
Es Salamu Aleikum
staring implacably
through ponderous
brass framed doors
onto the Miracle Mile.
Countless guests
pass below it
unseeing.

My son and I
sit across a small table
spilling bits of tapas
onto the cloth,
laughing lightly
at the young boy
bathed in a puree
of tomato, his shirt
dotted in goat cheese.
My son explains
the inflation of the universe,
gravitational waves
cast off
by coalescing binary
neutron stars.
His words pull me
deeper
into my seat.
We speak somberly
of the jet engine
parked haphazardly
in the Queens gas station
unwilling to mention
265 lives
salted across
the small community.

We embrace
by his door, the few
measured hours run.
He turns to call
his girlfriend,
I turn my collar up
against the November night.

The Red Line train
clatters slowly back
into a sleeping city.
In my room
I brew a cup of Darjeeling.

*”We will drink tea in Kabul tomorrow morning, if God wills it.” – Basir Khan, Northern Alliance Commander, quoted in the Chicago Tribune, 13 November 2001.

First appeared in Hearsay, 2004 and in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008).

JUST ONE MORE HAND

My parents, well my father,
always felt is was necessary
to stop on the way to our summer home
in the Western Adirondacks
to visit Uncle Morris, who may
or may not have been an uncle
in the blood sense, it was never clear.
It was he who sold my father the cottage
near the small lake, he who now
lived in a nursing home  in Schenectady.

Morris was sweet, frail, but still
wanted my father to play 
a couple of hands of pinochle,
which drove my mother crazy,
but she loved the cottage, 
and Morris sold it to them 
for a song to keep it in the family.

I liked watching them play,
never understood the game,
and hated the name Schenectady,
but we’d always go for an early dinner
at the Chinese Buffet across
from the store Morris owned for years.

TOO MANY COOKS

I can still recall
the day my mother
was ecstatic on learning
that everything grew
out of a primordial soup.
It was proof, she
was certain, of a Jewish
God, even if he didn’t
do it all with his own hands.
And, with a broad smile
she said, I’m fairly certain
at the soup
was chicken, maybe
with kreplach on the side.