WINTER MEMORY

As a child I know the winters
must have been milder, as it
was never too cold to have my parents
take is to Sheridan Park where
my father would drag the old
wooden toboggan up the chute
adjacent to the stairs as we ran ahead,
and smile as we hurtled down
seeing how far we could go
across the snow packed runway.

After an hour, when our hands
were blue, the mitten clips
long since defeated, he would
once again smile as we drove
to Louie’s for a foot long and
a couple of orders of curly fries.

I’m thinking the weather changed
right about the time my parents
packed off to Florida, as if God
had given them some Noah-like
warning that winters would soon
get ugly, or maybe He was just
trying to help Detroit, since my step-
siblings had to have certain cars,
while I struggled through winter
in the north in my leaky, rusting Opel.

I SPEND THE EMPTY HOURS

I spend considerable time thinking
about what it is that I am, what is I,
whether Descartes’ God or Spinoza’s
could possibly exist, or must if I can have
meaning beyond self-reflection, needing
a godly mirror, and image reflected.
Cogito, on what basis can I draw that conclusion
what logical proof, carefully constructed will
not fall under the weight of the axiom, cogito cogito
but of what? Keys that spit words that fade
under a misplaced finger, she caught in the web
twisting, unable to pull free, staring at
an approaching holiday of praying forgiveness
Vidui, as though to posit God is to validate
emotions, control impulses which leap synapses
and flit and fade, I have sinned and transgressed
I have violated laws and statutes and I beg
forgiveness that I might live, this I, this cogito
who has no external reference save God
which makes all things real, all illusion.
It is comforting knowing in death the soul is
carried on, thought lingers, or does it cease
such that I am not for I think not, yet why should
I fear, for when it is done, I will not have been
save as a reference point, a linchpin from which
may hang ornaments of a life, a tidy sum.

Publsihed in These Lines, Fall 2020
https://theselines.org/these-lines-1.1-fall-2020.pdf

WORMHOLE LOGIC

Getting a headache, are we? You feel like Schrodinger’s cat. It’s really like asking yourself if the Big Bang was the beginning of everything, what was there in that split second before the Big Bang? If God created everything, what created God? If time begins with the Big Bang, what time was it before there was time? And who are you really, if you know your are merely an illusion created by you? And please tell me, what time is it? Find the black hole, for there is freedom.

TESTAMENT

Christ and his disciples
walk slowly through the lobby
en route to the bar, discussing
the evil of war and blind obedience.
They push three tables together
and slowly drain the pitchers
of Bud draft, laughing
over the sound of the Karaoke.
As the evening draws itself
into night, he boasts
in Aramaic that he
has translated more than half
of the Bhagavat Gita,
although he much prefers
the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
Satan, he suspects aloud,
is still trying fruitlessly
to finish Spinoza’s Ethics,
but without improved understanding
the old devil is doomed to failure.
As the night draws on, the hooker
hovers ever closer, and for a moment
he wonders if she would moan
as she feigned orgasm.
He lights another Camel
and crumples the empty pack
and throws it, knowing it will miss
the can and roll on the floor
under the bar rail, and he curses
in the ancient tongue.

First Appeared in Maelstrom, Issue 2, 2000

ISRAEL’S JUSTIFICATION FOR THE BOMB

Once it was fur hats
men on horseback
swords and torches
our villages casting a faint glow
falling into dying embers,
here, one whose skull
bears the mark of the hoof,
there an old one
who would go no farther.

Once it was a helmet
tanks for horses
flames contained in crematoria
cities taken for the deserving
we, merely ashes
shoveled into a pit,
here a tooth, its gold
torn free and cataloged
first the old ones
who could go no farther.

And so we have learned,
we in our kippot
we in our planes
and if you do not hear we
will give you the holy fires of God
you and your villages a faint shadow
and so much vapor, so much ash
carried on his holy breath
for we have learned well
and we have fused these words
in our minds, never again.

First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008)

HISTORY

Deep in the valley of memory
on the altar of Ares
we sacrifice them, always young
each generation we are
Abraham unrestrained,
the pardon always moments late.
We are Olmecs, relying not
on the sun’s passage
but on a mainspring tightly wound.
Our gods hunger and must
be sated lest we lose favor
and their image change.

In our boneyard
priests and victims
slowly decompose
fade into earth
washed deep
by tears of Gods
powerless to intervene.

First published in The Peninsula Review, Vol. 5, (1998)

RIDING THE WASTELAND

We set out with bold ambition,
egos saddled and reined
across a landscape left barren
by our leaders who saw
only carefully stacked boards
and beams awaiting the master
carpenter, great floral sprays
dotting the lobbies of glass
and chrome edifices, created
in their own images.
We ride in search of
the promised land, and turn
a deaf ear to the windwalkers,
to the spirits of the children
sitting in the packed dirt streets
their bellies distended, crying
out for food, for justice
as the warlords sit in their cars
surveying the invisible parapets
of their armed fortresses.
We look quickly away
from the chindi of the young men
who rise from the neatly heaped soil
of the common burial mound, who
rise up in neat array and perch
on the edge of the freshly dug pit
waiting for the rat-a-tat rain
of death they know await them
unrepentant, unwilling to curse
Allah, bidding farewell to Tuzla.
We pause to chant the blessing way
but we have forgotten the words,
Arbeit Macht Frei, the gates
reduced to rust, the chimneys
no longer belching the sweet
smell of death into the winter morning.
We ride on oblivious to the faint glow
from the craters we have torn
into the earth, of the clouds
that only vaguely recall
the mushrooms of our progress.
We ride toward the horizon
where the great pillars of gold
and silver rise up, glinting in the sun
that once warmed them before
we cast them out into the desert
of our lust and craving.
We set out with bold ambition
but our horses have grown tired,
our canteens are empty
and the inferno threatens
to consume us.


First Appeared in Alchemy, Issue 2, Fall-Winter 1999.

KIKE

Third grade, religious school
kikes, us, then a backhand
raised, drawn, quickly dropped,
below a reddened face,
sleeve pulled up
145233 in black
between elbow and wrist
and a tear, perched
fearing to fall.
Never again, and nothing more,
later, same arm
ruffling hair, smoke
clinging to aging skin,
no older when he walked
in her arms into
infernos then smoke
rising slowly as he
labored, no more free
than on cattlecars
shivering in winter.
No hell to come,
never again, not Juden.
Mahogany doors
opened on oiled hinges
ancient scroll to be touched,
here is you, me, us, always
on Massada, in Vilnius.
Never again kikes,
dying only once.


First published in SNReview Vol. 9, No. 2  (2007)

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KAFKA

June 13, 1896, Prague
a warm day, old stone schul
you stood before the minyon
wearing the skullcap
repeating ancient words
that lay on paper, rehearsed
sounding false on a tongue
swollen in anxiety.
Your tallit, white
woven with blue threads
hung at your knees
fringe fingered, rolled
and unrolled, twisted
until touched to skin
words inscribed, etched
into collective memory.
Seventeen years later
sitting with Buber
did words come back
and stick on your tongue
and later still
when you studied
under Bentovim, did words
take form, shape, dredging
up a past kept suppressed
walking in desert heat
knowing salvation was
down a hill, entry forbidden.
Lying in your bed
in Hoffman’s Sanitorium,
the trees of Kierling blooming
did you recite Kaddish
as endless night engulfed you.


First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008) and reprinted in Legal Studies Forum Vol. 32, No. 1 (2008)

For Something Different, a new bird photo each day, visit my other blog:

Bird-of-the-day.com 

HOLY VISIONS

Night has swallowed the city
and in the laundromat, dryer 42
decries her loose drive belt.
The young girl turns, “can you see it
the Virgin Mary, in the glass porthole”.
No, I think, only white cotton panties
and several pair of jeans
in endless rotation.
“She speaks to me, asking
for my forgiveness for the burden
she has delivered to us
and though I try to give her absolution
she will not listen. Talk to her,
maybe it is a male voice she needs
to ease her mourning.”
I stare fixedly at the washer
as the light for final rinse snaps on,
“she knows you, she is waiting,
so talk into the camera, that one
with the red light, and tell her
that you forgive, as your forgave
the other Mary, who you redeemed.”
The dryer slowly grinds to a halt
and the young girl grimaces,
“she is gone, so perhaps she heard
what I could not, and I thank you”.
She wanders out onto the street
and fades into the shadow
outside the penumbra of the streetlight.


First published in Prairie Winds (1999)

For Something Different, a new bird photo each day, visit my other blog:

Bird-of-the-day.com