HOLY ARMY

1.

A millennium ago
the army of the lord
dressed in mail and rode
proud steeds across
barren lands, swords
flashing in a red roasting sun
washed in the blood
of the infidels.
They stopped for prayer
blessing the bodies
left along the dirt track
left by their hooves,
a common grave
for common faces
differing only in the color
of skin and hair.

2.

In this millennium
the army of the lord
slouches outside the mall
rubbing hands against
the chill, the bell bleating
against the night,
a barren moon reflects
off the red kettle.
As they locked the doors
he pulled the flask
from his hip pocket
and thought of the bodies
passing by, swerving
to avoid him, and the
forty dollars he would get
would warm
his frozen skin.

First Appeared in Lullwater Review, Vol. 9, No. 1, 1998. Reprinted in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 29, No. 1, 2005.

WAITING, STILL

I stood on the corner
waiting patiently for you.

It seemed like hours.

It was probably minutes
but Einstein was right
about relativity also.

You never arrived,
but I hadn’t expected
you to do so, that was
the nature of us.

I will wait again
in two weeks.

Same corner as usual,
but an hour earlier.

You will not show up
and will offer the same
excuse you do always.

Why do you assume
being dead excuses
your duties as the parent
I never got to meet?

LIGHTS

For eight days each December
they call out to me as the flame
of the candles flickers out,
“Remember me” they say in unison,
“remember me”, in the voice of the child,
an old woman, in Yiddish,
in Polish, German, Czech, Latt.
I want to remember but I cannot see
a face reduced to ash, blended
into the earth of a farm field outside Treblinka,
the winter wheat remembers.
I want to remember but I cannot stroke
the head of a young man whose bones
mingle with his brother’s, countless others
sharing a mass grave, his skull
and brains painting the trunks
of a nearby stand of trees.
I want to remember but cannot hear
the sweet tenor of the cantor
whose tongue was torn from his mouth
for refusing to speak of the tunnels
beneath his once beloved Warsaw.
I want to remember the lavender scent
of the young woman, fresh from the showers
but there is only the stench
of putrid flesh and Zyklon,
of bodies crammed into the converted boxcar.
I want to remember the taste
of a warm challah on Shabbat eve
that she lovingly shaped
into a braid and pulled from the oven,
but her arms were neatly removed
by the surgeon before she
was cast naked into the Polish winter.
I want to remember them all,
their names in a memorial
but they are only numbers
tattooed onto endless arms.
The candles die and their voices
fall silent for yet another year.

First Appeared in Rattle, Issue 7, Summer 1997. Reprinted in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 29, No. 1, 2005.

A HASTY BURIAL

They should have had
an altar, even Abraham
had one when he was ready
to execute Isaac, and the ram
interceded, to his ultimate peril.

They should have had
a funeral, that is just common
sense and decency, but they
wanted no such thing, just
be done with it, bury it away.

I still mourn the death
of science for I know that it
operates without spite, without
anger, with simplicity, making
our world ever more livable.

Perhaps there will be
a resurrection, it has happened
before, although at times
it does seem that it would
take a rather large miracle now.

First published in Pages Penned in Pandemic, 2021 

MEMORY

We were told the average background color of the universe was turquoise.  She said “that’s because a coyote ripped it from the mountains outside Cerrillos.  But now they say it’s actually a shade of dark beige, drying mud colored.”  It was a glitch in the software, the astronomers said.  The coyote was unmoved.

She sits on the floor sorting coupons and roughly clipped articles on herbs and natural remedies.  Occasionally she looks down at the hollow of her chest, at the still reddened slash left by the scalpel.  “I’ve got no veins left.  I hate those damn needles. If they want to poison me, I’ll drink it gladly.  Socrates had nothing on me.”

I rub her feet as she slides into the MRI tube, and pull on her toes.  “I can pull you out at any time.”  I look at my wrist but there is no time in this room, checked at the door.  Just the metronomic magnet.  As she emerges she grabs my hand, presses it against my chest.  I cradle her head and trace the scar across her scalp, trying to touch the missing brain matter, the tumor it nestled, pushing aside the brittle hair.  “Lightly toasted,” she whispers with a weak smile.  She hates white coats and stethoscopes.  “They’re the new morticians.”  They take her in small sections.  She is a slide collection in the back of my closet, on the pathologists shelf.  I want to gather them all and reassemble her.  I want her to be a young girl of fifteen again.

Coyotes wander down from the Sandia hills.  They gather outside the Santo Domingo Pueblo, sensing the slow seepage of heat from the sun baked adobe.  There is no moon.  They know each star.  They stare into the darkened sky.  They see only turquoise.

Reprised from March 31 2016

A LESSON TO TEACH

This is what 
I would tell my sons:
“You came from 
an ancient people,
a heritage of poets
and tailors, or thieves
and blasphemers,
of callous men
and slaughtered children.
I would give you these books,
written by God, some have said,
although I am doubtful
but driven by Erato, without doubt.”

This is what 
I would tell my sons:
“I didn’t go to war —
there were so many options
and I chose one where
my feet would touch
only Texas mud,
where the only bullets
were quickly fired
on the rifle range.
I wasn’t one of the 56,000.
I didn’t come home
in a body bag.
But I do stop at the Wall
each time I visit D.C.
and say farewell
to those who did.”

This is what
I would tell my sons:
“You have never known
the hunger for a scrap of bread
pulled from a dumpster,
you have never
spent a night on a steam grate
hiding under yesterday’s
newspapers from
the rapidly falling snow.
You never stood
nervously at the waiting room
of a dingy clinic
waiting for a young,
uncaring doctor to announce
that antibiotics would likely
clear up the infection
but you should avoid
any form of sex
for a couple of weeks.”

This is what
I would tell my sons:
“You come from 
a heritage of poets.”

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

FINDING PEACE

It wasn’t lost on me, mother, that this year
on the anniversary of death, you had been gone
eighteen years, Chai in your beloved Hebrew,
a lifetime for me, having never met you
save in the half of my genes you implanted
in me when I was implanted in you.

As you aged, alone, did you wonder what
became of the closest family you had after
your parents were interred in the soil of Charleston?
Did you ever regret not knowing, or were you
comfortable that the Jewish Family Service Agency
would make a selection of which you would
have approved had your approval been sought.

You have grandsons and greatgrandchildren
who will mourn me, carry my memory forward,
but know that I do the same for you, and you
never aged a day from that one when the photographer
took your college yearbook photo, a grainy
copy of which is tucked in my wallet and heart.

SENBAZURU

10,000 origami cranes
floated down over Tokyo
each bearing the soul
of one gone in nature’s recent fury.
Each crane cried freely
the tears flowing into the Sumida
forming a wave that washes
back to the sea, replenishing its loss.
We, too, shed our tears
and look skyward
sad in the knowledge
that with each passing day
still more cranes
will fill the sky
more tears seep back
to the still angry sea.

AND UNDER THIS ROCK

There is one thing that none
of the books on discovering
who you are when you are
adopted bother to tell you.

If they did, it wouldn’t change
anything, but it is a burden
you assumed you’d easily bear
that grows heavy with time.

What they don’t warn you is
that you will discover yourself,
your heritage that was denied
to you for one engrafted on.

But you will not be prepared
for the hidden tax that is levied
with that knowledge, for your
mourning is too soon doubled.