REGARDING HISTORY

We stand around
in the shadow
of the Coliseum
staring at
the Roman Forum
imagining life
in the time
of the emperor.

Fast forward
two or three
millennia,
and imagine
the faces
of those staring
at the ruins
of our civilization

if we have not
destroyed all
life by then.

CHURCHES

I have already visited
countless churches

basilicas, shrines
and admired the art,

the simple beauty,
free of liturgy and belief.

I did not stop
to pray, to implead,

merely to see,
to listen, to absorb.

for I was a Jew.
a nonbeliever

in a Christian world
silently tolerated.

Now, I have learned
I was only half Jewish,

half, hidden a polyglot
of Christianity,

a descendant of saints,
and now churches

have a heavy weight
I find hard to bear.

BACK LOOKING

On the worst day, of the worst
week, or even just a day, like most
that did not go the way you want,
step outside at night if the sky is clear
and stare upwards at the universe.

Realize that you are seeing
more than a monumental collection
of celestial bodies, that you are
experiencing so much history,
and moments older than
mankind itself, and in that moment
you are in the midst of eternity.

IMAGINE THAT

You said you can only accept
what is real and tangible,
everything else
is a delusion or figment.

I cannot accept your premise
as a generalization, it eliminates
so much, for what you call real
may be otherwise to me.

And given that you are not
always present, perhaps
when you are not, when you
are not actually tangible
you are a delusion, and that
is something I can do well without:
In other words, farewell.

RECALL

As you sit in your suburban homes,
by the pools at your country clubs,
in your vacation resort villas, try
for the sake of the patriarchs
and matriarchs of our faith, to remember
that we were the poor, we were
the huddled masses, we yearned
to breathe free, we the tempest tossed.

Remember the tenements
of the Lower East Side,
the sweat shops, the struggle,
remember all of this, remember
where we came from, from the sthetl,
from the pogrom, from poverty,
recall we were the wretched refuse
for whom a door was opened.

Remember all of this now, as you
so willingly wish to slam the door
to those whose only wish is
to follow in our now dusty footsteps.

WRITING MY STORY

With the stroke of a pen,
they enabled me to write the story,
gave a framework on which
I could hang all manner
of dreams and assumptions,
inviting a search I never
quite got around to making.

I wandered the beaches
of Estoril in my dreams,
stalked the avenues of Lisbon,
looking for a familiar face,
but found only ghosts.

With the stroke of a swab
inside my cheek, a vial
of saliva mailed, the story
came apart, and a new story
slowly unfolded, gone forever
was Iberia, replaced by Scotland
and Ireland, Wales, Norway
and Germany, and my dreams
were filled with the music
of the bodhran and Highland pipes.

WHAT IF THEY

Today they gave a party. Today, so far, no one came. Today, so far and until some come, we will breath easier. Tomorrow they may give another party. We hope that no one comes. The same for Tuesday and Wednesday, although that was supposed to be our party, but we can no longer come, because they may come and we cannot be at any party they are attending. Maybe they won’t come either, and there will be no party at all.

TRIPTYCH

A triptych hangs in the gallery of memory. Admission is by invitation only.

The first panel is a time fogged mirror into which I stare. The adopted image hides behind the tarnished silver. My adopted mother’s voice is heard from a hidden speaker: “You were named after my father.” I want to tape his picture to the glass, a face to share the empty space. She has no pictures, she says, he never liked being photographed, said it would steal his soul. She can barely remember him: “He died when I was five.” I ask questions. I need to know more about the giver of names. She falls silent, drawing in, secreting memory.

In the second panel a woman sits, fidgeting. She is a striking blond. I cannot see her as being sixty-one, though she is. I deny that I am fifty. As the Rabbis climb the few steps to the Bimah, she leans over. “You know,” Lois says, “just like you, I was named for your grandfather. She talks freely of herbalism, life in New York, places she wants someday to see. “It’s funny,” she whispers, “I’ve never seen a picture of him; like he had some kind of phobia of being photographed.” Outside the Temple she stands with my mother and sister, arms interlocked, embracing both. I snap the picture. I am not captured on the film. Lois and I drive back to my mother’s apartment, stopping at one of the unending lights on Wisconsin Avenue. She touches my hand: “You know there was one more person named after him, your other sister.” The light changes.

There is only a picture hook in the wall — not even the faint outline that marks the space from which a picture is removed, the wall beneath unbleached by the sun. Lisa, my my sister, like me adopted and as quickly withdrawn, left no outward marks. She is a footnote in my father’s obituary. She is cast off by family, an unmentionable. She is my mother’s deeply hidden scar.

I am repeatedly drawn into this room. It’s walls never change, the pictures periodically replaced. I need to visit, to assure myself of — what? Someday, too soon, this exhibit will close.

First appeared in Pitkin in Progress, Vol. 3, No. 1 (2002)

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.

IN THE JUNGLE

If you close your eyes
you can imagine that this garden
was once a tropical jungle
as imagined by some clever
Floridian striving to separate
more tourists from their
dwindling travellers checks.

It has been carefully done over,
plants native and ornamental
replacing the vines and trees,
the alligators, real and imaginary
gone, now an exhibit of Lego animals,
the orchids in bloom, and
you wonder why anyone
once came here in the old days.