UNCLE

My uncle writes his journal
in cramped Yiddish, English
will not do, it lacks the words
he says, to describe his world.

He describes the flavor
of the capon left to stew
on the stove, the sweet taste
of carrots and prunes.

He carefully notes the thumb
of the butcher sliding onto
the back of the scale, applying
just a dollar of pressure.

He writes pages of her
monologue, the slow twisting
of words stuck under his skin
like so many shoots of bamboo.

The language is sweet, he says
and when it is lacking, he
can reach into its roots
and graft a new word.

His journal sits on its shelf
gathering dust, its words
lost on my tongue, a tome
consigned to history.

First Appeared in Cold Mountain Review, Vol. 25, No. 1, Fall 1996.

SABBATH

Fourth floor, Antwerp Hilton,
night encasing the Schelde,
ragout of boar and claret
slowly regurgitating, I pause
ancient words, stutteringly said,
hand on my head a shoddy cover
two parts of eight fully remembered
one section only in part,
turning East or a best guess.
I ask nothing, or perhaps too much
it is hard to know, CNN International
offers no clue, no guidance,
head bowed, knees bent
the carpet has a burn hole,
Ani, I am, I do hear
I always hear, now rest
and share my peace.


First Appeared in Oasis: A Literary Magazine, Vol. 6, No. 2, October-December 1997.

THE RABBI

The old man peers at the yellowing book
then places it on the arm of the chair.
He gives the walker a sad, angry look,
and still struggling, looks up in mocking prayer.
Clutching the book, he limps to the table
and sinks onto the chair, risking a fall
that could reshatter his hip. Unable
to hear, he shouts to his wife, down the hall,
who brings the hearing aid and his glasses.
His eyes glow as the ancient words bring fire
to his voice, arms dance as though his class is
full of young minds that are his to inspire.
He settles into the chair, bent by age
and curses his body, now more a cage.


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

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)

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

Bird-of-the-day.com 

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 

GOING DOWN

Hell is a place where what you
least desire becomes eternally yours,
or so we were told as children, well
not us, not the Jewish kids, for us
Hell was our mothers’ finding
that copy of Playboy we stole from
our father’s stash our mother
didn’t know about, and which he
would deny, throwing us under
the bus or any large vehicle she found

If we buy into Hell, and given that
ours is an aging population, many
of whom have landed in Florida
and Arizona to avoid the winters
that are hell on the ubiquitous
arthritis, and all those who have
joyously consumed the evangelical
Kool-Aid, when the final bell
rings, they may be surprised
to discover there is far, far more
of a chance of a snowball in Hell.


For Something Different, a new bird photo each day, visit my other blog:
Bird-of-the-day.com 

GOING ON THIRTEEN

He is four, has been
for five months now, but
when you ask them how old
he will be at his next birthday
he doesn’t pause, says, “thirteen,”
with a smile that shouts, “yes
I know how to count quite well,
but sometimes I just choose not to!”
He is slowing down, actually,
the last week he decided he was seven
and decided he would be 27
on his next birthday.
I am certain it has nothing
at all to do with the presents
his classmate’s brother got
his Bar Mitzvah,
but there is something in the smile
of a Jewish four-year-old
that reminds even a grandfather
who long ago gave up the faith
that there is something magical
about turning thirteen despite
the ever dreaded thank you notes.

HILLEL AT THE GOLDEN DRAGON

I am honored that this poem was just published in the Fall/Winter Issue of the  Atlanta Review,

I had dinner the other night
with Rav Hillel
in a small Chinese place
just off Mott Street.
I asked him what it was like
in the afterlife, after all the years.
It gets a bit boring, he said,
now that old Shammai
has lost his edge,
just last month
for each Chanukah night
he lit four candles
from the center out
in each direction.
I told him
the steamed pork buns
were beyond belief,
he said try the shrimp dumplings
even better if you eat them
standing on one foot.
I asked him how he spent his days
and he only smiled,
most days I search
for Van Gogh’s ear
though that alte cocker Shammai
says it was Theo’s ear
that Vincent lopped off,
although Vincent wore
a bandage around his head.
It’s really not so bad
he said, there’s even
a lovely sculpture
just inside the garden gate
that bears a striking resemblance
to old Lot’s wife, not that she
was ever capable
of sitting still all that long.
He bid me farewell
and though I looked
for a fiery chariot,
he climbed into
his ’91 Taurus
with the hanging bumper
and rust spots, and drove slowly off.
Thanks for dinner, he shouted,
as I footed the bill yet again.

HANGING BY A THREAD

In Riga, my grandfather
was a master tailor,
the great and the rich
would come to his shop
some bringing bolts of fine cloth
and others trusting him
knowing that wools and silks
were not beyond his reach.
Even after they marked
his home as that of the Jew,
the Captain, who rode
through the city with his men
torches thrown through windows
would come to him,
late in the night,
seeking a new dress uniform.
Eventually they took his needles
threw his spools of thread
into the river, he could stand no more
and with the few kopecks that remained
he left for New York
where, he though, even
a poor tailor could walk
on golden streets and create
garments the likes of which
a Tsar could only imagine.
Each morning he would arise
and strap on the scarred phylacteries
to recite his morning prayers
then go out into the cold
in his threadbare coat
to the factories and couture houses
only to return before noon
to a bowl of bread soup
awaiting the visit of one
of the men or women in his tenement
who would ask him to sew
a new patch into a worn jacket,
a fraying dress, all
for a few pennies
begrudgingly spared.
He was, he said, the new Moses
free of bondage, told
that milk and honey
would be his portion
wandering the desert
of this new land, free
at last of the bonds
that had enslaved him
plucking the bitter manna
from among the sands
but free he would shout
to starve on the cliffs
overlooking the land
promised to him.


First appeared in Aura Literary Arts Review Vol. 26, No 1 (2000) and later in Legal Studies Forum Vol. 30, Nos. 1-2  (2006)