SONNET TO A PORTUGUESE

You came into my life last week, your name
forever locked away inside her mind.
My life, she felt, would never be the same
and therefore left all thought of you behind.
You loved her, I suppose, that summer night
then left her, bearing me, until she turned
me over for adoption, that she might
forget the love that you so quickly spurned.
A Jew, she said, but would say little more
a father, Portuguese, is all I know,
who cast his seed, then left and closed the door
and me, the son, he never would see grow.
You left her life long before I was born,
the father I won’t know but only mourn.

First published in Minison Project, Sonnet Collection Series, Vol. 2, Sept. 2021

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.

MOSES SAYS TO AARON

We sat in the tent
and you complained again
of our condition, knowing
what lies just out of reach.
He speaks to me, not you
and there is little you can do
to hide your jealousy.
I often wonder what might
have happened if I had wiped
the blood of the lamb from your lintel.
It was you who watched
the calf take shape and
did nothing, seeing it
a personal tribute, and
ordained its fashion
and for your sin
we shall be together
forgotten men
in the land of Moab.

First appeared in Live Nude Poems, July 2021
livenudepoems.com/2021/07/

A LITTLE DRUMMER

It seems less than fair that as a child
I was Jewish to the core, adopted, yes,
but certainly fully Jewish and not merely
by maternal lineage which would suffice.

Christmas was alien to me then, even
when I left Judaism behind, a shadow
that would follow me closely into
my Buddhist practice and life.

But DNA made a liar of so many,
my birth mother, the adoption agency
and my adoptive parents, for I know
my Judaism was only half of me.

So now I can enjoy Christmas
and other holidays, listen anew
to “The Little Drummer Boy”
and relish the irony of my new life.

For I have aged, as has my wife,
and when they sing “Do you hear
what I hear?” she sadly says
“not any longer I don’t” and then,

“Do you see what I see?” and I
must admit I do so only barely
and the doctors assure me that
soon enough I may say no as well.

WE ARE THE PEOPLE

We are the people,

Who heard the glass breaking
that night as we huddled at home,

Who inhaled the smoke
of the Holy books as they burned,

Who tried to flee but had
nowhere to go, always turned away,

Who visited cosmetic doctors
to reshape our noses to look like the others

Who adopted names to help
erase a potentially painful history to come,

Who now turn a blind eye to those
who expel others from a land we claim
is ours by divine right from a God
of all people, just as specially chosen.

LIAR

It is a strange feeling to discover that you
have been made a liar by your own DNA.

For years I was Jewish to the core, half
at least Sephardic, Portuguese, and that
not merely extracted but fully blooded.

My diet at Passover expanded greatly,
no longer dictated by Northerners who
easily banned that which they did not grow.

But inquisitiveness got the better of me,
and I learned, and disbelieved, that only
half of me was Jewish, half a polygot
of other faiths, no Sephardic in sight.

It wasn’t as painful as you might imagine,
for I had given up my Judaism well
before the discovery, so what was lost
was no longer mine by claim or right.

It is strange feeling to discover that you
have been made a whole person by your DNA.

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.

THE HALF TRUTH

As a Jewish kid in a small city
I suppose I had it pretty good, enough
of us that I didn’t totally stand out,
and it helped living a single block
from the Jewish funeral home, some
just didn’t want to travel all that far
when the inevitable time came.

But we soon moved to the suburbs,
the shtetl neighborhood was gone,
and I was a Jewboy to more than a few,
so the Temple felt like a safe place,
setting aside all the OT stories
which were wholly unblievable.

I took a fair number of lumps
for killing Christ and all other
imaginary sins freely attributed.

I wish I knew then that as an adoptee
I was really only half Jewish,
and that the other half among
my distant kin were kings and saints
as well as a fair number of sinners.

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.

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)