I’ve always been a bird person,
perhaps it is just jealousy
their ability to fly unencumbered,
encased, to lift up by will alone.
Here it is all about water,
the Muscovy ducks waddling
up to me each morning, pleading
for the handout they should now know
will not be forthcoming, at least
when anyone else is around
to cast disapproving glances or worse,
and the coots, pairs swimming
in the fountain ponds are not ducks
they claim, we of the lobed toes
and flashes of white
between the deeply set eyes.
But above all it is the Egyptian goose
his old Jewish man clearing throat honk
that catches my ear and not
just any old Jewish man, but Billy
Crystal as Miracle Max, and I half
hope his partner warbles like Carol Kane.
shall be recited in silence
total, not even the breath
indicating a longing for action.
Nor will it invoke
a holy spirit without us
for it is we
we must inveigh
to attain the desired
actions for which we seek
holy intervention, casting off
free will, an accreting
poor decisions, a goat
where where seek scape
for the sins of all the others.
shall not be recited at all,
but it is this prayer
in which we find absolution.
You were born 128 years ago,
not a long time in the history of the planet
and a blink in the life of the universe
but two good lifetimes on the day
you came into the world, not knowing
what would become your place in it.
We celebrate you today, as we celebrated you
during your life, a rare feat for it
is usually one or the other, either
reason enough to have lived.
I still recall the great windows,
the larger-than-life paintings
that brought Moses into my age,
and I imagine you recalling the stories
you learned at the feet of your grandfather,
so I practice what I will tell my grandchildren
of the immense passion of the small museum
tucked away on a hill overlooking Nice.
Even when I was briefly in Edinburgh
I dreamed of walking the streets of Lisbon
or Porto, looking into the faces of older men
and wondering if this one was my father,
the one I had never seen, never known.
the one my Jewish mother described
in detail to the social worker who took me from her
shortly after she gave me life.
It is many years later, now my mother
has a face, discovered in the twisting path
of a double helix, good West Virginia
Jewish stock, Lithuania left far behind.
I may someday visit Lisbon, I hear
it is a lovely city, but the faces will all
be alien to me, and there I will dream
of my day touring the Highlands
of Scotland, the Isle of Skye, and which
of the McDonald’s or McAllister’s might
be kin and which Tartan I can
rightfully claim as my own.
We kept them together to protect them,
he said, though we did make the men
wear the red And yellow badge.
You must understand, this was for their good.
We didn’t want them corrupted
by our Catholicism, so we had to ensure
we would not mingle with and debase them.
There were our bankers, without them
the King would’ve made tax demands on us
and a kingdom cannot long survive
on the broken backs and empty pockets of its people.
And anyway, they knew they need not comply,
after all what’s a pound of silver fine to a Jew.
Some, mostly of us, said we
were the chosen people, as if
wandering the desert for 40 years
was the grand prize, okay of Sodom
got the runners-up gift.
I didn’t buy it then, don’t now,
even after I sold my membership
as the price of final freedom.
No, we were, still are, the people
of the candle and oil lamp,
the latter far too sooty these days,
playing hell with our smoke detectors.
Two every Friday, and Hanukkah
is good for forty-four, and on
the anniversary of a death, just one,
but that to burn a full 24 hours.
So while our butchers fatten their thumbs
for the scales, and our bakers
tell their wives they won’t be home for dinner
on Thursday nights, busy braiding dough,
it is our candle makers who have
chosen us as their kind of people.
Over the next few weeks I shall
step into more churches than is safe
for a formerly Jewish Buddhist, but
in Europe it seems no tour is complete
without one or more churches, at least
one of which will be the most
beautiful cathedral in all of [choose
any country you wish and inserted here.]
I will take off my hat, for that is easier
than the opprobrium of the faithful,
I will stare at the beauty of the stained-glass,
try, in some cases, to ignore its message,
and hope, beyond all logic, that this group
will stop at a synagogue were all
of the men and women, save me
will have to put on kippot or head scarves
and most will vow it will be their last visit
do such a heathen place, at least until
they get to Antwerp or Amsterdam.