OLD MEN

It is always odd
watching older men gather,
talk about their lives,
about how much they
no longer remember,
of last year, and
a decade ago, about
the infinite details
they can clearly recall about
the time they spent
in the Army, Navy, Air Force,
the smell of Slop-on-a-shingle,
of field stripped butts
in a small container
in their olive drabs,
of the base or post exchange
where you could buy
the mandatory Ray-Ban aviators,
the Sergeant’s grimace,
the body count in the war
they never wanted, only
wanted to end quickly,
how they were once brothers
in arms, now just old men
sharing painful memories.

SLIPPING AWAY

Each day I am certain something
more slips away, forgotten, no
longer able to be recalled, lost
in the vast abyss of yesterdays.
I would like to think this happens
because something new, something
better has taken its place, and I
had no choice but to displace it.
That is the convenient story I tell
myself, although I am rarely convinced,
and know that there is a good chance
it is no more than a lie of sorts,
but one that will slip away
and be replaced by something better,
or perhaps I will just forget
that it was a lie in the first place.

THE WATCHER

He stands transfixed
on the bridge,
arms outstretched,
staring at the river
always flowing slowly by below.
He wears a garland of gold,
an inscription in Hebrew,
the holiest of holies,
mocking those
who hold him a man.
Did he peer out
of the corner of his eyes
as they marched them
across the bridge
to the trains
to the camps
from which they
would never return,
never have headstones
in small, ghetto cemeteries,
would be merely names
on a wall of remembrance?
What did he want to say,
what would they not hear,
for surely
he must have known,
in the way a son
knows so much more
than a father imagines.
They are gone,
he remains, forced
to be ever silent,
and the river flows
under the bridge
beneath his ever constant,
mournful gaze.

THIS IS HOW WE MOURN

This is how we mourn:
we don’t berate the clouds for gathering,
nor begrudge the rain’s ultimate descent.
Our tears fall to the earth as well,
and there are moments when we need the gray,
moments when the sun would
be an unwelcomed interloper.
This is how we mourn:
we wipe the walls clean of history,
we whitewash them for they, too,
must be a tachrichim* and when done
we add the names, each lettered carefully,
this a plaster scroll
of those we dare not forget
requiring the perfection
they were denied.
This is how we mourn:
by walking out into the sunfilled sky,
having given them the grave
once denied them
freshly dug into
our souls and memory.


*tachrichim is the traditional white linen Jewish burial shroud.

Written following a visit to the Pinkas Synagogue in Prague, where  the 80,000 names of Czech and Moravian Jews who perished under the Nazis were hand-written on the walls of the synagogue.

BODHI VILLANELLE

Sitting beneath the Bodhi tree
I wrestle with passing thoughts
in an unending struggle with me.

The true face of the pain I see
results from what I have wrought
sitting beneath the Bodhi tree.

I grow tired, wish to flee–
above all, to avoid being caught
in an unending struggle with me

for a single moment. I can be
something greater than I thought
sitting beneath the Bodhi tree.

That will be my apogee
until overcome by the battle fought
in an unending struggle with me.

For that brief moment I and we
will be one, as the Buddha taught
sitting beneath the Bodhi tree
in an unending struggle with me.

TAI YRA MANO MOTINA (THIS IS MY MOTHER)

It’s odd how your stature
has grown as I dream of you
occasionally staring at
your yearbook picture.
It was only four years ago
that I knew you existed, but
hadn’t the faintest idea of who
you were, anything about your life,
why you gave me up, and, therefore
who it was I might have been.
Now you are a selfless icon, caring
more for siblings who needed education,
at the immediate cost of your own,
a child who needed two parents
in a world that frowned deeply
on anything less than a pair.
Someday soon, I will visit your grave,
place a small stone upon your stone,
and a kiss, the closest
I can ever hope, ever dream
to coming to the face of my mother.