PFFFT

As I age now I am
aware that the tether
to my earliest memories
has grown thin, stretched
by time until I know it will,
of necessity, soon give way.

And so I spend spare
moments trying to sort
through my life as I recall
it, selecting those moments
that bear the effort of retethering
so that time would be better
served weakening others.

But the hidden beauty,
I know, is that when a memory
is gone, has fallen away, it often
takes its shadow along, so there
is no hint even of its prior existence,
and you don’t mourn what
you never had, even if you did.

SMALL REFLECTION

It is that moment when the moon
is a glaring crescent,
slowly engulfed by
the impending night—
when the few clouds give out
their fading glow
in the jaundiced light
of the sodium arc street lamp.
It nestles the curb—at first a small bird—
when touched, a twisted piece of root.

I want to walk into the weed-strewn
aging cemetery, stand in the shadow
of the expressway, peel
the uncut grass from around her headstone.
I remember
her arthritic hands clutching mine,
in her dark, morgueish apartment, smelling
of vinyl camphor borsht.
I saw her last in a hospital bed
where they catalog and store
those awaiting death, stared
at the well-tubed skeleton
barely indenting starched white sheets.
She smiled wanly and whispershouted
my name—I held my ground
unable to cross the river of years
unwilling to touch
her outstretched hand. She had
no face then, no face now, only
an even fainter smell of age
of camphor of lilac of must.

Next to the polished headstone
lies a small, twisted root.
I wish it were a bird
I could place gently
on the lowest branch of the old maple
that oversees her slow departure.

First published in Rattle #23, Spring 2005

EIRE

They say you must cherish
your memories lest they slip
away in the night, trying for
a freedom you deny them.

I remember Ireland, knowing
it was home although at the time
I thought I was Ashkenazi
and Portuguese, but my genes
were trying to tell me something.

I remember driving a stick
shift down narrow roads,
always keeping in mind
the advice, “if you hear
the branches of the yellow
gorse against the side
of the car you’re fine, if
you hear the stone of the fences
you’ll have a large bill
when you return the car.

And Guinness on tap, always
Guinness on tap.

LIFE, ABBREVIATION

Arrival noted, 11:30 P.M.
delivery normal, baby
prepared for agency, mother
released in two days, baby
to foster care, then
to adoptive parents.

No memories, save one,
a fall, bathroom, head
bleeding, black and white
floor tile, radiator harder
than child’s skull.

Now 70, the same person,
a lying mirror each day,
a small cemetery, West
Virginia, a headstone
a mother finally,
a life of mourning.

WASHING OUT

I wrote down the biggest
mistakes I made in life
on the backs of newly fallen
maple leaves, and carried them,
a fair number, to the river.

I cast them onto the water,
some quickly swept up,
a few lingering on a fallen
tree partially damming
the flow, waiting for this.

Most disappeared as
the water approached
the falls, cascaded over
on its way to the waiting lake
and then to a place unknown.

This was an act of catharsis,
for the maple, if not for me,
a freedom, not to bear
the burden of impending winter,
frozen still with regrets.

LISA, ONCE

A phone call, a lawyer’s clerk:
Can you tell me about Lisa Landesman?
I pause for that is a name I have
not heard in forty years, save
in a poem I once wrote,
now long forgotten.

She was my sister for two
or three weeks, adopted like I was,
and then Mike, my then father
dropped dead of a massive
heart attack and she was soon gone.

We were Federal adoptions, our
birthplace under Federal law, not
getting its own for two decades,
and her adoption wasn’t final so she
was re-placed and never replaced.

She won’t inherit as I will from
my cousin who died having no
siblings, spouse, children,
nieces or nephews, who left
no will, who left only kind memories.

SOPHIE

She maintained an aura of what she
imagined was elegance, a carefully
constructed persona carried out
in the most careful details.

Her furniture had slipcovers, lest
someone spill and mar the fabric,
a tea cart always at the ready
although I never saw her serve tea.

She spoke with carefully chosen
words, certainly not the vernacular
of the city, perhaps of London
where she had been born.

Those she met would never guess
that this was the same woman, who
on the death of her husband, wielded
a baseball bat in the liquor store
she operated in the heart of downtown,
one she had used on one occasion
once enough that the word got out.

STOIC

He will do it again tomorrow as he did yesterday and each day before that for as long as he can remember. He would like not to have to do it, but he knows he must, just as he knows the outcome will be almost the same, just the slightest of changes imperceptible from day to day. He doesn’t like the changes, and wishes he could reverse them. But although he has asked, the morning mirror says he cannot. And the mirror is not smiling.

STORY

You are still there. You have a patience that I will not know in this lifetime. I know I can always find you, even though you never reach out to me except in my dreams. There I tell you my life story and you listen intently. You have no need to ask questions, knowing I will tell the whole story in due time, And time is one thing you have that I, increasingly, lack. So I’ll be back for another visit soon and you will be waiting for me, mother.

UNKNOWING

Twenty years ago today
and there was no band playing,
at least not for me, for I knew
nothing of you yet, and you
knew nothing of me either.

I have met you since
in a moment of silence,
looking at a yearbook picture
knowing what was not, what
never was or could be.

I recite the Kaddish
even though my Judaism
has been laid to rest,
knowing what is, and
imagining what might have been.