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)

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CALLER

It’s Sunday, so I know, before long
I will have the nagging thought
that I should call my mother.
I’ve had this thought for years,
once acted upon it with regularity,
listened patiently for her weekly
list of things I needed to help her with,
since I never visited to do the work
with her standing over my shoulder.
I stopped the calls four years ago
because the dead make few demands,
and she didn’t bother to answer
except in the darkest hour
of my dreams.

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)

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AN OLD FRIEND

More than a bit ratty, would be
mildly putting it, near bald
almost everywhere, fully so
in far too many spots to count.

Eyelashes are minimal, hard
to see for their fineness, one
eye a bit out of focus, a faint
cloud covering its internal horizon.

You might say it is sad looking,
and no one, not even I would
argue with you, but what did
you expect really, time is cruel,

so in the morning mirror, my
childhood stuffed cat in hand,
we agree we wear our 67 years
on our sleeves and faces.


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ON MORTALITY

Death was never something we considered,
until that certain, ill-defined moment when
our immortality suddenly disappeared, and
in its place was a reality to be avoided.

Even once death became a shadow, always
lurking around us, we kept our face
toward the sun, so that death might
not be seen in the bright light of day.

When a sibling dies, it is always before
their time, before we are ready and
the death is anomalous, and one we grieve,
but as a cruel twist of fate not to be repeated.

Later death becomes a companion,
infrequent we hope, but ever present, and
all that is left for us is to consider which
is the less painful, the sudden departure
without warning or farewell, just gone,

or the slow erosion, a death mourned
during its process, a death of a thousand
goodbyes, until the last, and in the end
it becomes a distinction with no difference.


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

MOBIUS STRIP

You imagine tomorrow will arrive
without warning or notice, and even
though you are skeptical, you accept
the possibility, and if it doesn’t arrive
what are the odds you will miss it?
If, as expected, it arrives, what the hell, it
was supposed to do that so nothing is odd
about it, and if not, well you never
really expected it to, it’s the blessing
of a shortening memory, so you win either way.
And so you go on with today, and when
not if, tomorrow comes you’ll be there
since you will recall your doubt
and you’ll assume it is nothing more
than the fall of the next domino
in the perpetual parade.

WRITING MEMORY

It is well past time
I wrote a poem about
the great joys of my childhood,
for memory should bubble up
like lava through the crust of time,
they should rain in flashes
as so much matter dropping
into the atmosphere
in their ultimate light show.
This isn’t going to happen, of course,
whether because memory has
grown dim over time’s distance
or for lack of subject matter.
At 68, the difference hardly matters
for a blank page hardly cares
which pen chooses not to write it.