SHEEPISH

As a child, when I
had trouble falling asleep
my mother would trot out
the ancient saw and tell me
to just count sheep.

I tried to point out
to her that we lived
in an upscale suburb
and there were no sheep
for miles for me to count.

This hardly deterred her
and she repeated her
directions, in a stronger
tone of voice that she thought
brooked no argument.

I did try counting sheep
but still couldn’t sleep
given my congestion
and sneezing from what
I learned was a wool allergy.

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.

WORDS, WORDS, WORDS

My mother surrouned me
with books, “read, read”
she would endlessly say.

And if I had a question,
“Look it up, it’s why we
bought the encyclopedia.”

I became a voracious reader,
skilled at finding answers,
never stopping to think.

Now, years later, I know
why I had to read, why
I had to look things up.

What she never said, but
what she clearly meant was
I can’t be bothered now,

can’t be bothered most
ever, so be self sufficient
so I don’t have to mother.

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.

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.

UNTIL

I was the adoptee,
was the whole for years, until.

It is always the until
that is your undoing, was
mine when she
remarried, then two births.

I was one third then, never
again truly whole and when
she died I discovered
in her will I was only
one twentieth, and
then never even that.

I want to forget her,
forget them, deny
them, but all I
know how to do is forgive.

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.

STET-US QUO

The mind can be
a brutal editor, revising
history, rejecting memories
without a substantial rewrite.

My step sister, many years
dead remains five, that
young face engrafted
on the woman ravaged
by unrelenting cancers.

My first wife of 30 years
is mostly faceless, the
mental pictures and dreams
edited until only she
is unrecognizable.

And in moments of reflection
I am no longer adopted,
the step-siblings were,
but they are now
just like family, almost.

MAGIC MIRROR ON THE WALL

The face in the mirror this morning
was not mine, perhaps it was
that of my grandparents, all
I never met, having only
old and faded pictures that vaguely
resemble the mirror’s face.

It might be my parents, both
dead before I found them only
yearbook pictures and just possible
a vague similarity to the face
that i see in the mirror each day.

I tried to ask the mirror who
it was hiding in the glass, but
like most mirrors it was silent,
a sad reflection of its ilk, so
the old man peering out will
continue to be someone
that I have never met.

REAR VIEW MIND

I spent too much time looking
backward, looking into the past,
looking into the mirror
to frame a dream history
of my desires and fears.
He called one morning, left
a message, “Mother died,
more details will follow.”
A mother his by birth,
mine by legal act.
I should have felt stunned
anger, I said quietly to myself
he’s cocky, has issues, and went
about momentary mourning.
That is the psyche of the adoptee who
was never family, always an adjunct.
Later my antediluvian dreams
gave way under a torrent
of deoxyribonucleic acid rain.
She who I imagined in the mirror
took name, took shape from
and old yearbook, offered
a history, a family, a heritage.
When I knelt at her grave
she told me her story
in hushed tones, or was it
the breeze in the pines on the hill
overlooking the Kanawha?
I bid her farewell that day,
placed a pebble on her headstone,
stroked the cold marble
and mourned an untouched mother.