FORWARD

As a child I was quite fond
of staring into the future
for hours on end, when
my parents told me
to get my head out of books
and go outside to play.

I never could see much
in my staring, thought
I was probably myopic
but my parents said I
couldn’t need glasses, they
cost far too much
for someone my age.

I realize now, now that
that future is mostly
my past, that I wouldn’t
have understood anything
I might have seen, had
I ever seen anything at all.

ORIGIN

I am told that I should write
about my origins, that is the stuff
that long poems are made of, or
rather the soil from which they bloom.

I have written about my birth mother
and visited her grave in West Virginia
seen those of my grandparents, met
a cousin, I’ve written all of that.

So its time to write about
my birth father, about the places
he was as a child, a young man,
where he is buried, dead long before

I discovered his existence, our link,
but I know nothing of Burlington,
or Camden and my passing knowledge
of New Jersey is limited
to Newark and its airport.

That is hardly the stuff of great poetry
or even mediocre memoir, so he
will be nothing more than a picture
of a gravestone in a national cemetery.

CALLING

In the dark heart of night
time is suddenly frozen,
the clock’s hands stalactites
and stalagmites, unyielding
denying the approach of morning,
leaving the sun imprisoned
under the watchful gaze
of its celestial wardens.

It is then you appear,
call out to me, beg me
be silent, not asking
the lifetime of questions
I have accreted, providing
my own hopes and
imagination for answers,
but you have faces, not
those of that weekend
but of other days, she
younger, in college, he
in a college yearbook
at a school he never attended
save as part of the ROTC
contingent of the Air Force.

I bid you farewell, finally,
and time again takes motion
and morning welcomes the sun.

KP

My younger step-siblings had it easy
once our father made seriouis money,
for then my mother decided we needed
a live in housekeeper, one who
could cook, clean and take care
of all those things domestic.

So my siblings had only to put
their dishes near the sink,
their laundry down the chute,
and keep their rooms marginally tidy.

I had missed most of that when
I was their age and father kept
us afloat with nothing to spare,
so I knew how to wash dishes,
how to run a load of laundry,
skills that served me well when
Uncle Sam gave me KP duty,
and waist deep in dishes and pots
I imagined how my siblings
might fare in that situation
for I needed a good laugh then.

HAUNTING

The ghosts of my birth parents
blow into my dreams as
so many white sheets torn
from the clothesline
by gale winds, fly over me,
at once angels and vultures
carrying off memories
created from the clay
of surmise and wishful thinking.

I invite their visits, frail
branches to which to cling
in the storms of growing age,
beginnings tenuous anchors
to hold against time, knowing
the battle cannot be won,
but take joy in skirmishes
not to be diminished
by an ultimate failure I
have long come to accept.

TO PROTECT THE INNOCENT

I am there, a classroom,
elementary or middle school,
Charleston, West Virginia
1930’s, girls in proper skirts,
saddle shoes, the old woman
at the front of the room,
first day of a new year.

“Jones”, a hand goes up,
“Murphy”, another rises slowly,
“Padlibsky, what kind
of name is that, Jew, or
some kind or Ruskie maybe?”
A small voice answers
Lithuanian, ma’am.

A scene that never
happened, a name changed
so that day the teacher
called out “Wells”
and she smiled and
quickly raised her hand.

First Published in Culture & Identity, Vol. 2, The Poet (2022)

A PERFECT STILLNESS

You lie there, perfectly still,
the morning breeze slides away
leaving the sun to stare down,
and the birds fall into silence. 

I gently touch the stone, feel
your cheek beneath my finger,
see your face, the college yearbook
photo all that I have of you. 

I speak silently to you, telling
of my sixty-seven years, of your
grandsons and great grandchildren
and I sense your smile, and a tear. 

Your parents are here, your
grandparents, sisters, brothers
and cousins, and I know give
you three generations more. 

It is time for me to go, but these
moments are the most I have
of you, and as I place my small stone
atop yours, I now have a mother.

First Published in Culture & Identity, Vol. 2, The Poet (2022)

MANDATORY, FOR NOW

They were not optional in our family,
once a week, half an hour, that and
at least 20 minutes daily, the youngest
got the choice of times.

He quit after a year, his sister
was three years in and went on another
and I was eight years staring
at the 88 keys, so many of which
would never get used, useless
as were the pedals I couldn’t reach
at first and rarely needed later.

It was upright, as I was supposed
to be, but only was in sight
of my teacher, and I thought
Bill Evans had it right, leaning
over the keys insuring that they
wouldn’t make an escape.

I stopped when my parents realized
how much they had spent
on what they would never enjoy
and I would as soon forget.

NYE

As a child, I only wanted
to stay up until midnight,
actually a bit after that time,
to see in the new year.

I didn’t need to be
at my parents’ party, it
was too loud and the adults
behaved more like my kid
brother and sister as
the magic moment approached.

And it was supposed to be
a magical moment, although
no one could tell me
why that was, or what
made it special other
than turning a page
on the calendar.

I no longer try
to stay awake until midnight
on New Year’s Eve
having long ago learned
I don’t’ want to be around
adults acting childish,
and knowing January 1
is no different than
December 31, save that
I will miswrite the date
on checks for at least a month.

ILL SUITED

My father wanted to take
me to buy my first suit, said
he knew a tailor who could
fashion one perfect for
my pending Bar Mitzvah,
a nice wool blend, he said.

Mother about threw a fit.
“Take him to the department
store or even Goodwill,
for God’s sake, he’s only
going to wear it once.”

My father had learned
that some battles are best
left unfought, so he
compromised and we went
to the men’s shop and I wore
that sport coat three times
before outgrowing it, and
donating it to Goodwill.