SONNET TO A PORTUGUESE

You came into my life last week, your name
forever locked away inside her mind.
My life, she felt, would never be the same
and therefore left all thought of you behind.
You loved her, I suppose, that summer night
then left her, bearing me, until she turned
me over for adoption, that she might
forget the love that you so quickly spurned.
A Jew, she said, but would say little more
a father, Portuguese, is all I know,
who cast his seed, then left and closed the door
and me, the son, he never would see grow.
You left her life long before I was born,
the father I won’t know but only mourn.

First published in Minison Project, Sonnet Collection Series, Vol. 2, Sept. 2021

CHURCHES

I have already visited
countless churches

basilicas, shrines
and admired the art,

the simple beauty,
free of liturgy and belief.

I did not stop
to pray, to implead,

merely to see,
to listen, to absorb.

for I was a Jew.
a nonbeliever

in a Christian world
silently tolerated.

Now, I have learned
I was only half Jewish,

half, hidden a polyglot
of Christianity,

a descendant of saints,
and now churches

have a heavy weight
I find hard to bear.

INJECTION SEAT

Another day, another needle,
it is the cost of growing older,
I suppose, and does beat
the alternatives, but still,
I am growing tired of feeling
like an underappreciated pin cushion.

And please, it is not necessary
for you to smile while pushing
the needle into whatever
body part wins the prize
as that day’s recipient, leave
me to decide whether to smile.

And I’m not a child, so feel
free to dispense with the
“this is for your own good,”
if I didn’t know that do you
think I’d be sitting in this chair
having the imagined conversation?

FLIGHT

As a young child, I always imagined
myself a bird, poised to take wing
the next time my parents told me
I couldn’t do what I wanted,
to swoop around, out of their grasp,
until it was time for lunch or dinner.

Years later my dream was to be
a pilot, Air Force not Navy, I might
get seasick and that isn’t a sight
even I would want to see, until
I read Jarrell’s “The Death
of the Ball Turret Gunner,” and
the ground seemed a safer place.

Once in the business world, I
thought about some day retiring
young and seeing the world
on the cheap, Asia, Africa, Oceana,
and that lasted until the second
time I had to fly to Japan with
fourteen hours in a coach class
middle seat on a Boeing 747
when my backyard suddenly
became the future of my dreams.

A LITTLE DRUMMER

It seems less than fair that as a child
I was Jewish to the core, adopted, yes,
but certainly fully Jewish and not merely
by maternal lineage which would suffice.

Christmas was alien to me then, even
when I left Judaism behind, a shadow
that would follow me closely into
my Buddhist practice and life.

But DNA made a liar of so many,
my birth mother, the adoption agency
and my adoptive parents, for I know
my Judaism was only half of me.

So now I can enjoy Christmas
and other holidays, listen anew
to “The Little Drummer Boy”
and relish the irony of my new life.

For I have aged, as has my wife,
and when they sing “Do you hear
what I hear?” she sadly says
“not any longer I don’t” and then,

“Do you see what I see?” and I
must admit I do so only barely
and the doctors assure me that
soon enough I may say no as well.

CAREER CHOICES

We were certain then that we’d be
a success in life, that we’d drive
the kind of cars our fathers
only dreamed of as our mothers
chuckled about mid-life crises.

They spoke about sons and daughters
of friends who were doctors,
or at least lawyers, bemoaned
those who taught or held jobs
they called manual labor.

But we were going in a whole different
direction, we would eschew medicine,
reject law, for we would be titans
of retail, and one day we would have
too many lemonade stands to count.

WRITING MY STORY

With the stroke of a pen,
they enabled me to write the story,
gave a framework on which
I could hang all manner
of dreams and assumptions,
inviting a search I never
quite got around to making.

I wandered the beaches
of Estoril in my dreams,
stalked the avenues of Lisbon,
looking for a familiar face,
but found only ghosts.

With the stroke of a swab
inside my cheek, a vial
of saliva mailed, the story
came apart, and a new story
slowly unfolded, gone forever
was Iberia, replaced by Scotland
and Ireland, Wales, Norway
and Germany, and my dreams
were filled with the music
of the bodhran and Highland pipes.

THE HOUSE ON PEABODY

It was brick, red I am told.
on a quiet street not far
from 16th Street and its traffic.
It was small, but a good home
for a couple with a child or two
in the heart of the District.

I have no recollection of it,
save the tile, black and white
in the bathroom, the radiator
on which I hit my head,
and the front stoop, and that
only in the picture of me
in his arms, my father,
the man who adopted me
and later a baby girl, then
dropped dead one morning
of a massive coronary.
I have no recollection
of him, of the sister taken away,
or the house, but I mourn then all.

PICTURE THIS

Words failed him again. They did so ever more often it seemed, but it was possible it was merely that he was trying to express ever more complex ideas ideas in terms others would comprehend. A picture might not be worth a thousand words, but if you had that many, odds are some would be correct. And the listener could sort out which were and which were not. He had made up some words that fit perfectly, but they only drew stares, so he took to drawing pictures. Then he could attach his words and they would mean exactly what he was defining — picture dictionary that anyone could grasp. Well, not anyone perhaps, but most people if they would be the least bit patient. His friends had learned that patience, as he was patient with them in return. But his parents were another matter, never willing to slow down and really listen, always just searching for words that failed them.

LADDER

You have to stop and wonder,
the child said, why people
can take joy in killing, why
people can scheme each other,
why people can cheat if they can.

Birds, the child added, only
try and scheme people for food,
why they cheat for the sake
of cheating, kill for pleasure,
yet we say we are the higher species.

Perhaps, the child concludes,
it is we who are standing
on our heads, looking up
the species ladder, and we
are actually on the bottom.