LIGHTS

For eight days each December
they call out to me as the flame
of the candles flickers out,
“Remember me” they say in unison,
“remember me”, in the voice of the child,
an old woman, in Yiddish,
in Polish, German, Czech, Latt.
I want to remember but I cannot see
a face reduced to ash, blended
into the earth of a farm field outside Treblinka,
the winter wheat remembers.
I want to remember but I cannot stroke
the head of a young man whose bones
mingle with his brother’s, countless others
sharing a mass grave, his skull
and brains painting the trunks
of a nearby stand of trees.
I want to remember but cannot hear
the sweet tenor of the cantor
whose tongue was torn from his mouth
for refusing to speak of the tunnels
beneath his once beloved Warsaw.
I want to remember the lavender scent
of the young woman, fresh from the showers
but there is only the stench
of putrid flesh and Zyklon,
of bodies crammed into the converted boxcar.
I want to remember the taste
of a warm challah on Shabbat eve
that she lovingly shaped
into a braid and pulled from the oven,
but her arms were neatly removed
by the surgeon before she
was cast naked into the Polish winter.
I want to remember them all,
their names in a memorial
but they are only numbers
tattooed onto endless arms.
The candles die and their voices
fall silent for yet another year.

First Appeared in Rattle, Issue 7, Summer 1997. Reprinted in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 29, No. 1, 2005.

A TWISTED ROAD

Walking down the helical
road, untwisting as you go
you discover places
you never imaginged
visiting, nothing
like the path you
thought you knew well.

Stop and claim
your new heritage,
find yourself
on an alien map,
bury yourself in books
of new and ancient history.

Pause here and consider
a King of Scotland,
knights and lords,
in the far distance
know that you claim
a link to a man
so honored that he
died by hanging, but
was then beheaded
and drawn and quartered.

Too late to unswab
your cheek, so simply
enjoy your ride.

HEAVEN, UTAH

We would sit around the small park
as evening made a hasty retreat
to somewhere, anywhere more lively
than Salt Lake City in the heart of summer.

We’d pass a jug of whatever was
cheapest at the state package store,
usuall Gallo this or that, and roll joints
which made their way around our circle.

The cops would drive by every once
in a while, and wave, and we’d
politely wave back and yell thanks
which brought a smile as they drove off.

In Salt Lake City, in 1969, there was
no drug problem, and you only drank
in private, or smirked at those who did
in this boring little corner of Mormon heaven.

KYOSEI’S STICK 鐵笛倒吹 六十四

If Kyosei asks
from where I have come
how will I answer him?
If he asks where
my teacher lives
what will I tell him?

Such a fool I am
to wander from there to here
from here to another place
seeking a path
on which I
am always standing still.
Thirty blows is
the least I deserve.
But Kyosei withdraws
the stick.

A reflection on Case 64 of the Iron Flute Koans

GRAMMATICALLY APART

What sets us apart
from other species
has little or nothing
to do with self-awareness
and everything to do
with parts of speech.

The birds outside
my window shun labels,
think only of eating,
mating, flight, of going
and arriving, of being.

They know nothing of birth,
do not fear death, for it
is merely a label they cannot
accept or understand.

It is left to our kind
to need to label, to define
every small and large thing
for we sense our existence
and must rely on two things,
for we knew that we live
a world of pronoun and noun.

TAILORING

My adoptive
grandfather 
could take bits
of cloth, 
a needle, thread
and with magicly
gnarled fingers
create a garment
fit for royalty, 
to be worn
by the old woman
living 
in the walkup 
down the street.

I take words
bits of ideas
and hope,
and with 
manicured fingers
create what
I can only hope
passes for poetry
to be ignored
by those
living nearby
in my suburb.