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.

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.

ERSE WHILE

Growing up, I never imagined
that I was Lithuanian, I mean I
might have as easily been from Mars.

And it was only in my dreams
that Gaelic was an ancestral tongue,
not one my ancestors spoke,
at least those who hadn’t yet
made the unthinkable move
to Norfolk and the frigid sea.

Now I am all of those, and I know
that blood is a bond that is strong
even if it lies dormant half
a lifetime, for when you find it
it ties you to a world which
you imagined only in your dreams.

NEATNESS COUNTS

Ice, he said, is clearly an invention
of Satan, the ice cube a scaled down
version of that corner of hell of which
no one ever speaks, so little known.

And stop and think, we got by well
for eons without a cube of ice, unless
with blade we chipped it from
a nearby glacier or left water out
in the dead of winter, which never
worked all that well in much of the world.

Whiskey, that was one of our best
innovations, one of which we are
rightfully proud, one which we
have practiced for untold generations.
We’ve been sipping it and drinking it
from the word go, and each culture
has come up with its own version,
and it is only recently that the devil
gave us the means of denigrating
one of God’s greatest gifts to us.

God, mother told us, prefers things
neat, as they were intended, so clearly
ice is the Devil’s work. Turn away!

THE RUNES

Here, in these unmown fields
where the morning mists gather
once stood the ancient chieftain
his clan assembled about him
staring into the distant trees
under the watchful eye of the gods.
As the October winds blew down
from the hills, they strode forward
blades glinting in the midday sun
ebbing and flowing until the moon
stood poised for its nightly trek
and they stood on the precipice
of exhaustion counting fall brethren
sacrificed to the blade of the claymore
for glory of clan and entertainment of gods.

On these tired fields no chieftains stride
and the mists no longer wrap the boulders
left to mark nameless graves of kin.
These are now ill sown fields, lying
in the wasteland between chiefs who sit
in silent bunkers, clansmen gathered
to retell the tales of glory long vanished, to come.
In these fields they till the begrudging soil
and beg the gods for meager growth.
As the moon begins its slow journey skyward
they pause to count the craters torn
into the rocky soil, and gather the bones
of those newly fallen, sacrificed to the wrath
of the claymores, the entertainment of the gods.


First Appeared in Main Street Rag, Vol. 7, No. 1, Spring 2000.

A PEN FOR YOUR THOUGHTS

It has a certain heft
that says something substantial
lies within, waiting to be freed.
It glides easily, suggesting an
effortlessness you know is a tease,
that labor still waits.
Still, it does said comfortably,
is appealing to the eye,
has the deep jade greenĀ 
along its barrel, the knots interwoven
top and bottom that say what lies
within cannot be easily unraveled.
As you draw it across the page
you hope that somewhere in Neamh
old Robbie will look down on you,
smile and share a thought or two,
but that you know, is for another day.

THE LADIES

It is an ungainly beast
and its cry, as much a bleat
as a roar, can pierce the air
and is never easily ignored.
There are far larger to be found,
and far more beautiful.
Some have voices that melt anger
incite passion, alleviate pain.
Some sing in a register so low
touch and hearing are merged.
Even this beast has its smaller kin,
gentler, if not ever soothing,
happy to fill a room, not a universe.
But the great beast has
always known its place,
held in the arms of and cradled
informal procession, carried
forward into battle by
the so-called Ladies from Hell.

FINDING

Even when I was briefly in Edinburgh
I dreamed of walking the streets of Lisbon
or Porto looking into the faces of older men
and wondering if this one was my father.
the father I had never seen, never known.
Was the one my Jewish mother described
in detail to the social worker who took me
from her shortly after she gave me life.
It is many years later, now, my mother
has a face, discovered in the twisting path
of a double helix, good West Virginia
Jewish stock, Lithuania left far behind.
I may someday visit Lisbon, I hear
it is a lovely city, but the faces will all
be alien to me, and there I will dream
of my day touring the Highlands
of Scotland, the Isle of Skye, and which
of the McDonald’s and McAllister’s might
be kin and which Tartan I can now
rightfully claim is my own.

DACHAIGH

Even when I was briefly in Edinburgh
I dreamed of walking the streets of Lisbon
or Porto, looking into the faces of older men
and wondering if this one was my father,
the one I had never seen, never known.
the one my Jewish mother described
in detail to the social worker who took me from her
shortly after she gave me life.
It is many years later, now my mother
has a face, discovered in the twisting path
of a double helix, good West Virginia
Jewish stock, Lithuania left far behind.
I may someday visit Lisbon, I hear
it is a lovely city, but the faces will all
be alien to me, and there I will dream
of my day touring the Highlands
of Scotland, the Isle of Skye, and which
of the McDonald’s or McAllister’s might
be kin and which Tartan I can
rightfully claim as my own.

DISCOVERING ME

They were always almost mythological,
heroes of a people I could only
imagine as my own, knowing I came
from a far different place, one
of shtetls and pogroms, of seaside
villages, the beaches of Cascais.
It was half a lie, but I couldn’t
know it then, couldn’t guess
my dream was reality, my reality
a dream torn away by DNA.
In a moment my unknown Portuguese
father was unborn, replaced
by a faceless man of Celtic
soil who marched to the piper
highland or uillean, the bodhran,
who stood alongside Pearse
and Connolly, Bonnie Charlie,
and a century on, I’ll lift
a pint of Guinness in their honor,
take a wee dram of Talisker
and whisper Slainte to
the unknown generations
that brought me here.