He always paid passing attention to the coconut palms.
It wasn’t that they were so attractive as to merit attention.
Quite the contrary, they were remarkable ordinary as palms go.
But he knew that if the drivers here didn’t get him,
a ill-timed coconut leaping from a palm
would be pleased to do the job.
And that was just too horrid a way to go.
He could see the obit: “Killed by an angry coconut
whose natural gravitational journey
he had the temerity to interrupt.”
She is a small woman
dressed in white, save for black
platform slingback pumps
and cherry red eyeglass frames.
She hunches forward in her seat
seeming as though she might collapse,
pouring over tables and graphs –
biochemical research papers.
You measure the depth of her attention
by the frequency with which she pulls
single strands of hair from her banded ponytail,
strokes them gently, then, as if noticing they
have gone astray, tries to tuck them back in.
She pauses this ritual only to annotate
the paper’s margins in mechanical pencil
in a small, cramped hand, barely legible.
You know she has reached the paper’s conclusion
when she strokes that soft space
between those in upper lip
as though a teenage boy hoping
one day soon to grow a mustache.
You were born 128 years ago,
not a long time in the history of the planet
and a blink in the life of the universe
but two good lifetimes on the day
you came into the world, not knowing
what would become your place in it.
We celebrate you today, as we celebrated you
during your life, a rare feat for it
is usually one or the other, either
reason enough to have lived.
I still recall the great windows,
the larger-than-life paintings
that brought Moses into my age,
and I imagine you recalling the stories
you learned at the feet of your grandfather,
so I practice what I will tell my grandchildren
of the immense passion of the small museum
tucked away on a hill overlooking Nice.
In any half respectable pub in Galway,
and in Ireland the county of place
hardly matters, when enough pints
have been passed, and night
grows thick, even such as I, claiming
to be part Irish, claiming two left feet,
can feel the ceili deep within, and step out
on the floor to do what I think is a jig.
And when I am quite done, a fresh pint
of Guinness in hand, I can expect a clap
on the back from one and all, smiles
and the suggestion that I am probably Scottish.
None of this will matter the next morning,
as the fog lifts over the Claddagh, and
my brain, and I will write the evening off
as but one more joyous memory of home.
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.
In Hawaii I could stare for hours at a taro field,
the bent back of a farmer, and the same a gentle fold
of spine I saw from the Shinkansen, Tokyo to Osaka
amid the fields of yellow, later rice in some bowl
perhaps even mine, or in Antwerp as the chef
patiently picked over the trays of mussels in the market
knowing just which would suit his needs, all having
a remarkable sameness to my eye and nose.
On the road just outside San Juan, near the beach
with surf-able waves, the woman stood bent in the heat
over a 50 gallon drum turned stove, cooking the pork
tucking it into the dough and placing it in the fryer oil
smiling through her few remaining teeth, offering pies
that we dared not resist, knowing the sea
would soon enough be our willing napkin.
This morning, as I took my slow walk
to the coffee shop, a jay sitting on a rusting fence
stared at me for a bit, not unnerving,
persistent, and I imagine him thinking
of taro, rice and fresh cooked pies.
The vines cling to the hillside,
the small buds soon yielding fruit
but now simply soaking up the spring sun.
You dream the grapes are fat,
the deep purple orbs holding in their Syrah,
Grenache, Mourvedre, and you only wish
it would wash down the hillside
and stain the sometimes fetid River.
The boats flow up and down river
with a metronomic regularity.
The guides march their charges
along cobbled streets hoping some
will retain the great wisdom they impart,
by long, practiced rote, wishing
for the few euros measure of worth.
Along the seawall in the ancient town
two swans stare at the spectacle parade
and offer blessings to the sky God Cygnus
that they are fortunate enough not to be human.