UNTIL

I was the adoptee,
was the whole for years, until.

It is always the until
that is your undoing, was
mine when she
remarried, then two births.

I was one third then, never
again truly whole and when
she died I discovered
in her will I was only
one twentieth, and
then never even that.

I want to forget her,
forget them, deny
them, but all I
know how to do is forgive.

REAR VIEW MIND

I spent too much time looking
backward, looking into the past,
looking into the mirror
to frame a dream history
of my desires and fears.
He called one morning, left
a message, “Mother died,
more details will follow.”
A mother his by birth,
mine by legal act.
I should have felt stunned
anger, I said quietly to myself
he’s cocky, has issues, and went
about momentary mourning.
That is the psyche of the adoptee who
was never family, always an adjunct.
Later my antediluvian dreams
gave way under a torrent
of deoxyribonucleic acid rain.
She who I imagined in the mirror
took name, took shape from
and old yearbook, offered
a history, a family, a heritage.
When I knelt at her grave
she told me her story
in hushed tones, or was it
the breeze in the pines on the hill
overlooking the Kanawha?
I bid her farewell that day,
placed a pebble on her headstone,
stroked the cold marble
and mourned an untouched mother.

FAMILY

You ask me to define what family is
and I tell you that I may be
the last person you want
answering that question, I
an adoptee who felt like
an orphan supplanted
by siblings who knew her womb.

But I do have an answer,
family is that insane person
who will drive six hours
to spend an hour with you,
family is the joy and aching
of your heart as they leave,
a bit of themselves remaining
deeply within your soul.

SUDDENLY MORTAL

I now struggle to remember just when
my childhood suddenly ended, when
I became mortal, and the childhood fears
were replaced by those of the real world.

It might have been watching the news,
the planes at Dover disgorging coffin
after coffin, each neatly flag draped until
the flag became a symbol only of death.

It might have been the first time a kid
on the playground at school called me
Jewboy and asked why I didn’t also
perish in the ovens with my Polish kin.

It might have been as they wheeled me
into the operating room, my fever 105
unsure of what they would find, I then
unsure I would be alive to learn about it.

It might have been that as an adoptee
I knew I never had the childhood
of my natural born siblings, I always
the outsider, mom’s words notwithstanding.

First Published in Cerasus Magazine (UK), Issue 3, 2021

THE HALF TRUTH

As a Jewish kid in a small city
I suppose I had it pretty good, enough
of us that I didn’t totally stand out,
and it helped living a single block
from the Jewish funeral home, some
just didn’t want to travel all that far
when the inevitable time came.

But we soon moved to the suburbs,
the shtetl neighborhood was gone,
and I was a Jewboy to more than a few,
so the Temple felt like a safe place,
setting aside all the OT stories
which were wholly unblievable.

I took a fair number of lumps
for killing Christ and all other
imaginary sins freely attributed.

I wish I knew then that as an adoptee
I was really only half Jewish,
and that the other half among
my distant kin were kings and saints
as well as a fair number of sinners.

FORMAL PROOF

First Proposition: You were put up
for adoption because your birth
parents couldn’t or didn’t want to raise you.

Second Proposition: We or I adopted you
because I wanted you and not another
and to give you the good life you deserved.

Argument: Given all of the possible
alternatives, you ought to be thankful
that we saved you from that other life.

First Fallacy: My birth mother feared
rejection for getting pregnant but would
have been a loving, educated parent.

Second Fallacy: My adoptive mother
had two children with her second husband
after they married, her children at last.

Opinion: You will he told that you are
one of the family, a coequal part inseparable
from and of the others, and the same.

Fact: You were made an orphan and
always will be one, and the best you can
hope for is to be just like family, a simile

that you know will always be a transparent
wall that you can never hope to climb
and which keeps you always separate.

ORPHAN

I was a foundling
wandering from Guinness Stout
to Ouzo and back,
in search of identity.
In Schul I would cry out
to Him asking, “Who am I?”
and He would answer,
“you are, you are.”
The balalaika
of my mother’s grandfather
sounded tinny,
a cacophony lost
in Oporto, Lisboa.
On the streets of Vienna
I thought I saw him, and ran
to find only shadows.
In villages along the Douro
he disappeared
into fields shorn
for winter’s approach.
The Capitol’s penumbra
found him laughing,
reflected in my mirror,
staring at my thinning hair
slowly whitening.
I was of all places
and of none until
on Glasgow’s streets
I walked his steps
and smelled the Clyde
and Talisker, his breath mine.

REFLECTIONS ON A FATHER NEVER KNOWN

The sun is obscured by half-lidded eyes.  We are standing together on a small beach.  Twenty toes are curled in the wave packed sand.  We are in Cascais, or perhaps Estoril. The waves spread their foam capped fingers through the rocks and cradle us.  He wants to drive down the coast, to see the boats at Sesimbra.  “The bay is calm there,” he says.

He is shorter than I expected.  Fathers are supposed to be tall, that’s their lot in life.  His face is burnished by the sun, the same sun against which he shields my forehead.  He knows I will tend toward leather.  He stands, hands resting lightly on his hip bones, in his sleeveless T-shirt.  A Gauloise dangles from his lip, its ash growing, until as he speaks, it breaks loose.  It skitters down his chest, a tiny sand crab in a manic dash for the rocks.  He imagines himself Errol Flynn.  He rests his hand on my shoulder, and stares out, beyond the waves, just past the horizon.  It is what he imagines a father would do.  He started to tell me of life in Lisbon, in the Diplomatic Service, as a Jewish businessman, a deckhand on a fishing trawler.  He was all of these things, he said, and none of them.

I walk slowly along the Avenida de Liberdade, toward the Praca do Marques de Pombal, staring deeply into the sun-creased faces of elderly men.  I stop for a coffee, sitting along the walk.  The old woman, at the finely formed wrought iron table, stares at me, I at her.  A smile crosses her lips as I lean toward her and ask “Tēm voce visto meu pai?”  She clucks, tilts back the small cup and snatching overburdened shopping bags, shuffles to the street, silent.  I walk through the park in the fading light.  turning to a middle-aged woman, her vast hips spread across the bench, “Mim estao procurando meu pai, voce via-o?”  She reaches inside her purse, slowly withdrawing a metal compact, its face reflecting the fire of the setting sun.  She opens it lovingly, thrusting it at my face.  “Eere,” she says in school drilled English, “eere.”  I stare into the mirror.