A CHILDHOOD

I have fond memories
of a childhood I never lived.
Those are the best childhoods
from for they reflect life as you
meant it to be lived.
In this life my father
is in his late nineties,
still smiles when he sees me, not
didn’t clutch his chest
sixty-one years ago,
didn’t fall to the floor,
didn’t leave me half
an orphan again,
doesn’t live only
in the periphery
of my dreams.

UNKNOWING

I don’t know what
                                               I am, the Buddha said.

I don’t know why
                                                my mother gave me up at birth
                                                or how many cousins walk
                                                                    the streets of Lisbon
                                                or where I lost my first tooth
I don’t know what
                                                became of the nickel
                                                or why the tooth fairy was so tight
                                                or who will wash the blood
                                                                    from the streets of Basra
I don’t know how
                                                my Walkman eats batteries
                                                                    like Hostess Twinkies
                                                or why fungus grows underground
                                                or why the Somali child stares through
                                                                    starving eyes
I don’t know why
                                                my dough rises, only to fall mockingly,
                                                or why forced to eat matzoh, the Jews
                                                                    didn’t go back to Egypt
                                                or why I poke my sore knee to insure it hurts

I don’t know
                                                my birthright name.


First Appeared in Children, Churches and Daddies, Vol. 141, October 2004.

PATER INCOGNITA

He often comes to me in dreams.
In most he is faceless, but intently present,
speaking in a voice I instantly know,
nothing like mine and totally mine.
On occasion his face appears, blurred,
as if seen through a scrim, back-lit,
vague, an actor in some film I have seen,
but yet not that person, that character.
For a while I saw my own face, but I knew
that was just my wishful mind filling in a gap
which has yet to be filled, knowing
that it likely never will.

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.

UNTO TARSHISH

In this place
there is a fatted,
sacrificial silence.
It is the large
Jewish Cemetery
nestling the road
where Maryland
and the District are loosely
stitched together.
It is a small plot
goldenrod dirt
outskirting Lisbon.

This ground is sacred
not for the blessing
of one who
has taken the tallit
of holiness.
The sanctity of this
ground leaches
from the simple pine
boxes that return
with the body
to the soil.

The stones, mostly simple
with neatly incised
Hebrew inscriptions
are all blank
to me, worn
smooth by memory
denied.

I place my ear
carefully to each, wanting
to hear a voice,
a fractured whisper
that will resonate
in the hollow spaces.

I pass by those
with shared names
for if he or she is here
each must share
the isolation
they willed me.
I look
at the faces
of passing mourners —
none resemble
the morning mirror.

I grow tired
of the search, sit
in the paltry shade
of the ricinus plant
knowing we both will
be gone by sundown.


First Appeared in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 29, No. 1, 2005

WHISPERED SONG

“Oh, Woman who walks in beauty like the night
I am a friend who is distant and silent.” — Dineh Wind Prayer

We always sat
on the back bench seat
of the Collins Avenue bus,
stared out the big window,
noses pressed
against the cool glass,
stared at the procession
of stucco hotels,
simple neon signs,
lines of cars and
bathing suits.
My mother working
late into the night and
Beck, eternal friend
who buried her children
only to become a surrogate
mother to an orphaned son.

Beck would stroke
my forehead. At night
when the room was lit
by lightning, she cradled me
shielding my eyes
with sagging breasts
that had nursed three
daughters into womanhood,
later into the grave.

Beck whispered to me
in a mother’s voice —
my mother spoke
in another voice. I
stroked her wattled arms
watching the pouch
of skin swing gently.
Looking at my mother now
it is often Beck’s lips I imagine
kissing my cheek, “Aunt”
Beck, and not my mother
who still casts
disapproving glances
at failed attempts
at machismo, Beck’s
sparse gray hair
that rests on my shoulder.

I was Beck’s last
surviving child
a fourth daughter.
I am the last
to say Kaddish
to remember her
at Yizkor.

In the early morning
mirror, my eyes slowly
ceding sleep, my lover’s
sweat still beaded on
my arm, her taste lingering,
I see my beard fall away,
my skin is smooth, childlike,
my chest hair fades
replaced by nascent breasts,
testicles recede, hair grows
long, auburn, Beck’s face
as it once had been,
as it appeared
in the faded photographs,
stares back at me.

I am mute, wanting
her to draw me against
her shoulder, to make me
again – for a moment –
the fourth daughter
and not the son
she never had.
Next week I will go
to the aging schul,
I will sit among
the women, away
from dovening men, head
covered by the tallit.
I will sing
Kaddish to her.


First Appeared in Vent, Issue 1, 2003.

FIRST TIME

It looks perfectly normal, the kind
of restaurant you would seek out
on a Friday night in a distant city.
The people look like those you know
or could know, those from home for instance.
She is not remarkable, blonde, older,
a slightly twisted smile, blue eyes,
but on meeting there is a sudden distance
as though this is not a normal world,
certainly not the world where
you first met a cousin, and you have
a nagging feeling, which grows during the meal
that one of you is an alien, an avatar
from some other world, parallel perhaps,
and this reality is anything but, although
the pennette is quite remarkable.
Would you meet your first true relative at age 62
you know that while blood may be thicker than water,
it also congeals just as easily.