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.

SLIP SLIDING AWAY

Merriam-Webster declared me an orphan
yesterday morning, when my father
slipped away from his morphine dreams.
Some would argue I cannot be an orphan
at my age, that is a sanctuary reserved
for children, but I am long past
admitting my age, and my behavior
gives no lie to my claim of childhood.
I will continue to miss him, for his dementia
stole him memory by memory over the years,
and I was left to fill the void
with stories of my childhood, remembered
and imagined, to him there was no difference.
I can now fully mourn my birth mother,
gone for years before I found her, and
my birth father, who I can now claim and
at the same time assume dead, more
a commentary on my advancing age
than any reflection on him, save
in the mirror and the faces of my grandchildren.
And now the two men who adopted me
and the woman they really wanted,
and I are no longer part of the same package.

INTO THE SOIL

When did we stop being of the soil
and begin to fear it, to tell our children
not to touch the ground, it is dirty when
once it was only dirt, and we
put it in our mouths, from time to time
trying to drive our mothers crazy.
She says if you are going to plant
wear gloves, and when she walks away
I pull them off of my hands and plunge
fingers into the turned and dampened soil.
This, I am convinced, is how it is
supposed to be, how nature intended,
before designer dyed mulch, rubber mulch,
before we became the robots
our parents’ sci-fi writers anticipated.
Later, in the shower, scraping the dirt
from beneath fingernails, I watch
as it flows reluctantly down the drain
I bid farewell to that bit of my childhood
but I swear I won’t deny my grandchildren.

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.

CHANNELING

I am swimming strongly, easily
my strokes powerful, gliding
over the waves that seemed to collapse beneath me.
The water is surprisingly warm
not the frigidity I expected, more
like a now tepid tub, but left too long.
I can glance up and see the other side
and it is approaching rapidly.
This will be over too soon, I fear
all of the preparation and doubt
falling away as I step onto the shore.
I no longer see why swimming
this Channel is such an accomplishment,
it seems almost pedestrian, like
making it across the above ground pool
that killed a circle of my parents lawn
when I was a child, but things do always
end up being far easier in my dreams.

NO HAMLETS, WE

We were the crown princes, then,
with an occasional princess, though
that was more to maintain the peace.
Our kingdom was a square block,
and we dominion over all of our territory
save the two minefields, well-marked,
kept by the Strauss and Herlihy fiefdoms,
who refused to pay homage to us,
denied us our just due, and suffered
such consequences as we could muster
in the dark of a late October night.
We four, Larry, Buddy, Sheldon and I
roamed our kingdom, and one day,
drunk with power and Nehi, scaled
the border masquerading as a fence
and entered the neighboring kingdom,
cavorting until its army of one
chased us away with a shout, “It’s
a private school and you don’t
belong here,” before hobbling back
into the building he was far
too black to enter save in uniform.
We are old now, have long since
abdicated our thrones and struggle
only to retain our memories.