THE QUESTION

Even long after he had left
his childhood behind, or such
of it as he had actually had,
he could still stare up into
the night sky, at ceiling of stars
with more than a little awe.

And even though he had left
childhood behind, no one
had yet answered the one
question his parents ducked
time and time again, one
so simple a child knew
its answer, but asked anyway,
for validation or irritation.

If God created the heavens
why did He or She arrange
the stars so that people
could see in their order
other people, lesser gods
and all manner of animals?

PARKING

It is the difference I always notice
between small and large cities: the parks.

When you sit deeply within
Boston Commons or Central Park
you can feel the city always
threatening to encroach and
once again make you its prisoner,
smell and hear the city, traffic
and trucks rumbling, horns
played in a cacophonous symphony.

In small cities you can sit in a park
and wonder where downtown
could be, distant, a whisper perhaps
alwlays unseen, and you can
get lost in dreams of childhood
smell newly mown grass, and
listen unimpeded to the stories
the trees are all to willing to tell.

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

MASKING

The Air Force shaved our heads, was it
because of the heat of a San Antonio
summer or that we’ll all look equally like fools,
and easier for Sarge to maintain unit
cohesiveness in his rag tag band
of semi-successful Army avoiders.

Now we all wear masks and assume
we all look equally foolish, knowing
the virus cares nothing for cohesiveness,
and normal is insignia only to dreams
and at times life is shit on a shingle now.

We want our childhoods back, before
the war, before the barracks and bad
food, before expectations, and those few
imposed could be ignored at minimal
parental retribution, we want what
never really existed, it is our right.

We marched and sang “Suicide is Painless”,
never believed it for a moment, but now
we consider it in passing as we walk
down the shortening pier
into the ocean of darkness.

First published in Circumference, Issue 4, June 2021

READING LIST

A good friend, who we had
not seen in COVID time, visited
and we smiled when we saw
that she was reading Heidi,
catching up she said on a too
abbreviated childhood, one
sacrificed to circumstance

My grandson, soon enough
ten, says he is reading
Beowulf, though not the Heaney
translation, so there are two
more books on my books
you must read before you die list.

Despite reading regularly,
the list grows ever longer,
and I am beginning to think
that if I must  complete it,
it may be my best shot, my
only real shot at immortality.

GOING HOME

They say you cannot go home
again, although I have never
had occasion to meet them.

I’ve never been one to follow
the dictates of them, unless they
were my parents or spouse, and
in the case of my parents, often
not even when they demanded it,
so I went back to the home
of my childhood, a shockingly
new place as I remembered it,
setting the neighbors astir
as they saw it go up and out.

It, like I, am older now, but
seemed to have borne time
far more harshly than I.

I do sometimes have a gait
to accommodates arthritic knees,
move a bit slower than I
imagine, but the house seemed
to be looking for its cane
knowing it would soon enough
require a walker, and I knew
that while I could go home
I’d be happier if I didn’t.

FINITE LOOP

As it turns out, life
is an ongoing process of accretion
and deconstruction, of growth
and eventual shrinkage.

I started with 20 teeth
I am told, and got to 32,
only to fall back to 23
thanks to orthodontia and wear.

We start with 270 or more
bones, but we knit that number
down to 206, or in my case under
200, the orthopaedist’s handiwork.

And with time we progress
from diapers and being pushed
around to walking, running,
driving ourselves in many ways,

but in the end, for many of us,
we revert to childhood, but one
where the future is behind us,
and the past is that to which we cling.

LOWER FLAT, BUFFALO

It was a small house, that much
I still remember clearly, not wide,
what some called a railroad flat,
but ours had two floors, as if two
railroad cars had been stacked
one on top of the other.

We, luckily, had the bottom, or
at least that’s what my father said,
and his varicose veined legs applauded
his selection of our new home.

I was less convinced as Mrs. McCarthy
upstairs was a Reubenesque lady, that
was my mother’s term, her sons
were every bit as large, and they
seemed to walk about at all hours,
mostly over my room, leaving me to wonder
amid the creaking, when the ceiling
might suddenly blanket me.

That never happened, and I have no
idea what became of the McCarthy’s,
but I would have buried my father
last year if my step-brother had bothered
to give me the location of the body
in his text telling me of his death.

So I am again an orphan, but in
the process of building a new home
as wide as it is long, and with only
a single floor, and the birds have
promised to be tread lightly at night.

FATHERING

Recalling it now, the sight had to be absurd,
and I suspect it was at the time,
but as its beneficiary then. I dared
not say anything, I’d mastered that already.

My father in khakis and a poor excuse
for a flannel shirt, Goodwill no doubt,
but you had to have one just for occasions
like this, not that they would ever repeat,

struggling mightily to heft a bale of straw
from the roof of the Ford Country Squire wagon,
and haul it into the back yard, placed against
the wooden fence that backed the nursery.

He’d repeat this task two more times, using
language I knew well, but had never heard
him use before, wondering if my mother would
threaten to wash his mouth out with soap.

When the third bale was stacked, he pinned
on a target, and reaching into the trunk,
pulled out a fiberglass recurved bow, smiling
at me as he said, “I know it isn’t what you wanted,

but you are good at archery, the camp gave you
a prize for it, and a new three speed bicycle
isn’t something you need, the old Schwinn is fine,
and the BB gun you wanted is out of the question.”

WRITING MEMORY

It is well past time
I wrote a poem about
the great joys of my childhood,
for memory should bubble up
like lava through the crust of time,
they should rain in flashes
as so much matter dropping
into the atmosphere
in their ultimate light show.
This isn’t going to happen, of course,
whether because memory has
grown dim over time’s distance
or for lack of subject matter.
At 68, the difference hardly matters
for a blank page hardly cares
which pen chooses not to write it.