ANCESTRY

Children have an innate sense
of their ancestry.
I was a child of the city
it’s streets my paths, always
under the watchful eye
of my warden – mother.

Dirt was to be avoided
at all possible cost,
so I never dug my hands
into the fertile soil of my
village in the heart of Lithuania,
or tasted the readying harvest
that dirt would remember.

I never stole a nip of poitin
only the Manischewitz which,
in our home, masqueraded
as wine fit for drinking. It is only
now in my second childhood
that the ancestry very deep
in my DNA has finally found
purchase in my mind and soul.

ALIVE IN THE NIGHT

I walked the city
in the heart of the night,
street lights casting the shadows
of ghosts of those long gone
to bed, unknowing
that the city has been
given over to ravening winds
that find no shelter.

I step into an alcove
and the fading light
of the flickering bulb overhead
urges me to move on
lest she bury me
in the darkness of her grave.

By day, this will all
be gone into hiding,
finding shelter we cannot see
and we forget that
when night again returns
the ghosts will dance
wildly in these streets.

ENFORCED SILENCE

The city is a ghost town,
the ghosts peering warily
from windows they now
wish they had taken
the time to have cleaned,
and now there is time
and no one to clean.

They fear the silence,
cannot fathom the smell
of the air, something
faintly like a cool morning
from their suburban childhoods.

They have found pots,
pans cast aside or used
for any purpose other
than cooking, and food
created by their hands,
from mother’s recipes recalled
has now appeared.

They want the noise,
the odors, the cheap
take-out places and fine
restaurants back, their
lives, but pause and are
thankful they are still
here and able to want.

First Published in Adversity, Vol. 1, The Poet, 2021

“Geography”

People of the mountain
are quiet, some say taciturn
preferring to listen for the cry
of the eagle, wind whistling
its familiar tune through a pass
snow rent from the face
tearing down in a crystalline cloud.

People of the shore
merge with the song
of the waves, feel its tempo
punctuated by the bark
of the whale, the horn
anchored in the harbor,
the tavern disgorging
its nightly catch into the streets.

People of the city
stare at the bleakness
of the stone monolith
torn from the earth
white tipped peaks barren,
and the endless wash
of the sea, licking
at land and retreating
an ill-trained pup
but mostly at the ground
lest it slide from beneath them.

First publshed in Lighthouse Weekly, January 17, 2022
https://www.lighthouseweekly.com/post/geography-and-santa-cruz-wharf-september

GUIDEBOOK HELL

When did we decide we needed
a manual for everything, a field guide
to living, tour books piled high
before we leave on a trip,
having meant to read them
and dragging one or two along
to study when we get there?

Ask yourself what you might
have seen in some foreign city
with the time you spent
head buried in a tour guide
learning what someone else
thought was important for you
to see or do, what you might
have stumbled across
just wandering the streets.

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.

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.

DRINKING TEA IN KABUL*

Rockets flash briefly
across the chilled sky,
plumes of smoke, ash
carried off
by impending winter.

Over the lintel of the entry
to the Inter-Continental Hotel Chicago,
carved deeply into the marble
Es Salamu Aleikum
staring implacably
through ponderous
brass framed doors
onto the Miracle Mile.
Countless guests
pass below it
unseeing.

My son and I
sit across a small table
spilling bits of tapas
onto the cloth,
laughing lightly
at the young boy
bathed in a puree
of tomato, his shirt
dotted in goat cheese.
My son explains
the inflation of the universe,
gravitational waves
cast off
by coalescing binary
neutron stars.
His words pull me
deeper
into my seat.
We speak somberly
of the jet engine
parked haphazardly
in the Queens gas station
unwilling to mention
265 lives
salted across
the small community.

We embrace
by his door, the few
measured hours run.
He turns to call
his girlfriend,
I turn my collar up
against the November night.

The Red Line train
clatters slowly back
into a sleeping city.
In my room
I brew a cup of Darjeeling.

*”We will drink tea in Kabul tomorrow morning, if God wills it.” – Basir Khan, Northern Alliance Commander, quoted in the Chicago Tribune, 13 November 2001.

First appeared in Hearsay, 2004 and in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008).

DUST AND ASHES

Between Scylla and Charybdis
they cower amidst the ruins
fearful to look skyward
lest they encourage
the rains of hell.

Now and then they visit
the corpses, hastily buried
grief drowned by the sound
of the laugh of the gunner
peering down from the hills.
It is always night for the soul
and lookout must be kept
for Charon, who rides
silently along the rivers of blood,
that flow through her streets.

In the great halls,
far removed from the horror,
self-professed wise men
exchange maps
lines randomly drawn,
scythes slicing a people.
They trade in lives as chattel,
reaping a bitter harvest,
praying there may only be
but seven lean years.

They offer a sop to Cerberus,
three villages straddling the river,
but the army of the hills
knows they will take that and more
and waits patiently for the winter
when the odor of sanctity
no longer arises out of the city
to assail their nostrils
and Shadrach is
no more than a ghost.

First Appeared in Living Poets (UK), Vol. 2, No. 1, 2000.

TIMELESS

The wonder of clocks in old towns and cities
is that few actually care if the time
they portend is accurate or an approximation.

The importance often seems inversely
proportional to the size of the place in which
it is called upon to render a temporal verdict.

Best of all are the clocks whose hands
have ground to a halt, or gone missing,
for they are the philosophical seers,

sent to remind us that time is our construct
and in the grand scheme of things
exists only because we demand it to do so,

and long before the clock we got along
sufficiently well by being always
and forever in the present moment.