TRIPTYCH

A triptych hangs in the gallery of memory. Admission is by invitation only.

The first panel is a time fogged mirror into which I stare. The adopted image hides behind the tarnished silver. My adopted mother’s voice is heard from a hidden speaker: “You were named after my father.” I want to tape his picture to the glass, a face to share the empty space. She has no pictures, she says, he never liked being photographed, said it would steal his soul. She can barely remember him: “He died when I was five.” I ask questions. I need to know more about the giver of names. She falls silent, drawing in, secreting memory.

In the second panel a woman sits, fidgeting. She is a striking blond. I cannot see her as being sixty-one, though she is. I deny that I am fifty. As the Rabbis climb the few steps to the Bimah, she leans over. “You know,” Lois says, “just like you, I was named for your grandfather. She talks freely of herbalism, life in New York, places she wants someday to see. “It’s funny,” she whispers, “I’ve never seen a picture of him; like he had some kind of phobia of being photographed.” Outside the Temple she stands with my mother and sister, arms interlocked, embracing both. I snap the picture. I am not captured on the film. Lois and I drive back to my mother’s apartment, stopping at one of the unending lights on Wisconsin Avenue. She touches my hand: “You know there was one more person named after him, your other sister.” The light changes.

There is only a picture hook in the wall — not even the faint outline that marks the space from which a picture is removed, the wall beneath unbleached by the sun. Lisa, my my sister, like me adopted and as quickly withdrawn, left no outward marks. She is a footnote in my father’s obituary. She is cast off by family, an unmentionable. She is my mother’s deeply hidden scar.

I am repeatedly drawn into this room. It’s walls never change, the pictures periodically replaced. I need to visit, to assure myself of — what? Someday, too soon, this exhibit will close.

First appeared in Pitkin in Progress, Vol. 3, No. 1 (2002)

CALL AGAIN

You called again this morning, and,
as usual, long before I was awake.
You left no message, but you never do,
and I do wish you’d stay in one place

just for a while, it would make finding
you to speak with you much easier.
This morning you were in Azerbaijan,
and last week you called from Belarus.

Later today you called from New York
and this time actually left a message,
but, of course, you left it in Mandarin
despite my repeated requests you not do so.

I’m sure you will call again tomorrow,
or if not, the next day, and I’ll be interested
in knowing where you are, but to save you time,
please rest assured that I will not be able

to help you recover that vast sum of money,
or send you, the cousin I’ve never heard of, the funds
you need to get out of jail or the hospital,
but feel free to call anyway and, do have a nice day

WORDS, WORDS, WORDS

We are, he is convinced,
devolving into verbal neanderthals,
losing are ability to recognize
the linguistic tools that once
set us apart from other species,
or at least so we assured ourselves.
She knows that what truly sets us
apart from other species is the arcane
skill we have at being able
to convince ourselves that
delusion, firmly held, is fact.
Still, she cannot disagree with him,
simplicity is a too close cousin
to inanity, and nuance is the first
relative to be cast out. And so
with ever fewer words, we seem
to have ever more to say,
and speaking endlessly, say ever less.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

He is four, he announces
to all gathered at the extended family table
that he will be five soon, in January.
It is important that we know this
just as it is important that he sit
next to his cousin, for boys like he
should always sit next to cute girls
and sisters don’t count, everyone knows that.
Four people in his class have birthdays in January
And he tells us their names, we hoping there will be no quiz.
As I call him to get his food from the buffet
he turns to his father, and says,
“Josh, save my seat,” and smiles broadly.
He repeats this ensuring we have all heard.
When I ask him why he says Josh, not daddy,
he laughs and says, “Because it’s his name, silly,
like your name is Papa Lou, and anyway
he always calls me Charlie, not son.”

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.