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.

AMD ODE

You didn’t have to go, you know
I did enjoy having you around,
and I am sorely missing you now.

They said the odds of you
leaving, of even planning a departure
were small, but what did they know.

They didn’t know that I
had traits that would make
your departure more likely.

They didn’t say that once
the word was uttered, a departure
was no doubt inevitable, a when not if.

I’d like to think you’ll come back
but everyone agrees you cannot
absent some sort of miracle.

But at least, for now, I still
have your twin, and I will treasure
him as long as I can see to do so.

CHRISTMAS

It isn’t my first Christmas
although almost so, that
part of me hidden for half
a century, its twisted discovery
filling a hole that I never
knew existed, yet always knew.

This is the strangest Christmas,
a time of gathering, now
in isolation, only pixels
and prayers on a too flat screen,
and it is hard, in times
of want and suffering, to recall
why we celebrate this day.

A child was born, and now
countless others will be,
and it is only the children
that recall his message, and
truly understand peace.

A LITTLE DRUMMER

It seems less than fair that as a child
I was Jewish to the core, adopted, yes,
but certainly fully Jewish and not merely
by maternal lineage which would suffice.

Christmas was alien to me then, even
when I left Judaism behind, a shadow
that would follow me closely into
my Buddhist practice and life.

But DNA made a liar of so many,
my birth mother, the adoption agency
and my adoptive parents, for I know
my Judaism was only half of me.

So now I can enjoy Christmas
and other holidays, listen anew
to “The Little Drummer Boy”
and relish the irony of my new life.

For I have aged, as has my wife,
and when they sing “Do you hear
what I hear?” she sadly says
“not any longer I don’t” and then,

“Do you see what I see?” and I
must admit I do so only barely
and the doctors assure me that
soon enough I may say no as well.

LIAR

It is a strange feeling to discover that you
have been made a liar by your own DNA.

For years I was Jewish to the core, half
at least Sephardic, Portuguese, and that
not merely extracted but fully blooded.

My diet at Passover expanded greatly,
no longer dictated by Northerners who
easily banned that which they did not grow.

But inquisitiveness got the better of me,
and I learned, and disbelieved, that only
half of me was Jewish, half a polygot
of other faiths, no Sephardic in sight.

It wasn’t as painful as you might imagine,
for I had given up my Judaism well
before the discovery, so what was lost
was no longer mine by claim or right.

It is strange feeling to discover that you
have been made a whole person by your DNA.

A TWISTED ROAD

Walking down the helical
road, untwisting as you go
you discover places
you never imaginged
visiting, nothing
like the path you
thought you knew well.

Stop and claim
your new heritage,
find yourself
on an alien map,
bury yourself in books
of new and ancient history.

Pause here and consider
a King of Scotland,
knights and lords,
in the far distance
know that you claim
a link to a man
so honored that he
died by hanging, but
was then beheaded
and drawn and quartered.

Too late to unswab
your cheek, so simply
enjoy your ride.

HISTORY

It was easier
having no history
of my own, borrowed
histories are easily discarded.

After a while, you
begin to think of the adopted
history as your own,
and no one doubts you.

I have a history now
countries woven into 
my DNA, always present
but never before seen.

It is mine, I passed it
along to my sons, and
although it grows weaker
it is a burden they cannot avoid

and one day, perhaps,
they will stop and consider
from where they came, and not
have to invent the answer.

ON LOSSES

By the way, the headstone is lovely,
designed by your niece, it pays tribute
to you as aunt, as sister, as friend.

I do wish it had said mother as well
but I know I’m the one secret you thought
would fit into a corner of the pine box,
buried with you, to be, like you, reclaimed
by the rocky soil of West Virginia.

Little could you have imagined that
a few cc’s of saliva could expose
what you so carefully hid, and you
were helpless to avoid it regardless.

My adoptive father, the second one,
slipped away slowly, dying before death,
under the living eyes of aides and nurses.

You just lived your life your way,
answered to yourself and perhaps God,
and decided it was time to go, needed
no permission, made no farewells,
and in that regard, I am one of the family.

PARENTHOOD

Two headstones
Name, rank, branch
of service, dates.

One New Jersey, one
Virginia, both Bittle
neither certain.

An email from
another Bittle, never
knew my father

but his was
William, and in
that moment,

James Owen became
a father yet again
and I complete.

And later still
a single picture
he in the back

row and the mirror
agrees that we
are truly family.

TIDAL SHIFTS

It’s difficult enough, Mom, that I
never got to meet you, to see your face
save in a college yearbook, to have
only a few relatives acknowledge
my existence despite the DNA test
that clearly links us, one to the other.
What makes it more difficult is
trying to figure out my heritage,
my geographic roots before our family
arrived in West Virginia, back
in the old country which for most
was Lithuania, but for some Poland
and still others Russia, as though
their village was loaded onto a horsecart
and dragged around Eastern Europe
always heading to the next pogrom.
Couldn’t our place have settled
on a country, rather than riding the tides
of the insanity the leaders then?