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?

MITOCHONDRIAL

I always imagined it would somehow
be romantic, not in the Hollywood sort of way,
but in an idyllic, picturesque manner,
even if that denied basic reality.
Reality, when it comes to origins discovered
is overrated, for the normal percolation time
is denied, and the impact is sudden
with no restraints to temper the blow.
Way back when, you learned by stories
told by the elders, who know, or led
you to believe they did without question,
who painted word pictures, drew out
fading photographs that barely seemed real.
You believed them because they knew,
knowledge directly proportional to their age.
For me it was the inside of my cheek,
a wait, and an email, and then news,
place names barren of detail, Lithuania.
Later, village names, and only then visions
of pogroms, of flight, of a desperate search
for freedom and West Virginia.
Details were added, but the picture
was monochrome, a barren, wordless
palette and no brush to be found.

FINDING

Even when I was briefly in Edinburgh
I dreamed of walking the streets of Lisbon
or Porto looking into the faces of older men
and wondering if this one was my father.
the father I had never seen, never known.
Was the one my Jewish mother described
in detail to the social worker who took me
from her shortly after she gave me life.
It is many years later, now, my mother
has a face, discovered in the twisting path
of a double helix, good West Virginia
Jewish stock, Lithuania left far behind.
I may someday visit Lisbon, I hear
it is a lovely city, but the faces will all
be alien to me, and there I will dream
of my day touring the Highlands
of Scotland, the Isle of Skye, and which
of the McDonald’s and McAllister’s might
be kin and which Tartan I can now
rightfully claim is my own.

THE VISIT

I have never visited
the grave of my mother,
either of them, which seems most odd
primarily to me.
The mother I never knew
until it was too late to know her
is buried in Charleston, West Virginia
a place i intend to visit, grave site included
in the coming months, to see
where my mitochondrial DNA was planted
and grew into the odd shape
that greets me in the morning mirror.
The mother i knew so well, who could always find
ways to frustrate me when I was certain she exhausted
every possibility is buried next to my sister,
placed there by my brother who couldn’t quite
get the funeral together, at least not the one
she would have appreciated, with the near famous
all pump, never the right circumstances
so into the ground she went.
I will visit there too, someday perhaps,
but helical gravity will always
pull me to the Mountain State.