STET-US QUO

The mind can be
a brutal editor, revising
history, rejecting memories
without a substantial rewrite.

My step sister, many years
dead remains five, that
young face engrafted
on the woman ravaged
by unrelenting cancers.

My first wife of 30 years
is mostly faceless, the
mental pictures and dreams
edited until only she
is unrecognizable.

And in moments of reflection
I am no longer adopted,
the step-siblings were,
but they are now
just like family, almost.

REAR VIEW MIND

I spent too much time looking
backward, looking into the past,
looking into the mirror
to frame a dream history
of my desires and fears.
He called one morning, left
a message, “Mother died,
more details will follow.”
A mother his by birth,
mine by legal act.
I should have felt stunned
anger, I said quietly to myself
he’s cocky, has issues, and went
about momentary mourning.
That is the psyche of the adoptee who
was never family, always an adjunct.
Later my antediluvian dreams
gave way under a torrent
of deoxyribonucleic acid rain.
She who I imagined in the mirror
took name, took shape from
and old yearbook, offered
a history, a family, a heritage.
When I knelt at her grave
she told me her story
in hushed tones, or was it
the breeze in the pines on the hill
overlooking the Kanawha?
I bid her farewell that day,
placed a pebble on her headstone,
stroked the cold marble
and mourned an untouched mother.

CHEMICAL REACTION

Korean and Basque are orphan languages
although linguists prefer the term
language isolates, which sounds
almost chemical, as though some
reaction resulted in a linguistic
sediment, or distillate perhaps.

If that is the proper term I
suppose I was a human isolate,
which actually makes some sense,
even after adoption, for I would
learn years later from my
step brother that I was
isolated from the family, “just
like a brother, just like
one of us,” just not one
of them ever, just an isolate
and I now comfortable with that.

A PERFECT STILLNESS

You lie there, perfectly still,
the morning breeze slides away
leaving the sun to stare down,
and the birds fall into silence. 

I gently touch the stone, feel
your cheek beneath my finger,
see your face, the college yearbook
photo all that I have of you. 

I speak silently to you, telling
of my sixty-seven years, of your
grandsons and great grandchildren
and I sense your smile, and a tear. 

Your parents are here, your
grandparents, sisters, brothers
and cousins, and I know give
you three generations more. 

It is time for me to go, but these
moments are the most I have
of you, and as I place my small stone
atop yours, I now have a mother.

First Published in Culture & Identity, Vol. 2, The Poet (2022)

FAMILY

You ask me to define what family is
and I tell you that I may be
the last person you want
answering that question, I
an adoptee who felt like
an orphan supplanted
by siblings who knew her womb.

But I do have an answer,
family is that insane person
who will drive six hours
to spend an hour with you,
family is the joy and aching
of your heart as they leave,
a bit of themselves remaining
deeply within your soul.

BLACK HOLE

The universe is populated
by an as yet unknown
number of black holes,
points of hyper-
density whose gravity
is so great that
anything getting
too close can
never escape,
or so we were
originally told.

Hawking suggested
there is hope
for escape, some
energy close
to the event
horizon may
radiate back
into the universe.

In the black
hole that was
my family,
I, luckily, proved
to be that
escaping energy.

NEVER, STILL

I know what you did not tell them,
that much I could learn for myself,
but what did you tell them? I know
you were full figured, I think that
is the acceptable term, once it was
Reubenesque, but someone
must have noticed something.

Maybe those at work, sitting at their
terminals didn’t notice, you came
and went, few friendships perhaps,
but you were close to the family, they
must have suspected, though you
told the agency no one knew,
certainly not your partner in that act.

It won’t change anything, best since
you took the answer to your grave,
the one I visited to greet you
and bid you farewell, the least
a son can do for the mother
he never got the chance to know.

GIMME A HUG

It seems odd, as I am not
a hugger by nature,
I love trees and hug
familially but aside
from family, hugging
just is not something
I ever did.

Now, when hugging
is a potential death
sentence if finished
I see many around me
all at a safe distance
and feel a strong desire
to embrace some,
knowing they would
welcome my arms.

When this is over,
when distance is
something we keep
by choice, and hugging
is no longer risky
I will, I am sure,
be a non-hugger again.

I’LL BE SEEING YOU

We live in a zoom world, one we never imagined, and one for which we will never be prepared. But it is our life now, friends and family reduced to pixels, voices disembodied.  They tell us this is the new normal, although what is normal about it is beyond logic and comprehension. We believe deeply that we are interconnected, curse when that connection is dropped by our technology. We cannot survive without our electrons and pixels, for that is where people exist. Every man is an island now, isolation is a perpetual state. And, hey, we should get together soon. I’ll send a meeting number and password.

FINDING PEACE

It wasn’t lost on me, mother, that this year
on the anniversary of death, you had been gone
eighteen years, Chai in your beloved Hebrew,
a lifetime for me, having never met you
save in the half of my genes you implanted
in me when I was implanted in you.

As you aged, alone, did you wonder what
became of the closest family you had after
your parents were interred in the soil of Charleston?
Did you ever regret not knowing, or were you
comfortable that the Jewish Family Service Agency
would make a selection of which you would
have approved had your approval been sought.

You have grandsons and greatgrandchildren
who will mourn me, carry my memory forward,
but know that I do the same for you, and you
never aged a day from that one when the photographer
took your college yearbook photo, a grainy
copy of which is tucked in my wallet and heart.