When I die, my friend Larry said one morning in the third inning of a double header of stoop ball, I want to be burned, not that I intend it to happen any time soon, but when it does. They burned my grandfather I think it was Dachau, but unlike him, I want to kick some ass before it happens. Just let them call me Jew boy I’d like to hear the sound of their balls imploding up into their bladder. They burned my grandmother too, years later, until all that was left was the cancer eating her stomach, but I want to be burned in an oven set up properly for the job, my ashes cast into the wind or maybe in the infield of Buffalo’s War Memorial Stadium if Luke Easter is still playing first base for the Bisons. It was only two days later that Larry tripped on the curb outside the variety store on the way home from school and later that day they took his kidney and laid it, all bloody within, on the steel tray. When he came home his mother said he had to be careful when you have only one kidney you can’t fool around and you certainly want to avoid the strain that comes from kicking any ass.
First Appeared in Afterthoughts (Canada), Vol. 2, No. 4, Autumn, 1995.
The cemetery is a place of monologues, family histories laid bare, admissions, secrets long kept hidden finally revealed You must listen carefully, for the voices speak only in hushed tones, befitting both place and circumstance. There is no dialog, no riposte, no response for in this place, that would be put of place, censorious, Thy are respectful, one speaking, a pause, then the next, and time seems meaningless to them, the tale is all that still matters, and matters deeply. Pause, if you will, and learn, but say nothing for we dare not speak ill of the dead.
My mother wanted to tell me of my great-grandmother, a woman she barely knew, but who she imagined more fully that life itself would ever have allowed. History, in her hands was malleable, you could shape it in ways never happened. She wanted to tell me but she knew that her grandmother wouldn’t approve of adopting when your womb was perfectly serviceable, certainly not for a man more than a decade older who could not uphold his most sacred obligation. She wanted to tell me, but I am adopted and this woman can be no more than a story of passing relevance to me.
There is a statue of William Penn atop the city hall in Philadelphia seeming to stare down over the city with bronze eyes incapable of seeing. Hagar wandered the wilderness after she was evicted by Abraham at Sarah’s urging, the price of jealousy, with bread and water and the promise of a great nation. It is pure speculation whether Hagar was enslaved and freed or, as we would claim it today, employed by the family. In the end the distinction matters little. Penn remains blind atop the building Hagar and Ishmael are long dead, and Jefferson likely had children with one of his slaves, or so the DNA evidence indicates. I am of Norwegian and Scottish patrilineal heritage it appears though my great nation is a six year old girl and almost three year old boy.
The oddest thing about being Buddhist is what I once was, and not just in a prior life. Born, it turns out, and adopted into a secular Jewish family, I must still be Jewish even if I might have lapsed back to secularity, they say, because my Jewishness is a mark, Cain-like it seems, though I always lacked the nose for the role. Some a bit more knowing remind me that I can be both, though they can’t imagine why anyone would. I tell them I’m simply, only Buddhist and not-think what that really means.
The hardest part, surprisingly, is finding that one odd thread where you least expected, and following it back until it merges with another, and another still until you recognize that it is a weft, and the warp slowly becomes more apparent. Still it is nothing but carefully interwoven threads until you allow yourself to step back, and a pattern appears slowly, growing more clear as threads are recognized, and the twisted threads of DNA eventually reveal a rich tapestry of the family you never knew, never expected to know, whose blood runs through your veins and arteries and, ungrounded from your long held beliefs of self, you find footing in a soil unexpected, but which touched deeply does feel so very much like home.