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.

CALLING

In the dark heart of night
time is suddenly frozen,
the clock’s hands stalactites
and stalagmites, unyielding
denying the approach of morning,
leaving the sun imprisoned
under the watchful gaze
of its celestial wardens.

It is then you appear,
call out to me, beg me
be silent, not asking
the lifetime of questions
I have accreted, providing
my own hopes and
imagination for answers,
but you have faces, not
those of that weekend
but of other days, she
younger, in college, he
in a college yearbook
at a school he never attended
save as part of the ROTC
contingent of the Air Force.

I bid you farewell, finally,
and time again takes motion
and morning welcomes the sun.

THE WALL

The wall is black granite,

highly polished be an unseen hand

and the fingers of countless thousands

present but each unseen by the others.

At first glance you want to count

the names, but you lack fingers

enough for the task and others

are quickly withdrawn as are their eyes.

You know where the names are,

Willy, who they now call William,

Little Joey, who was so large in your

memory, climbing into the cockpit.

You wonder if things had been different,

if you hadn’t enlisted, chosen

the Air Force, if the Draft Board

anointed you cannon fodder, who

would trace their fingers along

the cold unfeeling stone that has

been washed by untold tears bidding

you farewell or thanks, rarely both.

We have grown so good at wars

we no longer need etched walls,

bronze statues, for before a design

is complete, the next must be begun.

First published in The Parliament Literary Magazine – Issue 5- Masks and Manes 

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.

STATISTIC

Today, now many,
yesterday, tomorrow, how many?

We have grown tired of counting
the mind cannot deal with numbers
of that magnitude, Stalin was correct,
it is all statistics now, and bodies,
always more bodies, never enough,
always too many, by violence
in the street, in the economy,
in the courthouse, in the COVID ward,
there are too many places now,
where the dead gather, and we
cannot bid them farewell, for we
do not want to be counted
among them, to join them, to admit
that we in some way have led them
into disease, into poverty, into death.

IMAGINE THAT

You said you can only accept
what is real and tangible,
everything else
is a delusion or figment.

I cannot accept your premise
as a generalization, it eliminates
so much, for what you call real
may be otherwise to me.

And given that you are not
always present, perhaps
when you are not, when you
are not actually tangible
you are a delusion, and that
is something I can do well without:
In other words, farewell.

SOTO

If you are able to speak
maintain silence,
If you can bear the silence,
listen to the song the sea sings.
If you can sing with the sea
count the grains of sand
that wash in on the next wave.
If you lose count, begin again
before the wave recedes.
If the wave recedes before
you finish counting, bid it farewell.
After you bid farewell
return to your cushion
and listen to the silence
which is the body of the dharma.

First Published in The Poet: Faith Vol. 1, Spring 2021
https://www.thepoetmagazine.org/spring-2021—faith

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.

NATURALIA NON SUNT TURPIA

When did we stop being of the soil
and begin to fear it, to tell our children
not to touch the ground, it is dirty
where once it was only dirt, and we
put in our mouths, from time to time
if only to drive our mothers crazy.
She says if you are going to plant
wear gloves, and when she walks away
I pull them off my hands and plunge
fingers into the turned and dampened soil.
This, I am convinced, is how it is
supposed to be, how nature intended,
before designer dyed mulch, rubber mulch
before we became the robots
our parents’ sci-fi writers anticipated.
Later, in the shower, scraping the dirt
from beneath fingernails, I watch
as it flows reluctantly down the drain
I bid farewell to that bit of my childhood
but I swear I won’t deny my grandchildren.

MOMENT

Enter slowly, calmly, and we dare say
enter at your own risk for you cannot know
what will happen within, nor can we
although we have been here countless
times before if our memory serves us, which
of course it cannot for it, too, is stuck
in this very moment with no escape.
Do not try and fight it, nor should you
think about understanding it for the effort
is doomed to failure, and escaping that
is one of the reasons you are here,
if you look openly at yourself, painful
thought that is for each of us always.
If you find it, or when, do not try
to hold on to it, for it cannot be held,
merely welcome it in and when
it decides to leave, as it will,
bid it a gentle farewell and smile.