LISA, ONCE

A phone call, a lawyer’s clerk:
Can you tell me about Lisa Landesman?
I pause for that is a name I have
not heard in forty years, save
in a poem I once wrote,
now long forgotten.

She was my sister for two
or three weeks, adopted like I was,
and then Mike, my then father
dropped dead of a massive
heart attack and she was soon gone.

We were Federal adoptions, our
birthplace under Federal law, not
getting its own for two decades,
and her adoption wasn’t final so she
was re-placed and never replaced.

She won’t inherit as I will from
my cousin who died having no
siblings, spouse, children,
nieces or nephews, who left
no will, who left only kind memories.

SUNDAY MORNING

Every Sunday morning my parents,
usually my father at mother’s direction
would drive me the four blocks
to attend Sunday school.

I could easily have walked, a long
block and a half by cutting through yards,
but they were afraid of I have
absolutely no idea what.

My friends that weren’t there with me
were probably in church so
it wasn’t like I had anywhere else
I might go, anything else I could do.

I never asked why my parents were
so insistant I attend the school, they
knew I’d be Bar Mitzvahed with or
without the Sunday mornings,

and they were Jews only in the loosest
secular sense, and I was in those
awkward years and the only thing
else that came to mind, fed by

my father’s not so well hidden stash
of Playboy’s was too grim to imagine
and given how little they liked to be
around one another, could be rejected.

TREASURES

I keep in my pocket
all the treasures of my family,
all of the keepsakes from my mother,
and those from my father
given to me when they died.

I would share them with you,
but they are highly personal
and would not mean much to one
who never knew my parents
or my step brother, the one

with whom I have not spoken
since the text announcing
our father’s death, so I cherish
what I have in my pocket for
nothing was all I hoped for.

ORIGIN

I am told that I should write
about my origins, that is the stuff
that long poems are made of, or
rather the soil from which they bloom.

I have written about my birth mother
and visited her grave in West Virginia
seen those of my grandparents, met
a cousin, I’ve written all of that.

So its time to write about
my birth father, about the places
he was as a child, a young man,
where he is buried, dead long before

I discovered his existence, our link,
but I know nothing of Burlington,
or Camden and my passing knowledge
of New Jersey is limited
to Newark and its airport.

That is hardly the stuff of great poetry
or even mediocre memoir, so he
will be nothing more than a picture
of a gravestone in a national cemetery.

KP

My younger step-siblings had it easy
once our father made seriouis money,
for then my mother decided we needed
a live in housekeeper, one who
could cook, clean and take care
of all those things domestic.

So my siblings had only to put
their dishes near the sink,
their laundry down the chute,
and keep their rooms marginally tidy.

I had missed most of that when
I was their age and father kept
us afloat with nothing to spare,
so I knew how to wash dishes,
how to run a load of laundry,
skills that served me well when
Uncle Sam gave me KP duty,
and waist deep in dishes and pots
I imagined how my siblings
might fare in that situation
for I needed a good laugh then.

NOT YET

The man walked into the old diner
looking not at all happy,
dressed in what looked like
a white robe he found in some alley.

He ordered coffee and glanced
around, as if seeking one
familiar face, finding many
that looked like that

of his father, like him,
for that matter, and he knew
from this quick glance that
they were not yet ready,

not even close really, but he
had tried to tell Him that,
not that He listened, so the man
left some change on the table

walked out into the night,
and prepared to return home,
certain this visit, like the others
would never be deemed

a second coming.

ILL SUITED

My father wanted to take
me to buy my first suit, said
he knew a tailor who could
fashion one perfect for
my pending Bar Mitzvah,
a nice wool blend, he said.

Mother about threw a fit.
“Take him to the department
store or even Goodwill,
for God’s sake, he’s only
going to wear it once.”

My father had learned
that some battles are best
left unfought, so he
compromised and we went
to the men’s shop and I wore
that sport coat three times
before outgrowing it, and
donating it to Goodwill.

CARNEY BARKER

You there, walking along the midway

come into my tent, for only a dollar

I will show you wonders

beyond your meager comprehension

but this offer is only good

for the next fifteen minutes

for that is when I start my show,

It’s not something you want to miss.

I know you’ve seen quarters pulled

from ears, doves fly off

from and oversized top hat

that moments before was empty

but you have never seen

the likes of what I will show you.

Here is my father, watch him

closely cast his seed, closely

and like that he is gone.

Not good enough you say

then watch again, even

more closely this time, see her

lie on my table, her gown

draped over her, see me reach

and pluck a small baby

better than a pigeon isn’t it,

but you blinked, where has she gone.

Only tepid applause, so I guess

you want one more, and I

am never one to disappoint.

See him standing there

it almost looked like

he is standing before a mirror shaving

and now he, too, is gone

before your very eyes.

If you still aren’t satisfied

if you haven’t gotten

your monies worth then please,

please step forward, for I can work

with others than my parents,

truly I can, so where are you going.

Step into my tent ladies and gentlemen

the next show starts

in only fifteen minutes,

all for a single dollar.

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

ON THE MANTLE

Perhaps it is just that I
do not have a mantle on which
to place the cherished artifacts
of my life, my parents
and grandparents photos,
a family Tanach, the tallis
my first adoptive father wore
to his Bar Mitzvah.

I have nothing, which this day
seems sadly appropriate,
for their history really is
not mine, never was, I
simply borrowed it for a time
but all loans must end
for that is their nature.

I have a photo of her
gravestone the worman
who bore me, of her
in her college yearbook,
of him in a group shot
of his unit, in uniform
but I still have no mantle
and so little to place there
if i ever did have one.

THE HOUSE ON PEABODY

It was brick, red I am told.
on a quiet street not far
from 16th Street and its traffic.
It was small, but a good home
for a couple with a child or two
in the heart of the District.

I have no recollection of it,
save the tile, black and white
in the bathroom, the radiator
on which I hit my head,
and the front stoop, and that
only in the picture of me
in his arms, my father,
the man who adopted me
and later a baby girl, then
dropped dead one morning
of a massive coronary.
I have no recollection
of him, of the sister taken away,
or the house, but I mourn then all.