THE FACT OF ADOPTION

The fado fades
under the weight
of the Highland pipes
and dreams of Cascais
fade into the Scottish sky.
Where once I thought
of wandering Lisbon
looking for my face,
I imagine I see it
in the Grampians, reflected
off the lochs whose
headwaters now feed
my dreams.


One joy of being adopted is that what you imagine is not always what really is. For years, based on what my birth mother told the adoption agency, my father was “a Portuguese Jew.” DNA later showed that I had no Portuguese blood at all, and I doubt my Russell and McDonald paternal ancestors spent much time in Lisbon.

AN OFF YEAR

The was a winter, once,
where even in the north
the snow refused to fall,
ice rejected jamming the culverts,
and the sky stared down in amazement.
That was the year trees would not bud
and flowers fled deeper
into the sweetness of the earth,
grass sighed and lay indolent.
It was a year my coat of many colors
was taken, pieced out among brothers
until each had a color and none a coat.
I would sit at the right hand of kings
imagining a day when dreams
might refuse to visit,
and then starved of images,
I could reinforce foundations
preparing for their visit.
I am strapped to the altar
and the knife is poised in the hand
of a man who would like to be a father,
both of us looking up for intervention.
There was a year, once
when the ram broke free
of the thicket and picked his way
down the hill to his young.

THIRD EYE, NEEDING GLASSES

You ask me what is the first thing
I can remember, and seem surprised
when I tell you memory is much like
a Buddhist river, never the same twice.
Memory is a stage and I am one to forget
my lines, today it’s the window
in the back of a Miami Beach bus
amazed at the sweeping curve
facade of the grandest of hotels,
or the cast iron of the radiator
with its almost rusting pipes, standing
on the small square white tiles, outlined
like the walls in black, the bit of my hair
stuck in the valve knob, a bit of blood
on the floor beneath where the rag
wouldn’t reach when we got back
from the hospital, my toddler head
beneath a bandage, the floor where
my father would fall three months later.
The problem is childhood doesn’t come
with stage directions and my lines
are associated with places and things
and a child cannot read a script
and memories drown and float to the surface
and are carried downstream to a sea
replete with  things I have long since forgotten,
like the face of my mother before
they took me to the foster home
and she returned, again barren,
to her own river of a life.

REFLECTIONS ON A FATHER NEVER KNOWN

The sun is obscured by half-lidded eyes.  We are standing together on a small beach.  Twenty toes are curled in the wave packed sand.  We are in Cascais, or perhaps Estoril. The waves spread their foam capped fingers through the rocks and cradle us.  He wants to drive down the coast, to see the boats at Sesimbra.  “The bay is calm there,” he says.

He is shorter than I expected.  Fathers are supposed to be tall, that’s their lot in life.  His face is burnished by the sun, the same sun against which he shields my forehead.  He knows I will tend toward leather.  He stands, hands resting lightly on his hip bones, in his sleeveless T-shirt.  A Gauloise dangles from his lip, its ash growing, until as he speaks, it breaks loose.  It skitters down his chest, a tiny sand crab in a manic dash for the rocks.  He imagines himself Errol Flynn.  He rests his hand on my shoulder, and stares out, beyond the waves, just past the horizon.  It is what he imagines a father would do.  He started to tell me of life in Lisbon, in the Diplomatic Service, as a Jewish businessman, a deckhand on a fishing trawler.  He was all of these things, he said, and none of them.

I walk slowly along the Avenida de Liberdade, toward the Praca do Marques de Pombal, staring deeply into the sun-creased faces of elderly men.  I stop for a coffee, sitting along the walk.  The old woman, at the finely formed wrought iron table, stares at me, I at her.  A smile crosses her lips as I lean toward her and ask “Tēm voce visto meu pai?”  She clucks, tilts back the small cup and snatching overburdened shopping bags, shuffles to the street, silent.  I walk through the park in the fading light.  turning to a middle-aged woman, her vast hips spread across the bench, “Mim estao procurando meu pai, voce via-o?”  She reaches inside her purse, slowly withdrawing a metal compact, its face reflecting the fire of the setting sun.  She opens it lovingly, thrusting it at my face.  “Eere,” she says in school drilled English, “eere.”  I stare into the mirror.