There is a reason for this
as there is is a reason for most things
whether we like it or not, I tell my son.
He gives me that smile that says
“I do not agree at all with that,
but you are my father, and so
I won’t disagree,” but I know
he means this only as
a Japanese hai, yes, I understand,
but I will take it as hai, I agree.
I don’t speak Japanese,
neither does my son, but we
both know that if we
were right now in France
the one thing he wouldn’t
be saying is d’accord, father or no.
As a child I often
flew kites, which is to say
that I ran haphazardly
pulling a string and
dragging a wood frames
paper rhombus across the park.
My father laughed until
seeing me on the edge
of tears he took up the string
and dragged the kite
across the park.
One day a strong wind
blew across the park
and the kite lifted into the sky
trailing its string
to taunt me.
I sat with the ghost again
this morning, the one who inhabits
the body that was once my father.
Ghosts find it difficult to speak
from within living bodies, so mostly
it squeezed my hand and offered
an occasional weak smile or nod,
said I looked good, but ghosts do have
trouble seeing out of human eyes.
He slept quite a bit, curled up
the better to contain himself
against the lights and prodding,
for ghosts want only silence and peace.
She likes to tell him that he
came from a small village in Lithuania.
He prefers to remind her that he
was born in the District of Columbia
which has never been mistaken
for a small village in Lithuania,
although he knows he could find
several who speak Lithuanian there.
And, he points out to her, that would
only be half the story, for he is certain
the father he has never met
never set foot, genetic or actual,
anywhere in Lithuania.
Still, in his dreams, he can sit
with the grandfather he never met
and they will converse in Lithuanian.
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
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.
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.
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.