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.

SIX FEET UNDER

I remember the afternoon
was cold and damp, with a persistent
drizzle that escaped
the clustered umbrellas,
the sky a blanket slowly shedding
the water that soaked it
as it sat out on the clothesline.

I suspect you would have
liked it this way, everyone in attendance,
everyone shuffling their feet,
wanting to look skyward,
knowing they would see only
a dome of black umbrella domes.

I recited the necessary prayers,
kept a reasonable pacing
despite the looks of many urging
me to abridge the service, but
the rain didn’t care about their wishes
and I knew you wouldn’t
so I carried on to the conclusion.

As they lowered your coffin
into the puddled grave, I imagined
you laughing, knowing in the end
you had this day gotten the last one.

First Published in The Poet Magazine – Featured Poetry
https://www.thepoetmagazine.org/august-2022

BASO’S WHITE AND BLACK

I know you have
a single question for which
an answer will enlighten you.
Neither Baso, Chizo nor Kai
are here so you are asking me.

The answer is simple:
cover your ears tightly
and listen while I speak
with closed mouth,
watch my feet dance
in joy as they do not move.
If the answer is not apparent,
ask Chizo, Baso and Kai
to speak from beyond the grave.

A reflection on case 6 of the Book of Equanimity Koans

ALIVE IN THE NIGHT

I walked the city
in the heart of the night,
street lights casting the shadows
of ghosts of those long gone
to bed, unknowing
that the city has been
given over to ravening winds
that find no shelter.

I step into an alcove
and the fading light
of the flickering bulb overhead
urges me to move on
lest she bury me
in the darkness of her grave.

By day, this will all
be gone into hiding,
finding shelter we cannot see
and we forget that
when night again returns
the ghosts will dance
wildly in these streets.

A PERFECT STILLNESS

You lie there, perfectly still,
the morning breeze slides away
leaving the sun to stare down,
and the birds fall into silence. 

I gently touch the stone, feel
your cheek beneath my finger,
see your face, the college yearbook
photo all that I have of you. 

I speak silently to you, telling
of my sixty-seven years, of your
grandsons and great grandchildren
and I sense your smile, and a tear. 

Your parents are here, your
grandparents, sisters, brothers
and cousins, and I know give
you three generations more. 

It is time for me to go, but these
moments are the most I have
of you, and as I place my small stone
atop yours, I now have a mother.

First Published in Culture & Identity, Vol. 2, The Poet (2022)

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.

WE ARE IN KANSAS, TOTO

In my dream, the world
was at peace, and I was riding
across Kansas on a unicycle, towing
my car, packed to the windows,
my dog walking alongside urging
me to speed up because she
wanted to visit South Dakota.
I am due for a tricycle, I
remind the dog, “the grave
more likely,” she responds
with a sneer that teeters between
love and spite, always precariously
balanced, as is her food bowl
on the roof of the car. 
I could tell it was a dream
which is not often easy
from its midst, by the utter
lack of churches, synagogues
and mosques, none to be seen
and the Great Blue Heron
nesting in a scrub pine
on the shreds of Holy Books. 

First published in EKL Review, Issue 3, 2021
https://eklreview.com/issue_3/

HOLY ARMY

1.

A millennium ago
the army of the lord
dressed in mail and rode
proud steeds across
barren lands, swords
flashing in a red roasting sun
washed in the blood
of the infidels.
They stopped for prayer
blessing the bodies
left along the dirt track
left by their hooves,
a common grave
for common faces
differing only in the color
of skin and hair.

2.

In this millennium
the army of the lord
slouches outside the mall
rubbing hands against
the chill, the bell bleating
against the night,
a barren moon reflects
off the red kettle.
As they locked the doors
he pulled the flask
from his hip pocket
and thought of the bodies
passing by, swerving
to avoid him, and the
forty dollars he would get
would warm
his frozen skin.

First Appeared in Lullwater Review, Vol. 9, No. 1, 1998. Reprinted in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 29, No. 1, 2005.

LIGHTS

For eight days each December
they call out to me as the flame
of the candles flickers out,
“Remember me” they say in unison,
“remember me”, in the voice of the child,
an old woman, in Yiddish,
in Polish, German, Czech, Latt.
I want to remember but I cannot see
a face reduced to ash, blended
into the earth of a farm field outside Treblinka,
the winter wheat remembers.
I want to remember but I cannot stroke
the head of a young man whose bones
mingle with his brother’s, countless others
sharing a mass grave, his skull
and brains painting the trunks
of a nearby stand of trees.
I want to remember but cannot hear
the sweet tenor of the cantor
whose tongue was torn from his mouth
for refusing to speak of the tunnels
beneath his once beloved Warsaw.
I want to remember the lavender scent
of the young woman, fresh from the showers
but there is only the stench
of putrid flesh and Zyklon,
of bodies crammed into the converted boxcar.
I want to remember the taste
of a warm challah on Shabbat eve
that she lovingly shaped
into a braid and pulled from the oven,
but her arms were neatly removed
by the surgeon before she
was cast naked into the Polish winter.
I want to remember them all,
their names in a memorial
but they are only numbers
tattooed onto endless arms.
The candles die and their voices
fall silent for yet another year.

First Appeared in Rattle, Issue 7, Summer 1997. Reprinted in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 29, No. 1, 2005.

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.