SMALL REFLECTION

It is that moment when the moon
is a glaring crescent,
slowly engulfed by
the impending night—
when the few clouds give out
their fading glow
in the jaundiced light
of the sodium arc street lamp.
It nestles the curb—at first a small bird—
when touched, a twisted piece of root.

I want to walk into the weed-strewn
aging cemetery, stand in the shadow
of the expressway, peel
the uncut grass from around her headstone.
I remember
her arthritic hands clutching mine,
in her dark, morgueish apartment, smelling
of vinyl camphor borsht.
I saw her last in a hospital bed
where they catalog and store
those awaiting death, stared
at the well-tubed skeleton
barely indenting starched white sheets.
She smiled wanly and whispershouted
my name—I held my ground
unable to cross the river of years
unwilling to touch
her outstretched hand. She had
no face then, no face now, only
an even fainter smell of age
of camphor of lilac of must.

Next to the polished headstone
lies a small, twisted root.
I wish it were a bird
I could place gently
on the lowest branch of the old maple
that oversees her slow departure.

First published in Rattle #23, Spring 2005

LIFE, ABBREVIATION

Arrival noted, 11:30 P.M.
delivery normal, baby
prepared for agency, mother
released in two days, baby
to foster care, then
to adoptive parents.

No memories, save one,
a fall, bathroom, head
bleeding, black and white
floor tile, radiator harder
than child’s skull.

Now 70, the same person,
a lying mirror each day,
a small cemetery, West
Virginia, a headstone
a mother finally,
a life of mourning.

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.

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)

I HAVE NEVER BEEN

six foot four with a full head
of longish brown hair neatly cut

five foot ten as the Air Force
claimed although I never
conformed to their assumption

sitting on the deck of a yacht
trying to decide if it was
sufficiently large enough
to meet my desires

sitting on a beach in Hawaii
my oceanside villa
mere steps away,
the housekeeper beckoning
with a freshly made drink

lying in Arlington Cemetery
my life marked by a simple
white stone marker, name,
religion, and branch of service

But I am here, writing this,
and have no real complaints.

PARENTHOOD

Two headstones
Name, rank, branch
of service, dates.

One New Jersey, one
Virginia, both Bittle
neither certain.

An email from
another Bittle, never
knew my father

but his was
William, and in
that moment,

James Owen became
a father yet again
and I complete.

And later still
a single picture
he in the back

row and the mirror
agrees that we
are truly family.

LLANYSTUMDWY

The small church is tucked
alongside the narrow road,
its moss encrusted stones
bathed in the November sun.

The headstones in the churchyard
lean askew, sagging under
the weight of time.

The weeds sprout up
answering to a silent call.
We are here, they seem to say,
to reclaim our own,
and we shall do it
in our own time,
in our own way.

The sounds
of the rushing waters
of the bloated Dwyfor river
blanket those whose memories
fade from the stone monoliths.

The yew, trunk overgrown
with ivy, stands a sentinel
between those gone and the sheep
grazing the soccer field.
The church is silent, stolid
existing in that middle world
between indifference and ruin.

Back in the house, the cat
curls in the overstuffed chair
preening her paws and haunches.