TO PROTECT THE INNOCENT

I am there, a classroom,
elementary or middle school,
Charleston, West Virginia
1930’s, girls in proper skirts,
saddle shoes, the old woman
at the front of the room,
first day of a new year.

“Jones”, a hand goes up,
“Murphy”, another rises slowly,
“Padlibsky, what kind
of name is that, Jew, or
some kind or Ruskie maybe?”
A small voice answers
Lithuanian, ma’am.

A scene that never
happened, a name changed
so that day the teacher
called out “Wells”
and she smiled and
quickly raised her hand.

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

SUDDENLY MORTAL

I now struggle to remember just when
my childhood suddenly ended, when
I became mortal, and the childhood fears
were replaced by those of the real world.

It might have been watching the news,
the planes at Dover disgorging coffin
after coffin, each neatly flag draped until
the flag became a symbol only of death.

It might have been the first time a kid
on the playground at school called me
Jewboy and asked why I didn’t also
perish in the ovens with my Polish kin.

It might have been as they wheeled me
into the operating room, my fever 105
unsure of what they would find, I then
unsure I would be alive to learn about it.

It might have been that as an adoptee
I knew I never had the childhood
of my natural born siblings, I always
the outsider, mom’s words notwithstanding.

First Published in Cerasus Magazine (UK), Issue 3, 2021

SONNET TO A PORTUGUESE

You came into my life last week, your name
forever locked away inside her mind.
My life, she felt, would never be the same
and therefore left all thought of you behind.
You loved her, I suppose, that summer night
then left her, bearing me, until she turned
me over for adoption, that she might
forget the love that you so quickly spurned.
A Jew, she said, but would say little more
a father, Portuguese, is all I know,
who cast his seed, then left and closed the door
and me, the son, he never would see grow.
You left her life long before I was born,
the father I won’t know but only mourn.

First published in Minison Project, Sonnet Collection Series, Vol. 2, Sept. 2021

CHURCHES

I have already visited
countless churches

basilicas, shrines
and admired the art,

the simple beauty,
free of liturgy and belief.

I did not stop
to pray, to implead,

merely to see,
to listen, to absorb.

for I was a Jew.
a nonbeliever

in a Christian world
silently tolerated.

Now, I have learned
I was only half Jewish,

half, hidden a polyglot
of Christianity,

a descendant of saints,
and now churches

have a heavy weight
I find hard to bear.

ASHES

When I die, my friend Larry
said one morning in the third
inning of a double header
of stoop ball, I want
to be burned, not
that I intend it to happen
any time soon, but when it does.
They burned my grandfather
I think it was Dachau, but
unlike him, I want to kick
some ass before it happens.
Just let them call me Jew boy
I’d like to hear the sound
of their balls imploding
up into their bladder.
They burned my grandmother too,
years later, until all that was left
was the cancer eating her stomach,
but I want to be burned
in an oven set up properly
for the job, my ashes cast
into the wind or maybe
in the infield of Buffalo’s
War Memorial Stadium
if Luke Easter is still playing
first base for the Bisons.
It was only two days later
that Larry tripped on the curb
outside the variety store
on the way home from school
and later that day they took
his kidney and laid it, all bloody
within, on the steel tray.
When he came home his mother
said he had to be careful
when you have only one kidney
you can’t fool around
and you certainly want to avoid
the strain that comes
from kicking any ass.


First Appeared in Afterthoughts (Canada), Vol. 2, No. 4, Autumn, 1995.

ORPHAN

I was a foundling
wandering from Guinness Stout
to Ouzo and back,
in search of identity.
In Schul I would cry out
to Him asking, “Who am I?”
and He would answer,
“you are, you are.”
The balalaika
of my mother’s grandfather
sounded tinny,
a cacophony lost
in Oporto, Lisboa.
On the streets of Vienna
I thought I saw him, and ran
to find only shadows.
In villages along the Douro
he disappeared
into fields shorn
for winter’s approach.
The Capitol’s penumbra
found him laughing,
reflected in my mirror,
staring at my thinning hair
slowly whitening.
I was of all places
and of none until
on Glasgow’s streets
I walked his steps
and smelled the Clyde
and Talisker, his breath mine.