UNKNOWING

I don’t know what
                                               I am, the Buddha said.

I don’t know why
                                                my mother gave me up at birth
                                                or how many cousins walk
                                                                    the streets of Lisbon
                                                or where I lost my first tooth
I don’t know what
                                                became of the nickel
                                                or why the tooth fairy was so tight
                                                or who will wash the blood
                                                                    from the streets of Basra
I don’t know how
                                                my Walkman eats batteries
                                                                    like Hostess Twinkies
                                                or why fungus grows underground
                                                or why the Somali child stares through
                                                                    starving eyes
I don’t know why
                                                my dough rises, only to fall mockingly,
                                                or why forced to eat matzoh, the Jews
                                                                    didn’t go back to Egypt
                                                or why I poke my sore knee to insure it hurts

I don’t know
                                                my birthright name.


First Appeared in Children, Churches and Daddies, Vol. 141, October 2004.

FOR YOUR OWN GOOD

We kept them together to protect them,
he said, though we did make the men
wear the red And yellow badge.
You must understand, this was for their good.
We didn’t want them corrupted
by our Catholicism, so we had to ensure
we would not mingle with and debase them.
There were our bankers, without them
the King would’ve made tax demands on us
and a kingdom cannot long survive
on the broken backs and empty pockets of its people.
And anyway, they knew they need not comply,
after all what’s a pound of silver fine to a Jew.

TONGUES

Ninety-six years ago today
Women gained the right to vote.
It would be another five
before those who preceded
the lot of us were blessed with citizenship,
the least we could offer, after
our prior gifts of disease,
alcoholism and down sizing.
Who, our forebears must have imagined,
wouldn’t want to live somewhere
they had a reservation in their name
we had given them, their land
taken with their language,
no longer useful in our shared world.
The King of France allowed
only the Jews to be moneylenders,
reserved space in each town for us as well,
for which we are still told
we should be thankful, but
you have no idea how to say so in Navajo.

BECAUSE

“Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”-Shelley

I write
                                                                    because words must be said
words must be said
                                                                    because they eat at my tongue
they eat at my tongue
                                                                    because they recall the flames of the ovens
they recall the flames of the ovens
                                                                    because they were forced to shower
they were forced to shower
                                                                    because they were Jews
they were Jews
                                                                    because they embraced Torah
they embraced Torah
                                                                    because they walked through the desert
they walked through the desert
                                                                    because they followed the trail of manna
they followed the trail of manna
                                                                    because it led to freedom
it led to freedom
                                                                    because I saw it in a dream
I saw it in a dream
                                                                    because a voice whispered it to me
a voice whispered it to me
                                                                    because I write