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.

ALMOST PASSOVER

It is almost Pesach, early this year
so I will get a birthday cake
not the rubbery sponge cake
of matzoh meal, eggs and
ginger ale, covered in fruit.
We are peeling the applies
and chopping them for
the charoset for the communal seder
most to be thrown away
along with the paper plates
and chicken bones, and shards
of matzoh, dry as the winds
of the desert, the memory
we drag out each year
as the last snow fades slowly
from the streets and trees.
My friend enters the church
as he does each holy week
and stops at each station
of the cross, imagining
what it must have been like
to carry the great cross up
the hill, knowing that atop
the centurions stood with spikes
in hand waiting to pierce his wrists
and ankles, ready to watch him
droop against the wood as
the heat licked between his toes.
I imagine what it was like
pushing the stones up the ramp
the taste of sand and the whip
burning my tongue.
In ten days we can again
eat sweet and sour pork
and shrimp in lobster sauce
and wait another year
for the bits of horseradish,
and he will imagine the fires
of hell as he slips the five
into the waistband of her G-string.


First Appeared in Kimera, Vol. 3, No.2, Winter, 1998. Reprinted in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 29, No. 1, 2005

AND CHARITY

Faith, or is it hope, seems
directly proportional to the need
we have to believe in what
some would call a miracle.
In Hebrew the word for charity
can also be translated justice.
Faith, he says, is hope
with a Godly intervention
for hopes can easily go
unfulfilled, but faith lingers,
and isn’t given up willingly,
for even when hope is gone,
faith in a miracle remains
for those most in need.
No one seeks charity,
everyone seeks justice,
and most hope and
have faith that there is
in the final analysis
no real distinction.

KNOT WHAT YOU THINK

“Trying to explain the Old Testament is like trying to untie a series of Gordian Knots.” He said that often, and few argued with him. Whether they did not argue because they agreed, or simply wanted to avoid his unwillingness to cease pushing until the other or others conceded whatever point he was making hardly mattered. He knew nothing about the New Testament. He wasn’t even sure to what it was a Testament, though he could say that of the Old as well. It was just that one set of Gordian knots was enough, unless and until he could find his philosophical scissors, and God only knew where they had gone.

NARA

It was inside Nara
that it finally slipped away.
Its tether had grown
ever weaker, the first slip
was decades before, a book,
brief meetings
an answerless question.
It stretched further
in Tokyo, basin incense
under the watchful
third eye
and hung perilously
by fewer and fewer threads
until, with the monks’
gentle bow, it broke
and I found home.

INTO THE DESERT

His is six and deeply confused,
and asks questions to end that state.
He wants to know if Adam and Eve
had two sons, and one killed the other,
where did all of the people come from?
Ask your father seems and easy answer,
but one he cannot accept, too easy
for a mind that needs timely response.
I stumble around, try to deflect,
and finally admit I don’t know but
that some stories cannot be taken literally.
He knows what that word means, and it
is a sufficient explanation for now.
In a week we’ll have the conversation
once again, this time not Adam, not Eve,
but Shem, Ham and Japheth, and how
the three sons of Noah repopulated
the entire planet, and I will once again
admit to my sad lack of knowledge,
and silently curse the Religious School
for creating the abyss into which
my grandson is all to pleased to lead me.

PAPAL EDICT

She said “now what they’ve taken away limbo”
sounding a bit depressed,
“not that you proceed express
to the ferry dock, but
that was a snap, all
you were carefully taught
is suddenly wrong or irrelevant.
“It would be like Isaac,”
I say, “climbing Mount Moriah
with Abraham finding a ram
tethered to a waiting altar.”
My mother wants to know
how I can claim to be once Jewish
as though the moyel
also took my freedom of religion.
“We have no hell” she reminds me
“at least after death.”
I silently respond
and try to tell her that
I still don’t have a hell,
at least not as she conceives it.
“But I read,” she says, “the Tibetan
Book of the Dead, and hell
is very, very real.”
I tell her my Buddhism is Chinese
through a fine Japanese filter
and it is the next life
in which I will pay for this one.
She says “I wouldn’t want
to come back again,” and
on that point we find
the beginnings of common ground.