DOG DAYS

Growing up my family always had dogs,
only one at a time, of course, since we
were a modern suburban family,
which may be why we had a dog.

It clearly wasn’t because they loved dogs,
they tolerated them on good days,
ignored them the rest of the time
and the good days were few if any.

I never asked for a dog, knew
the daily care would fall to me, for
my sort of brother and sister would
never lift a finger if they didn’t want

and they rarely wanted for other than
themselves, but I didn’t mind, for each
dog became my true family, we all
shared a common blood among us,

which is to say none, and we all said
in our own languages, which we all
understood while no one else did, that
we were orphans who beat the system.

UNCLE

My uncle writes his journal
in cramped Yiddish, English
will not do, it lacks the words
he says, to describe his world.

He describes the flavor
of the capon left to stew
on the stove, the sweet taste
of carrots and prunes.

He carefully notes the thumb
of the butcher sliding onto
the back of the scale, applying
just a dollar of pressure.

He writes pages of her
monologue, the slow twisting
of words stuck under his skin
like so many shoots of bamboo.

The language is sweet, he says
and when it is lacking, he
can reach into its roots
and graft a new word.

His journal sits on its shelf
gathering dust, its words
lost on my tongue, a tome
consigned to history.

First Appeared in Cold Mountain Review, Vol. 25, No. 1, Fall 1996.

A COMMON TONGUE

It has been said, wisely,
that all children speak
a common language,
regardless of what adults
believe they are hearing.

The proof of that proposition
is simple enough, pause
and watch a parent make
demands of a child
in the presence
of other children, see
the reluctant child glance
at his foreign peers and gain
silent and instant affirmation
of adult unreasonableness.

When do we cease
being able to communicate
without words, in that
language of childhood
that is at once universal
and capable of silence.


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JUST WATCH

It has been said, wisely,
that all children speak
a common language,
regardless of what adults
believe they are hearing.

The proof of that proposition
is simple enough, pause
and watch a parent make
demands of a child
in the presence
of other children, see
the reluctant child glance
at his foreign peers and gain
silent and instant affirmation
of adult unreasonableness.

When do we cease
being able to communicate
without words, in that
language of childhood
that is at once universal
and capable of silence.

WHEN I GROW UP

It has taken 67 years, but
I have finally arrived at what
I want to do and be when I
finally grow up, which should
happen any day now, but
please don’t hold your breath.

In this modern age, there is
an ever present and growing
need for euphemists, and I
am perfectly suited for it.

Just this month I could
have offered social distancing,
not to mention those who now
must shelter in place everywhere,
and I’m working on several more,
though I may no longer have time
on my hands, lest I somehow become
collateral damage, for I know if I did

I’d have to immediately wash them.

LINGUA

Ever since I was a child
I spoke a language known only
to me. I’ve had great conversations
on all matters and weighty topics.
I don’t speak this language in public,
for people are increasingly scared
of things they assume to be foreign
and truth shown to them is no defense.
That, and I’m certain some
would think me crazy, like the one
man who overheard me and said
as much to his imaginary friend.
And that’s the key difference:
everyone knows imaginary friends
can’t answer you, you’d be nuts
to think otherwise, but to speak
a language known only to yourself
and to speak it fluently, is
a linguistic feat not to be trifled with.

LE CINÉMA

Watching French movies
you know why Hollywood
seems less real than
the giant letters stuck
like pushpins into a hillside.
Even in translation
laughter remains universal
but you begin to think
in word pictures that have
utterly no meaning
le neige gris
la belle chat
la lumiere fantastique
and you imagine
dreaming in a tongue
you have never spoken.

WHAT’S IN A WORD

It is said that
a picture is worth a thousand words,
a pictograph usually
five or fewer, and
a word, but a single one
by definition, while
a word, with two exceptions,
has at least two letters,
and with the same
two exceptions, a letter
is always wordless
but can be symbolic.
The Hawaiian language
has only fourteen letters
which may explain why
native Hawaiians are
rarely wordy, but
fails utterly to account
for their deep love
of symbols.

ARF, HE SAID

Growing up my family always had dogs,
only one at a time, of course, since we
were a modern suburban family,
which may be why we had a dog.

It clearly wasn’t because they loved dogs,
they tolerated them on good days,
ignored them the rest of the time
and the good days were few if any.

I never asked for a dog, knew
the daily care would fall to me, for
my sort of brother and sister would
never lift a finger if they didn’t want

and they rarely wanted for other than
themselves, but I didn’t mind, for each
dog became my true family, we all
shared a common blood with them

which is to say none, and we all
in our own languages, which we all
understood while no one else did, that
we were orphans who beat the system.