SOMETHING NEW

When I was a child, my mother
repeatedly told me that I must
learn something new each day.

I knew better than to point out
that it was absurd to call
for novel behavior by repetition.

So I took the path of least resistance
and each day grabbed a random
volume of the World Book Encyclopedia,

opened to any page and read
the first entry on that page, committing
it, or its salient facts, to memory.

There is so much in life with which
I still struggle, seemingly basic tasks
I never took the time to master,

too busy with my head in books,
but I do know that the acts of Punisa
Racic that June, 1928 day killing two

led King Alexander, six months later,
to ban all political parties, assume power
and rename the country Yugoslavia.

CENTER SEAT

My friends have often wondered aloud
why I claim to be most creative when
I am stuck on an airplane for hours.

I have told them that the solitude,
the lack of It is an interesting quirk
of the internet, that birth
and death are disconnected.

Seeking out those born today
I found a long list, the dinosaur
among which is Judy Collins.

That I still remember seeing her
reminds me at once a sense of my youth
and my ever progressing age.

But seek out those who died
on this day, and you hear the strains
of the Slavonic Dance in E minor

or the Sabre Dance from Gayane
but Popes Pius V and Marcellus II
suggest neither of them matter,

Heathens both, they claim, which
brings a deep laugh from Cleaver
and Livingstone, both of who

deny the other, and each says
that only he truly found the black
panther, and I’m thankful to be alive.to distract me,
which includes any airline approved movie,

that allows my creative self to emerge, to
express itself fully without reservation,
a status that being earthbound denies.

Many laugh, uncertain of how creativity
expresses itself, but certain, they
assure me, that my efforts have not

gone unnoticed, that my time spent,
but most importantly my results so well
reflect the surroundings of their creation.

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.

REMEMBER THIS

He awoke this morning, and was
surprised to be there, he said,
because when you are ninety,
and can’t get around at all,
you don’t look forward to tomorrow,
for it will simply be a repeat
of today when nothing will happen.
And it is harder still, he says,
because he can’t remember much anymore,
so it’s hard to say if today
is any different than a week ago
or a month ago, though they say
he was in the hospital then,
but he don’t know why he was there.
When I stop for a visit the next day
his is surprised to be there, he says
as though it was a new thought
that just came to him in the moment.

WANDER WHY

The path meandered more than he remembered
but he was the first to admit
his memory was never his strongest suit.
It didn’t help that he had consumed
two margaritas at lunch, and even he
didn’t believe the excuse that this was
a slow day for him, still sober at two in the afternoon.
But he wandered the path, for that
is what paths were there for he was certain.
He had no idea where he was going, and realized
that he would have no idea when he got there.
Still he had great faith in mathematics, that
was his training, his brilliance,such as it was,
and he knew that if he merely wandered aimlessly
without thinking, he would eventually cross
his own path, bump into his former self
and they, together, could devise a plan
to find their way precisely they were intended to be.

HISTORY

Deep in the valley of memory
on the altar of Ares
we sacrifice them, always young
each generation we are
Abraham unrestrained,
the pardon always moments late.
We are Olmecs, relying not
on the sun’s passage
but on a mainspring tightly wound.
Our gods hunger and must
be sated lest we lose favor
and their image change.

In our boneyard
priests and victims
slowly decompose
fade into earth
washed deep
by tears of Gods
powerless to intervene.

First published in The Peninsula Review, Vol. 5, (1998)

HAIL AND FAREWELL

On very dreary days
I like to drive through the cemetery
meandering among the stones
until I find a freshly dug grave.
I stop, under the vigilant eye
of the caretaker and carefully place
a cassette of Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances
or Smetana’s Die Moldau into the player.
As the melodies spill forth
I hope they lift the spirit
of the resting, bringing them a moment
of unabashed joy, a memory to carry
into an eternity, a lingering riff, sweet
as the juice of the strawberry trickling
down the chin, a chocolate
slowly melting on the tongue.
Night will come soon enough
bringing a darkness in which they can see
their dreams take form
and seep away to mingle in the void.

First appeared in Aura Literary Arts Review Vol. 26, No. 1 (2000) and reprinted in Legal Studies Forum, Vol 30, Nos. 1-2 (2006)

DEMENTIA

He can remember it as though it was just yesterday. Actually it was just yesterday, but for him that had little to do with memory. Bits of his childhood would come flooding back: the city, the cousins who took him in for the few dollars his mother could offer. But his grandsons are a vague shadow, sometimes present, sometimes faded into the background. He ex-wife is ever present, and he clings to her, despite her death, wondering if they will get back together. I don’t want to tell him that his wish will require a firm belief by them both in a hereafter, and that neither of them was very good at directions in any event, so who knows where they will end up.


For Something Different, a new bird photo each day, visit my other blog:
Bird-of-the-day.com 

KIKE

Third grade, religious school
kikes, us, then a backhand
raised, drawn, quickly dropped,
below a reddened face,
sleeve pulled up
145233 in black
between elbow and wrist
and a tear, perched
fearing to fall.
Never again, and nothing more,
later, same arm
ruffling hair, smoke
clinging to aging skin,
no older when he walked
in her arms into
infernos then smoke
rising slowly as he
labored, no more free
than on cattlecars
shivering in winter.
No hell to come,
never again, not Juden.
Mahogany doors
opened on oiled hinges
ancient scroll to be touched,
here is you, me, us, always
on Massada, in Vilnius.
Never again kikes,
dying only once.


First published in SNReview Vol. 9, No. 2  (2007)

For Something Different, a new bird photo each day, visit my other blog:

Bird-of-the-day.com 

KAFKA

June 13, 1896, Prague
a warm day, old stone schul
you stood before the minyon
wearing the skullcap
repeating ancient words
that lay on paper, rehearsed
sounding false on a tongue
swollen in anxiety.
Your tallit, white
woven with blue threads
hung at your knees
fringe fingered, rolled
and unrolled, twisted
until touched to skin
words inscribed, etched
into collective memory.
Seventeen years later
sitting with Buber
did words come back
and stick on your tongue
and later still
when you studied
under Bentovim, did words
take form, shape, dredging
up a past kept suppressed
walking in desert heat
knowing salvation was
down a hill, entry forbidden.
Lying in your bed
in Hoffman’s Sanitorium,
the trees of Kierling blooming
did you recite Kaddish
as endless night engulfed you.


First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008) and reprinted in Legal Studies Forum Vol. 32, No. 1 (2008)

For Something Different, a new bird photo each day, visit my other blog:

Bird-of-the-day.com