FINDING PEACE

It wasn’t lost on me, mother, that this year
on the anniversary of death, you had been gone
eighteen years, Chai in your beloved Hebrew,
a lifetime for me, having never met you
save in the half of my genes you implanted
in me when I was implanted in you.

As you aged, alone, did you wonder what
became of the closest family you had after
your parents were interred in the soil of Charleston?
Did you ever regret not knowing, or were you
comfortable that the Jewish Family Service Agency
would make a selection of which you would
have approved had your approval been sought.

You have grandsons and greatgrandchildren
who will mourn me, carry my memory forward,
but know that I do the same for you, and you
never aged a day from that one when the photographer
took your college yearbook photo, a grainy
copy of which is tucked in my wallet and heart.

PHOTOGRAPH

I saw a picture of you today, although
I can’t be certain when it was taken,
and while I can easily say that you
look exactly as I remember you,
that is saying nothing really,
for moments after I took the picture
we said goodbye to each other,
intending to meet again, knowing
the chances of that were minuscule.

I have returned your picture
to a place of safekeeping where,
some months or years from now,
I will pull it out and remark that
you look exactly as I remember you,
but more importantly, perhaps,
I will be keeping you alive, and
in this fraught world, that is something
to be appreciated, even if you
haven’t the vaguest idea it is happening

Be well dear friend, and if not,
be eternal for a bit longer,
be you dead or much alive.

MONA

Of course, she’s sitting there,
calmly, staring off onto space.
She has to know something
is amiss, no one has come
to visit her in days, but she
knows that whenever, if ever,
whatever it is that is happening
is finally over, that they
will once again return, stare
at her, wonder aloud and silently
why she is smiling, and she
will as always say nothing, for
she was once told that it is better
always to leave them wanting more.

Tomorrow Paris will count
its newest dead, and the hospitals
will pray the tide of bodies
has been stemmed, or diminished
and none of those in the battle
will pause and consider DaVinci’s
lady imprisoned forever in her
sterile room, an eternal prisoner.

First published in Dreich, Issue 20, Autumn 2020 (Scotland)

GRANDCHILD

You more easily remember
the birth of a grandchild
than his or her parent

whether from a memory
sharpened by age
or regular sleep

or by a vision
more acute for knowing
what to look for,

or simply a clinging
tightly to any symbol
of youth denied you.

It may be as well
that grandchildren see
you differently than parents

a hope for a long life
and the possibility of
one day being old

or someone whose mind
more closely resembles
in innocence and simplicity

or simply as adults
whose rules can be ignored
with no real consequence.

A LOST PEN

I wrote a poem for my father,
about how one afternoon
the oddly green ’57 Caddy
appeared in the driveway
and he polished its chrome for hours,
even waxed the black bumper bullets.
It was the love of his life
he said, except for his wife,
he added after a moment.
The years would prove
that addition was most likely false.
I could send him the poem, he
might actually read it, he would
remember the Caddy, much
as he now remembers my mother, with
a fondness that fills the voids
in his fading memory.
He is not much for poetry, never was,
wasn’t all that much for reading
and poetry had to rhyme, at
least the good ones did, but
while he agrees with Hecht, he would
no more recognize that name
than that of Amichai, even rewritten
in the grating hand of Ted Hughes.
My father does not understand poetry,
does not understand all that much
these days and what little he does
bears constant repetition, and yet
he remembers well odd bits and pieces
and forms them into his own fictions
that become momentary realities.
He is Brodsky rewriting Mandelstam,
a new Tristia, sharing only a name
with its precursor, but one its author
claims is truest to its origin.
My poem will be tucked away
inside a yellowing journal, his Caddy
is rust and scrap, but in his dreams
he carefully polishes the chrome
and waxes the bumper bullets.

First appeared in The Alchemy Spoon, Issue 1, Summer 2020

AROMA

What I want, no, need actually,
is to remember the smells of youth.
The images I can recall, but they are
aged pictures, run repeatedly through
the Photoshop of memory, and
cannot be trusted only desired.

The old, half ready to fall oak,
in the Salt Lake City park had
a faint pungency that lingered
even as I departed my body as
the acid kicked in, and drew me
back from the abyss hours later,

and my then wife, cradling our
first born in the hospital bed,
the scent of innocence and sterility
that neither of us dared recognize
as a foretelling of our denouement.

Those moments are lost in the sea
of time, washed away from memory’s
shore, but the smell of a summer oak
still promises a gentle return to self.

GROUNDED

it was so much easier when I could still
imagine myself a bird, untethered
and free to take flight on a whim.

In dreams I often flew, no Icarus
but a raptor, peering down, seeing
with a clarity the earth denied me.

Now my roots have taken hold
in the enmeshing soil plunged deep
and spread tendrils anchoring me,

and even thought of flight has been
buried deeply in memory, and I am
like others of my species, left

to maneuver through my life knowing
that true freedom is waiting, but
above and always now out of reach.

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.