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.

ARGOT

There is a language
spoken within a family
that no one outside speaks.
It may sound familiar
but listen carefully
and learn otherwise.
It is so with my brother
even though there are
thick walls between us
and yet, in a few words
intentions are obvious.
He keeps me far
from a place
I’d just as soon not go
and in her panic
my mother hears only
our words and not
their hidden meaning.
It is when we fall silent
the conversation begins.

NIGHTLY PRAYERS

My mother always told me to say
my prayers before bed, which was odd
given that she never prayed, and didn’t
as far as we could tell, believe in a deity.

I knew, as my Rabbi taught, that you do not
seek something for yourself in prayer,
and world peace and harmony did not
seem on the horizon despite my entreaties.

Now I kneel, and face the wall before bed,
and listen to the prayers of the birds
in the wetlands, although it is not clear
if it is a deity or the moon to which they pray.

My mother is long buried now, I will join
her eventually, and there is still no peace
in the world, merely violence and poverty,
but the birds have greater faith than I ever did.

ON LOSSES

By the way, the headstone is lovely,
designed by your niece, it pays tribute
to you as aunt, as sister, as friend.

I do wish it had said mother as well
but I know I’m the one secret you thought
would fit into a corner of the pine box,
buried with you, to be, like you, reclaimed
by the rocky soil of West Virginia.

Little could you have imagined that
a few cc’s of saliva could expose
what you so carefully hid, and you
were helpless to avoid it regardless.

My adoptive father, the second one,
slipped away slowly, dying before death,
under the living eyes of aides and nurses.

You just lived your life your way,
answered to yourself and perhaps God,
and decided it was time to go, needed
no permission, made no farewells,
and in that regard, I am one of the family.

NEATNESS COUNTS

Ice, he said, is clearly an invention
of Satan, the ice cube a scaled down
version of that corner of hell of which
no one ever speaks, so little known.

And stop and think, we got by well
for eons without a cube of ice, unless
with blade we chipped it from
a nearby glacier or left water out
in the dead of winter, which never
worked all that well in much of the world.

Whiskey, that was one of our best
innovations, one of which we are
rightfully proud, one which we
have practiced for untold generations.
We’ve been sipping it and drinking it
from the word go, and each culture
has come up with its own version,
and it is only recently that the devil
gave us the means of denigrating
one of God’s greatest gifts to us.

God, mother told us, prefers things
neat, as they were intended, so clearly
ice is the Devil’s work. Turn away!

A VISIT

I’ve always imagined that one of these nights
I’d see my mother’s ghost. I would welcome the sight
welcome she that bore me, not she that stepped in
in a way,absolving my birth mother of her sin,
while assuming adopting me would make her complete.

She hasn’t visited yet, neither has done so,
but I hold out hope, it is after all the last to go,
and I do hear her voice, faint and all too distant,
sounding very much like my own one instant
and then no more than a faint whisper in retreat.

I don’t need a long conversation, a few words would
more than suffice, but some at least, a child should
in advancing age hear the sound of a mother’s voice,
if only to find solace in the fact that her choice
to yield the child was made from love not defeat.

TREPIDATION

I approach it slowly, overcome
by fear and desire, warned to step
carefully over the uneven earth
that on this hillside haven set behind
the rusting wrought iron fence , its
master lock dangling askew, peers
out through the trees to the Kanawha river
flowing unknowingly through the valley.

The stone is set in line with the others,
neatly incised, a name, English
and Hebrew, two petunias, cornered,
in perpetual bloom, a beloved sister
and aunt, and unstated, unknown perhaps,
a mother whose son, gently touching
the stone, washes her with my tears,
and we speak of love in silence, and I,
a child of sixty-seven, embrace
my mother for the first time, and I
am finally and for the first time, complete

LOWER FLAT, BUFFALO

It was a small house, that much
I still remember clearly, not wide,
what some called a railroad flat,
but ours had two floors, as if two
railroad cars had been stacked
one on top of the other.

We, luckily, had the bottom, or
at least that’s what my father said,
and his varicose veined legs applauded
his selection of our new home.

I was less convinced as Mrs. McCarthy
upstairs was a Reubenesque lady, that
was my mother’s term, her sons
were every bit as large, and they
seemed to walk about at all hours,
mostly over my room, leaving me to wonder
amid the creaking, when the ceiling
might suddenly blanket me.

That never happened, and I have no
idea what became of the McCarthy’s,
but I would have buried my father
last year if my step-brother had bothered
to give me the location of the body
in his text telling me of his death.

So I am again an orphan, but in
the process of building a new home
as wide as it is long, and with only
a single floor, and the birds have
promised to be tread lightly at night.

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

FORMAL PROOF

First Proposition: You were put up
for adoption because your birth
parents couldn’t or didn’t want to raise you.

Second Proposition: We or I adopted you
because I wanted you and not another
and to give you the good life you deserved.

Argument: Given all of the possible
alternatives, you ought to be thankful
that we saved you from that other life.

First Fallacy: My birth mother feared
rejection for getting pregnant but would
have been a loving, educated parent.

Second Fallacy: My adoptive mother
had two children with her second husband
after they married, her children at last.

Opinion: You will he told that you are
one of the family, a coequal part inseparable
from and of the others, and the same.

Fact: You were made an orphan and
always will be one, and the best you can
hope for is to be just like family, a simile

that you know will always be a transparent
wall that you can never hope to climb
and which keeps you always separate.