PHOTO

Oddly I have a photo
of my grandmother’s grave,
but not one of my mothers,
either of them actually, and
we’ve yet to have a funeral
for the one who raised me.
I forgive the one who gave me life,
for she gave me to one she felt
could care for me well and
she slipped away into death
before I found out her name.
I do have a college yearbook
photo of her, and that will
have to do every day, and
especially on Sunday when she
will have been lying
in the soil of West Virginia
for sixteen years, and I will
be mourning her passing for four.

ALTERNATE HISTORY

My mother wanted to tell me
of my great-grandmother,
a woman she barely knew,
but who she imagined more fully
that life itself
would ever have allowed.
History, in her hands
was malleable, you could
shape it in ways never happened.
She wanted to tell me
but she knew that
her grandmother wouldn’t approve
of adopting when your womb
was perfectly serviceable,
certainly not for a man
more than a decade older
who could not uphold
his most sacred obligation.
She wanted to tell me,
but I am adopted
and this woman can be
no more than a story
of passing relevance to me.

NOM

He is fond of the name Alejandro Carlos
Ernesto Rodrigo Guttierez. The fact is
he loves the name. He knows it has
a certain nobility to it. It embodies and
conveys strength and character. It is a source
of pride and great satisfaction. The name
makes him taller, bolder. There is so much
in a name, that name in particular. “Vinny,”
his mother shouts, “Vincenzo Balducci, come
down here and take the trash out, your
chores come first around here young man.
He is not at all fond of the name Vincenzo.

WAITING FOR

It was lying there,
on the ground, waiting to be noticed,
unsure of why everyone walked by,
some glancing, most lost in thought.
It hadn’t been there long, but
certainly long enough to be seen,
of that it was certain, yet
there it lay staring crimson
at the sun overhead, and even
the one passing cloud
seemed to ignore it
as it meandered by.
It wanted to shout out,
to demand attention, but
it knew that wouldn’t change anything.
And so it lay there, waiting,
frustrated, until a sudden breeze
lifted it up and a small child
shouted to his mother, “Mommy,
look at the pretty red leaf.”

MESSAGE RECEIVED

There was nothing he liked more
than wandering along the shore
early in the morning, before the rakes
and people arrived, just to see
what the night had washed in
on the now departed high tide.
There would be shells of course,
but rarely one he didn’t have
already in profusion, and the occasional
jellyfish which he would flag
for the lifeguards to remove later.
He always hoped for a bottle
with a message in it, from some
far off place, or containing a cry
for help, but all he had found
were plastic soda bottles, a few
he was surprised to see, with labels
in Portuguese, from Brazil, he
imagined, until it became clear
from the other trash, that they
were from a ship jettisoning garbage
into the ocean he called mother.

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.