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.

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.

OUT OF THE NURSERY

The one question that has never had
a proper answer still bothers me.
Actually it gives rise to multiple questions
which synergistically expand my displeasure.

I get she had a lamb, and I don’t question
why, nor why hers was little, full size lambs
are far more common, and seriously
what did she do, bleach it every few days?

But those are minor points, really, because
we all know Mary was truly nomadic
and a real urban girl, city to city with
as little time in the country as possible.

The real question is where she kept
whatever it was the lamb so badly wanted,
because lambs don’t willingly leave their
mothers and not for some female Svengali.

CALENDAR

As a child I lived next door to a calendar,
but not the kind mother always hung
on the wall next to the refrigerator, two,
one for school events and the obligations
attendant on parenthood and the other
for holidays, and adult social events,
the important one she’d say when
she thought we couldn’t hear.
My calendar was Mrs. Kanutsu,
the woman next door, or more accurately
the aromas that would waft from her kitchen
foretelling the Greek Orthodox holiday
about to arrive, only a few hours
after she insured that I approved
of her latest creations, all of which
were replete, redolent with spices
my mothers would never dare use.
I liked Christmas most of all, even
though I was wholly Jewish then,
for it meant she would let me help
make the phyllo, knowing I would
soon enough be rewarded with
a large piece of baklava that strangely
never seemed to make it all the way next door

ROCK AND HARD PLACE

The hardest age by far
is the one where you are stuck
in the middle, children below,
parents above, and utterly no
hope of escape from the vise.
Things your mother could do effortlessly
now seem impossible for her, and those
things now need doing immediately.
Your children, ever wise at creating
novel approaches to anything they want
in life regardless of your opinion,
suddenly cannot perform the simple tasks
they once could, more so if the task
takes them away from whatever
is their pleasure of the moment.
It is this middle period where
you cease to live, at least
to live fully, taken with tasks
above and below, and only
in the rare spare moment
can you contemplate the tasks
you will no longer be able to do
as soon as your children cease
to be a burden and can be one

TIDAL SHIFTS

It’s difficult enough, Mom, that I
never got to meet you, to see your face
save in a college yearbook, to have
only a few relatives acknowledge
my existence despite the DNA test
that clearly links us, one to the other.
What makes it more difficult is
trying to figure out my heritage,
my geographic roots before our family
arrived in West Virginia, back
in the old country which for most
was Lithuania, but for some Poland
and still others Russia, as though
their village was loaded onto a horsecart
and dragged around Eastern Europe
always heading to the next pogrom.
Couldn’t our place have settled
on a country, rather than riding the tides
of the insanity the leaders then?

MITOCHONDRIAL

I always imagined it would somehow
be romantic, not in the Hollywood sort of way,
but in an idyllic, picturesque manner,
even if that denied basic reality.
Reality, when it comes to origins discovered
is overrated, for the normal percolation time
is denied, and the impact is sudden
with no restraints to temper the blow.
Way back when, you learned by stories
told by the elders, who know, or led
you to believe they did without question,
who painted word pictures, drew out
fading photographs that barely seemed real.
You believed them because they knew,
knowledge directly proportional to their age.
For me it was the inside of my cheek,
a wait, and an email, and then news,
place names barren of detail, Lithuania.
Later, village names, and only then visions
of pogroms, of flight, of a desperate search
for freedom and West Virginia.
Details were added, but the picture
was monochrome, a barren, wordless
palette and no brush to be found.