TOMORROW

Tomorrow I will lie to him
will tell him when he asks,
at least the first ten times he
he does, that she is doing fine,
that she is a tough old bird,
that she’ll outlive us all,
that she’s a Taurus, the bull
and he will remember the end
of their marriage, the Battle
Royal that was the war of divorce,
and he will smile a bit,
and say, “I miss her,” and I
will agree with him.
I do miss her a bit, but even two
and a half years of death have not grown
the size of my missing appreciably.
We will move on to other topics,
will circle back and rerun the tape
for with him every day is a series
of scenes from Groundhog Day, but
in his world, it never snows.

ASHES

When I die, my friend Larry
said one morning in the third
inning of a double header
of stoop ball, I want
to be burned, not
that I intend it to happen
any time soon, but when it does.
They burned my grandfather
I think it was Dachau, but
unlike him, I want to kick
some ass before it happens.
Just let them call me Jew boy
I’d like to hear the sound
of their balls imploding
up into their bladder.
They burned my grandmother too,
years later, until all that was left
was the cancer eating her stomach,
but I want to be burned
in an oven set up properly
for the job, my ashes cast
into the wind or maybe
in the infield of Buffalo’s
War Memorial Stadium
if Luke Easter is still playing
first base for the Bisons.
It was only two days later
that Larry tripped on the curb
outside the variety store
on the way home from school
and later that day they took
his kidney and laid it, all bloody
within, on the steel tray.
When he came home his mother
said he had to be careful
when you have only one kidney
you can’t fool around
and you certainly want to avoid
the strain that comes
from kicking any ass.


First Appeared in Afterthoughts (Canada), Vol. 2, No. 4, Autumn, 1995.

DACHAIGH

Even when I was briefly in Edinburgh
I dreamed of walking the streets of Lisbon
or Porto, looking into the faces of older men
and wondering if this one was my father,
the one I had never seen, never known.
the one my Jewish mother described
in detail to the social worker who took me from her
shortly after she gave me life.
It is many years later, now my mother
has a face, discovered in the twisting path
of a double helix, good West Virginia
Jewish stock, Lithuania left far behind.
I may someday visit Lisbon, I hear
it is a lovely city, but the faces will all
be alien to me, and there I will dream
of my day touring the Highlands
of Scotland, the Isle of Skye, and which
of the McDonald’s or McAllister’s might
be kin and which Tartan I can
rightfully claim as my own.

WHISPERED SONG

“Oh, Woman who walks in beauty like the night
I am a friend who is distant and silent.” — Dineh Wind Prayer

We always sat
on the back bench seat
of the Collins Avenue bus,
stared out the big window,
noses pressed
against the cool glass,
stared at the procession
of stucco hotels,
simple neon signs,
lines of cars and
bathing suits.
My mother working
late into the night and
Beck, eternal friend
who buried her children
only to become a surrogate
mother to an orphaned son.

Beck would stroke
my forehead. At night
when the room was lit
by lightning, she cradled me
shielding my eyes
with sagging breasts
that had nursed three
daughters into womanhood,
later into the grave.

Beck whispered to me
in a mother’s voice —
my mother spoke
in another voice. I
stroked her wattled arms
watching the pouch
of skin swing gently.
Looking at my mother now
it is often Beck’s lips I imagine
kissing my cheek, “Aunt”
Beck, and not my mother
who still casts
disapproving glances
at failed attempts
at machismo, Beck’s
sparse gray hair
that rests on my shoulder.

I was Beck’s last
surviving child
a fourth daughter.
I am the last
to say Kaddish
to remember her
at Yizkor.

In the early morning
mirror, my eyes slowly
ceding sleep, my lover’s
sweat still beaded on
my arm, her taste lingering,
I see my beard fall away,
my skin is smooth, childlike,
my chest hair fades
replaced by nascent breasts,
testicles recede, hair grows
long, auburn, Beck’s face
as it once had been,
as it appeared
in the faded photographs,
stares back at me.

I am mute, wanting
her to draw me against
her shoulder, to make me
again – for a moment –
the fourth daughter
and not the son
she never had.
Next week I will go
to the aging schul,
I will sit among
the women, away
from dovening men, head
covered by the tallit.
I will sing
Kaddish to her.


First Appeared in Vent, Issue 1, 2003.

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.