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.

DREAM WALKING

Tonight I will again
walk through my dream
scrapbook re-creating you.
For a bit longer, at least, I
have full creative expression
knowing now that you died
six years ago, never married.
I will search from
the carefully or inadvertently
dropped clue, your obituary,
bits and facts that could
never have come from the
adoption file, beacons
however faint that will
lead me into the harbor
of my true identity.
But for now I can imagine you
sitting in a corner at
the singles dance, looking
as your sisters pleaded
for a nice young man, long
past being fussy.
It didn’t take much
for him to sweep you
away, at least for
that one evening, away
from the teletype keyboard,
away from the cramped apartment.
I do wonder if your brother
finished college, was at
the same one you left
when the war made money tight.
I can fashion all of these things
into an ever shifting mural
of my own life, but soon enough
I will search, and with some luck
will find our shared name.
I may never see your face
save in the mirror or
the eyes of my granddaughter,
but in her smile, in the smile
of your grandson, I know
you better than you
could ever have imagined.

AGING

She would have been, what …
does it matter anymore,
frozen in time at that last age
before time ceased to matter
and images became locked
and only the viewer grew older
but glad at least for that.
The only thing worse
than getting older is not
she once said, then as was
her fashion, proved herself right.
I wrote a eulogy and
countless elegies and in the end
I’m not getting younger
which is something to be treasured.

MOTHER

 

I called my mother the other day
and she did not answer, which
she would always do when I called.
The dead, I concluded, no longer
play by the rules they did
when they were still alive.
Of course she will call me soon,
disrupting my sleep, and chastise
me for not trying again.
But she will quickly slip into
reading the list of what
she expects from me, for
either living or dead,
mother’s expectations must
always be met, no matter what.

ADOPTING A HISTORY

She likes to tell him that he
came from a small village in Lithuania.
He prefers to remind her that he
was born in the District of Columbia
which has never been mistaken
for a small village in Lithuania,
although he knows he could find
several who speak Lithuanian there.
And, he points out to her, that would
only be half the story, for he is certain
the father he has never met
never set foot, genetic or actual,
anywhere in Lithuania.
Still, in his dreams, he can sit
with the grandfather he never met
and they will converse in Lithuanian.

DROPPING

As night settles in
the clouds grow uncertain
of their intentions.
It is hard to realize
that a boundary
is silently crossed
and summer has
retreated into the past,
leaving a new season
in its wake, harder
to know that tomorrow
we will awaken into
an autumn that at first
seems no different
then her mother, only
the promise of fall-
ing leaves soon painting
her in her true colors.