LISA, ONCE

A phone call, a lawyer’s clerk:
Can you tell me about Lisa Landesman?
I pause for that is a name I have
not heard in forty years, save
in a poem I once wrote,
now long forgotten.

She was my sister for two
or three weeks, adopted like I was,
and then Mike, my then father
dropped dead of a massive
heart attack and she was soon gone.

We were Federal adoptions, our
birthplace under Federal law, not
getting its own for two decades,
and her adoption wasn’t final so she
was re-placed and never replaced.

She won’t inherit as I will from
my cousin who died having no
siblings, spouse, children,
nieces or nephews, who left
no will, who left only kind memories.

THE ANCIENTS

Night and the ancients retreat
to a dark corner of their celestial prison
from the promised arrival
of the yellow dwarf from which
they know we demand a presence.

We ignore the ancients now,
ignore those who cast them
into their prison, ignore
the acts for which they were
banished, care only to name them,
and they know that our recognition
is their only grasp on existence.

Each day their tiny cousin
demands our full attention,
defies us to look deeply at him,
pleased that he is, for us,
the center of our universe.

REAR VIEW MIND

I spent too much time looking
backward, looking into the past,
looking into the mirror
to frame a dream history
of my desires and fears.
He called one morning, left
a message, “Mother died,
more details will follow.”
A mother his by birth,
mine by legal act.
I should have felt stunned
anger, I said quietly to myself
he’s cocky, has issues, and went
about momentary mourning.
That is the psyche of the adoptee who
was never family, always an adjunct.
Later my antediluvian dreams
gave way under a torrent
of deoxyribonucleic acid rain.
She who I imagined in the mirror
took name, took shape from
and old yearbook, offered
a history, a family, a heritage.
When I knelt at her grave
she told me her story
in hushed tones, or was it
the breeze in the pines on the hill
overlooking the Kanawha?
I bid her farewell that day,
placed a pebble on her headstone,
stroked the cold marble
and mourned an untouched mother.

SIN

A poet suggested that sin
was created by the Christians,
wrong, of course, but perhaps
just being politically correct
in not naming the Jews as
its creator, or at least
giving it a name and rulebook.

And on the point of accuracy
the poet might have noted
that the Jews created
the Christians, for Jesus
was one of them, a reformer
before Judaism would allow
anything beyond orthodoxy.

All of which is a long way
of explaining why I am
now a practicing Buddhist.

NAMENCLATURE

I have gone
by many names,
some chosen,
some inherited,
some thrown at me
in anger,
in scorn,
in friendship.

Names add
nothing to who
I am, who
I choose to be,
who I am seen
to be by the those
who throw around
names as if
they were magical
incantations, elixirs
with great power
that fall
at my feet
like shattered
icicles of my
not caring.

R.I.P.

We are planning the funeral
for Roe today, eulogies
fully ready, for we are certain
the death was slow and painful
and now all we can do is mourn.

Some we know will not attend,
Brown out of fear, knowing
the eventual consequences
of this loss, Miranda because
he is already marked, hounded
by those in power, an easy mark.

Sullivan may be there, happy
that he can go after them again
if they even speak his name
innocently or by mistake.

It will be a sad moment, one
we have dreaded of late, one
we thought would never come
and we will mourn our dear friend
Stare Decisis*, stabbed in the back
by those who vowed to defend him.

N.B. As you may know or have guessed, I am a happily retired attorney, who was taught that stare decisis should be sacrosanct. Brown is the landmark school segregation case, Miranda the much eroded protection for those under police custody, and Sullivan the case on defamation establishing a higher standard that plaintiffs must meet if they are public figures. It remains a hallmark of First Amendment law regarding freedom of the press.

Stare decisis is the doctrine that courts will adhere to precedent in making their decisions. Stare decisis means “to stand by things decided” in Latin.  

YEARBOOK REFLECTION

Knowing that my
biological parents’
pictures were somewhere
in the yearbooks
I had before me
I thought that I
would search without
looking at the names.

No one looked
at all like the me
I see in the mirror
nor the me I am
shocked to see
in my own yearbook.

Yet finding them
by name I quickly
realized that I
was their amalgam
a face neither
would have recognized
no matter how
small the crowd.

EIRE

There are two principal problems
with Ireland, and I found both
to be utterly insurrmountable.

Every town, even Galway City
at any time of day or night
looked like it should be a postcard.

Add to that the horror that in
every pub I visited it was assumed
that if asked I would sing a song

or, realizing I have no singing
voice, I would recite a poem
from William Butler Yeats

which I sadly could not, yet after
the third pint of Guinness
I could, I think, recite my name.

FRUITED PLAINS

As I was cutting up our breakfast
fruit this morning, the name Lynette
“Squeaky” Fromme came to mind.

I would have thought it would be
Cesar Chavez, given half the fruit
was from California, and I had no thought
of Gerald Ford or any Republican President,
never before at least one full cup of coffee
and generally not even then, but there she was.

There was no reason for it, nothing squeaked,
I hadn’t seen the new movie loosely
about Charles Manson, and I couldn’t
picture her face, which is just as well,
but there her name was and I have spent
the better part of the day musing on why,
in what is already an upside-down world,
a world where we have as much to fear
from our leaders as our enemies, and
it is ever harder to tell which is who,
yet she came to mind, and I have to conclude,
before the whole day is wasted in the effort,
that it had something to do with mangoes.

First Published in Barzakh, A Literary Magazine, Winter 2022
https://www.barzakhmag.net/winter-2022

HELLO GOODBYE

When I saw you this morning
I knew instantly that I hadn’t seen you
in more than twenty years,
although it is quite possible we
have never met and today
was the first time my eyes
ever gazed at your face .

I suppose it is lucky that
you did not recognize me
although I don’t think I’ve changed
all that much in twenty years.

I was going to call out your name,
but decided against it in case
you have changed it or, possibly
because you wouldn’t answer
to the name I choose to give you.

It was good seeing you today,
let’s do again in a decade or so.