PANDEMIC DREAMS

What I most want to do now,
locked in by something unseen,
is to wander the streets of cities
here, Europe, it hardly matters,
and find statues whose plaques
are worn away or gone missing,
now nameless souls of once
lesser fame meriting a bronze
or of such ego as donating
their own image to the town.

They are forgotten souls, often
rightfully so no doubt, but even
the forgotten deserve a name
merit a history and higher purpose,
and I would offer those, with
Banksy-like labels, this old bearded
man, now Ignatius Fatuus, best
remembered for inventing
the pyramidal bread pan, where
each loaf is uniformly burned on top,
and there Shoshanna Chesed,
who pointed out that if we were
created in God’s image, it is
likely God is a woman given
the planet’s gender distribution,
before the zealots stone her
for blasphemy, insuring their own
ultimate, eventual ticket to hell.

But perhaps the virus will grow
tired of us, mutate, and go after
one of the myriads more intelligent
species we have not yet foolishly
or greedily rendered extinct.

First appeared in The Poet: A New World, Autumn 2020

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

He only wants to know
my spiritual name, “your false
world name is of no matter.”

I tell him I have only one name,
the one my parents gave me,
and it has worked to this point

quite well, and no one has ever
suggested I might need another,
although my Jewish friends have two.

“No,” he says, “your spiritual name
isn’t given to you, not by family, but
by one who has tapped into

the universal harmonic, who flows
along its energy as that energy
flows through him or her and they

don’t so much give it to you as
listen to the voices and tell you
what they are calling you, that’s it.”

“Ah,” I said, “well I know my Native
American name so that’s something,
call me Doesn’t Buy Into Bullshit.”

NAME IT

Aunt Tzipporah hated her name,
detested it really, came closer to the truth.
“What the hell were my parents thinking?”
she said, “like being Jewish in West Virginia
isn’t going to be hard enough.
On a good day I got away with being Zippy,
but you try spending your Junior year in high school
hearing “Hey Zipper” or having some jerk
come up to you, cigarette dangling
from his lip and saying, “hey, Zippo,
got a light?” and you can guess
why getting out of state to college,
any college, was something I wanted so badly.”
I told my aunt I fully understood,
and she smiled, “I guess you do.
It couldn’t be a party going through
life with the name Shadrach Shamnansky.

WAITING ROOM, WAITING GAME

They are arrayed like so much stacked
cord wood, pressed against walls
indifferent to their presence.
They watch the double doors leading
to the examining rooms with trepidation,
wanting to be next, wanting more
not to be here at all, knowing the options are none.
He isn’t bothered by it all, this is
old hat to him, he knows them, several
of them know him by name.
He will no doubt be here again
and that doesn’t worry him, for here
he knows he will walk in and walk out,
the alternatives are far less pleasant, some
involved simple pine boxes or urns
suitable for a mantle, but none
of his family have fireplaces and he
would hate to be lost for eternity amid
the toys and tchotchkes that so
define their lives and homes.
While others stare nervously, he hears
his long dead grandmother whisper
“Remember, boychik, pain is God’s way
reminding you that you’re alive.”

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

He is four, he announces
to all gathered at the extended family table
that he will be five soon, in January.
It is important that we know this
just as it is important that he sit
next to his cousin, for boys like he
should always sit next to cute girls
and sisters don’t count, everyone knows that.
Four people in his class have birthdays in January
And he tells us their names, we hoping there will be no quiz.
As I call him to get his food from the buffet
he turns to his father, and says,
“Josh, save my seat,” and smiles broadly.
He repeats this ensuring we have all heard.
When I ask him why he says Josh, not daddy,
he laughs and says, “Because it’s his name, silly,
like your name is Papa Lou, and anyway
he always calls me Charlie, not son.”

THE FOG

I speak to my father
every week or so
our conversations are
as long as ever
but we are rapidly becoming
little more than
a skipping record.
He mostly recalls my name
and the various parts
one with the other of us
has had rebuilt
but even that is quickly
slipping into the fog
that is rapidly settling over him
and we both know
of the one part
for which there is
no repair or replacement.

UNKNOWING

I don’t know what
                                               I am, the Buddha said.

I don’t know why
                                                my mother gave me up at birth
                                                or how many cousins walk
                                                                    the streets of Lisbon
                                                or where I lost my first tooth
I don’t know what
                                                became of the nickel
                                                or why the tooth fairy was so tight
                                                or who will wash the blood
                                                                    from the streets of Basra
I don’t know how
                                                my Walkman eats batteries
                                                                    like Hostess Twinkies
                                                or why fungus grows underground
                                                or why the Somali child stares through
                                                                    starving eyes
I don’t know why
                                                my dough rises, only to fall mockingly,
                                                or why forced to eat matzoh, the Jews
                                                                    didn’t go back to Egypt
                                                or why I poke my sore knee to insure it hurts

I don’t know
                                                my birthright name.


First Appeared in Children, Churches and Daddies, Vol. 141, October 2004.

UNTO TARSHISH

In this place
there is a fatted,
sacrificial silence.
It is the large
Jewish Cemetery
nestling the road
where Maryland
and the District are loosely
stitched together.
It is a small plot
goldenrod dirt
outskirting Lisbon.

This ground is sacred
not for the blessing
of one who
has taken the tallit
of holiness.
The sanctity of this
ground leaches
from the simple pine
boxes that return
with the body
to the soil.

The stones, mostly simple
with neatly incised
Hebrew inscriptions
are all blank
to me, worn
smooth by memory
denied.
I place my ear
carefully to each, wanting
to hear a voice,
a fractured whisper
that will resonate
in the hollow spaces.

I pass by those
with shared names
for if he or she is here
each must share
the isolation
they willed me.
I look
at the faces
of passing mourners —
none resemble
the morning mirror.

I grow tired
of the search, sit
in the paltry shade
of the ricinus plant
knowing we both will
be gone by sundown.


First Appeared in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 29, No. 1, 2005.

UNTO TARSHISH

In this place
there is a fatted,
sacrificial silence.
It is the large
Jewish Cemetery
nestling the road
where Maryland
and the District are loosely
stitched together.
It is a small plot
goldenrod dirt
outskirting Lisbon.

This ground is sacred
not for the blessing
of one who
has taken the tallit
of holiness.
The sanctity of this
ground leaches
from the simple pine
boxes that return
with the body
to the soil.

The stones, mostly simple
with neatly incised
Hebrew inscriptions
are all blank
to me, worn
smooth by memory
denied.

I place my ear
carefully to each, wanting
to hear a voice,
a fractured whisper
that will resonate
in the hollow spaces.

I pass by those
with shared names
for if he or she is here
each must share
the isolation
they willed me.
I look
at the faces
of passing mourners —
none resemble
the morning mirror.

I grow tired
of the search, sit
in the paltry shade
of the ricinus plant
knowing we both will
be gone by sundown.


First Appeared in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 29, No. 1, 2005