FOR YOUR OWN GOOD

We kept them together to protect them,
he said, though we did make the men
wear the red And yellow badge.
You must understand, this was for their good.
We didn’t want them corrupted
by our Catholicism, so we had to ensure
we would not mingle with and debase them.
There were our bankers, without them
the King would’ve made tax demands on us
and a kingdom cannot long survive
on the broken backs and empty pockets of its people.
And anyway, they knew they need not comply,
after all what’s a pound of silver fine to a Jew.

OPTION ONE

Some, mostly of us, said we
were the chosen people, as if
wandering the desert for 40 years
was the grand prize, okay of Sodom
got the runners-up gift.
I didn’t buy it then, don’t now,
even after I sold my membership
as the price of final freedom.
No, we were, still are, the people
of the candle and oil lamp,
the latter far too sooty these days,
playing hell with our smoke detectors.
Two every Friday, and Hanukkah
is good for forty-four, and on
the anniversary of a death, just one,
but that to burn a full 24 hours.
So while our butchers fatten their thumbs
for the scales, and our bakers
tell their wives they won’t be home for dinner
on Thursday nights, busy braiding dough,
it is our candle makers who have
chosen us as their kind of people.

TIME ERODES

The house is suddenly empty
standing alone on a stark barren lot.
The old drapes are drawn tight
and little light enters, but
there is no one there to see it.
Every once in a while there is a rattle,
a creaking, and you expect someone to appear
in one of the now dark windows,
the door to be thrown open, an invitation
to enter or at least a wave, life
asserting itself within, but it will not happen.
You know the house cannot stand long
unattended, that it will, too soon, fall away
leaving only a hole to mark its presence.

MAL ANNEE

On the anniversary
of the start of a war
one feels almost compelled
to speak to its horrors,
its cause, its effect.
But we live in an age
where wars are plentiful,
when peace is the exception
and war seems to loom
around every corner.
So on this anniversary
I watch the snowy egret
stare into the pond
outside my window,
the great bird calmly
imagining that
in her world
all of the people
are merely fish.

GONE

The salmon people
don’t live here anymore
you have moved them
up the river, then inland
so they no longer need to wander.

The salmon
do not swim here anymore
you have dammed the rivers
to draw out their power
and penned the mighty fish
where the river first licks the sea.

The eagle doesn’t
fly here anymore
the great pines
that sat for generations
below his aerie are now
cut into neat supports
on which we hang our walls.

Our children
do not run here anymore
they have moved
to the cities, have gone off
to wars for fighting
is the only job
which they are given.

We have no rivers
we have no salmon
we have no sons, save those
who sleep under neat white stones.
We look for the eagle
a mighty spirit
but he, too, has been claimed
by the others
to decorate their buildings.
We have only our spirit
to guide us and we know
that soon you will claim them too
and leave us as you arrived
to repeat the sad story.

THE WALL

No one is certain who
painted the words on the wall.
No one knew when the painting occurred,
someone noticed the words
one morning and told others,
and the word spread through town.
People stopped to look at the words,
but few understood what they meant.
Soon there were pictures drawn
around the words, familiar faces,
and people would stop, add words
until the wall was a mural
that could not be forgotten,
only ignored by those
who simply wouldn’t understand.

VOYAGE FROM WITHIN

Magellan set sail 497 years ago,
which had nothing to do with her desire
to find a corner in which she could stand,
protected on two sides, and still
stare out into the world and see
all that was going on around her.
Better still if it were fashioned
of plexiglass, it could surround her
fully, as long as sound could get in,
and she could be fully engaged
in life without the risks that others
always seemed to drag in their wakes.
It wasn’t that she didn’t need people,
she just needed them at the proper
distance and most could never
determine what that distance
might be despite her entreaties.
Magellan would die a year and a half
later, a mistake she would never make.