They arrive after a long flight from tyranny, from oppression from the nightmare of endless fear, from hunger, from faith denied, from the bottomless depths of poverty, scarred memories etched in their souls, hoping for an ending as much as wishing for a new beginning. They have been here, a new generation, raised on the stories, versed in the painful history, still residual anger born of love for those who fled, without the pain of experience, who can forget when it is others who now wish only to arrive to the freedom they have known since childhood
We have grown tired of counting the mind cannot deal with numbers of that magnitude, Stalin was correct, it is all statistics now, and bodies, always more bodies, never enough, always too many, by violence in the street, in the economy, in the courthouse, in the COVID ward, there are too many places now, where the dead gather, and we cannot bid them farewell, for we do not want to be counted among them, to join them, to admit that we in some way have led them into disease, into poverty, into death.
As you sit in your suburban homes, by the pools at your country clubs, in your vacation resort villas, try for the sake of the patriarchs and matriarchs of our faith, to remember that we were the poor, we were the huddled masses, we yearned to breathe free, we the tempest tossed.
Remember the tenements of the Lower East Side, the sweat shops, the struggle, remember all of this, remember where we came from, from the sthetl, from the pogrom, from poverty, recall we were the wretched refuse for whom a door was opened.
Remember all of this now, as you so willingly wish to slam the door to those whose only wish is to follow in our now dusty footsteps.
You sneaked away one night. You were there, but while sleep claimed me, you were gone without notice or warning. Where should I look for you? In these barren hills where the spirits of the first nations roam, looking for their ancestral land?
Where should I look for you? Wandering these verdant fields where a hundred generations have been sacrificed to the will of power mad men who know no satisfaction?
Where should I look for you? In these filth ridden streets and narrow alleys where the rats scamper in search of a meal, where a child at play would be a fine repast?
Where should I look for you? Across these wind blown sands where brother has hunted brother for three generations, each laying God’s claim to the birthright of the other while wives and mothers wail in mourning?
First published in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press (2008)
She carefully hangs her life
on the tautly stretched line
across her small back yard.
A sun faded floral housedress
a pair of bib overalls
knees worn white on
the kitchen linoleum,
cracked and dingy.
She waits patiently
for Humphrey Bogart to arrive
and carry her up
the river of her memory.
The chicken threatens
to burn in the cramped oven
and she is again without napkins.
He will be home soon
his six pack chilling
in the old Kelvinator
and she feels the slap
on her bruised cheek
as she fluffs her pillow
where she will soon hide
her purpled face.
Recently appeared in Aurora, Down in the Dirt Vol. 167 (2020)
She wrapped him carefully in an old blanket and several sections of the Times and put him in the basket with the broken handle she found out behind the Safeway near the culvert that was home until the rains came. She placed him among the weeds and beer bottles, where the river’s smell licked the wicker, and she hoped he would be found quickly. She envisioned him at the right hand of Kings, holding forth on all manner of life and death, princes seeking his insight, hanging on his words. He would not be like others dying at the hand, whim of wealth. He was found a week later lodged against a grate at the intake of the power station and placed in a far corner of the city cemetery under a simple stone “Baby Doe.”
If you come upon both beggar and nobleman see neither wealth or poverty, smell neither the fine rosewater or the crying need of a bath, hear neither the ravings of one or the philosophy of the other, taste neither the fine curry of the moldy bread crust, feel neither the tattered rag or the purest silk.
In the mirror of Zen both men have your face and there is no one standing in front of you.
It is the wet season when the rains wash the village carrying off the detritus of poverty. On the adobe wall of the ancient town hall some villagers say a face appeared one morning. To some it was the face of Christ to others that of an old man a former mayor, perhaps, to most of the tourists from the nearby resort no more than random discoloration of the aging plaster that clung to the beams by the force of will. They arrived by bus and rusting pick ups, bowed to the wall and reached out gingerly like children touching the flame of a candle. To the mason it was a job that would feed his family for another week.
First appeared in Erothanatos, Vol. 3, No. 3 July 2019, Pg. 40