THE RUNES

Here, in these unmown fields
where the morning mists gather
once stood the ancient chieftain
his clan assembled about him
staring into the distant trees
under the watchful eye of the gods.
As the October winds blew down
from the hills, they strode forward
blades glinting in the midday sun
ebbing and flowing until the moon
stood poised for its nightly trek
and they stood on the precipice
of exhaustion counting fall brethren
sacrificed to the blade of the claymore
for glory of clan and entertainment of gods.

On these tired fields no chieftains stride
and the mists no longer wrap the boulders
left to mark nameless graves of kin.
These are now ill sown fields, lying
in the wasteland between chiefs who sit
in silent bunkers, clansmen gathered
to retell the tales of glory long vanished, to come.
In these fields they till the begrudging soil
and beg the gods for meager growth.
As the moon begins its slow journey skyward
they pause to count the craters torn
into the rocky soil, and gather the bones
of those newly fallen, sacrificed to the wrath
of the claymores, the entertainment of the gods.


First Appeared in Main Street Rag, Vol. 7, No. 1, Spring 2000.

THE LADIES

It is an ungainly beast
and its cry, as much a bleat
as a roar, can pierce the air
and is never easily ignored.
There are far larger to be found,
and far more beautiful.
Some have voices that melt anger
incite passion, alleviate pain.
Some sing in a register so low
touch and hearing are merged.
Even this beast has its smaller kin,
gentler, if not ever soothing,
happy to fill a room, not a universe.
But the great beast has
always known its place,
held in the arms of and cradled
informal procession, carried
forward into battle by
the so-called Ladies from Hell.

DACHAIGH

Even when I was briefly in Edinburgh
I dreamed of walking the streets of Lisbon
or Porto, looking into the faces of older men
and wondering if this one was my father,
the one I had never seen, never known.
the one my Jewish mother described
in detail to the social worker who took me from her
shortly after she gave me life.
It is many years later, now my mother
has a face, discovered in the twisting path
of a double helix, good West Virginia
Jewish stock, Lithuania left far behind.
I may someday visit Lisbon, I hear
it is a lovely city, but the faces will all
be alien to me, and there I will dream
of my day touring the Highlands
of Scotland, the Isle of Skye, and which
of the McDonald’s or McAllister’s might
be kin and which Tartan I can
rightfully claim as my own.

SLAINTE

It is just that sort of summer day
when the sparse clouds crawl ever more slowly
across the city, peering down, as if wishing
they could end their journey, knowing this won’t happen.
On the fields of Falkirk and Culloden Moor
stained with the blood of ancestors who, only now,
claim me as one of them, allow me to wear the tartan,
the clouds build and flee without ever pausing
to peer down on the carnage below.
They want only to move on, continue the passage,
give endless chase to the sun, certain
they will fail and fall, only to take up
the chase again onward into eternity.

THE FACT OF ADOPTION

The fado fades
under the weight
of the Highland pipes
and dreams of Cascais
fade into the Scottish sky.
Where once I thought
of wandering Lisbon
looking for my face,
I imagine I see it
in the Grampians, reflected
off the lochs whose
headwaters now feed
my dreams.


One joy of being adopted is that what you imagine is not always what really is. For years, based on what my birth mother told the adoption agency, my father was “a Portuguese Jew.” DNA later showed that I had no Portuguese blood at all, and I doubt my Russell and McDonald paternal ancestors spent much time in Lisbon.

NO MONSTER HERE

Macbeth had a witches problem,
but that hardly made him unique.
It’s true that Scottish witches
are more difficult to deal with
than those of much of the rest
of Western Europe, something to do
with being under English dominion
for so damned long that Erse
is a nearly forgotten tongue,
but you’d think a General would
at least speak the local lingo.
Still, you have to wonder
just how things could have
turned out if only he had
a pair of ruby slippers
to get him back to Inverness,
for an afternoon dip in the Loch.

ORPHAN

I was a foundling
wandering from Guinness Stout
to Ouzo and back,
in search of identity.
In Schul I would cry out
to Him asking, “Who am I?”
and He would answer,
“you are, you are.”
The balalaika
of my mother’s grandfather
sounded tinny,
a cacophony lost
in Oporto, Lisboa.
On the streets of Vienna
I thought I saw him, and ran
to find only shadows.
In villages along the Douro
he disappeared
into fields shorn
for winter’s approach.
The Capitol’s penumbra
found him laughing,
reflected in my mirror,
staring at my thinning hair
slowly whitening.
I was of all places
and of none until
on Glasgow’s streets
I walked his steps
and smelled the Clyde
and Talisker, his breath mine.

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 Glasgow
                        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 Fallujah

I don’t know how
                        my iPhone drains batteries
                                    like a thirsty drunk
                        or why fungus grows underground
                        or why the Sudanese child stares through
                                    starving eyes

I don’t know why
                        my dough rises, only to fall mockingly,
                        or why forced to eat manna, 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