NEVER, STILL

I know what you did not tell them,
that much I could learn for myself,
but what did you tell them? I know
you were full figured, I think that
is the acceptable term, once it was
Reubenesque, but someone
must have noticed something.

Maybe those at work, sitting at their
terminals didn’t notice, you came
and went, few friendships perhaps,
but you were close to the family, they
must have suspected, though you
told the agency no one knew,
certainly not your partner in that act.

It won’t change anything, best since
you took the answer to your grave,
the one I visited to greet you
and bid you farewell, the least
a son can do for the mother
he never got the chance to know.

TRIPTYCH

A triptych hangs in the gallery of memory. Admission is by invitation only.

The first panel is a time fogged mirror into which I stare. The adopted image hides behind the tarnished silver. My adopted mother’s voice is heard from a hidden speaker: “You were named after my father.” I want to tape his picture to the glass, a face to share the empty space. She has no pictures, she says, he never liked being photographed, said it would steal his soul. She can barely remember him: “He died when I was five.” I ask questions. I need to know more about the giver of names. She falls silent, drawing in, secreting memory.

In the second panel a woman sits, fidgeting. She is a striking blond. I cannot see her as being sixty-one, though she is. I deny that I am fifty. As the Rabbis climb the few steps to the Bimah, she leans over. “You know,” Lois says, “just like you, I was named for your grandfather. She talks freely of herbalism, life in New York, places she wants someday to see. “It’s funny,” she whispers, “I’ve never seen a picture of him; like he had some kind of phobia of being photographed.” Outside the Temple she stands with my mother and sister, arms interlocked, embracing both. I snap the picture. I am not captured on the film. Lois and I drive back to my mother’s apartment, stopping at one of the unending lights on Wisconsin Avenue. She touches my hand: “You know there was one more person named after him, your other sister.” The light changes.

There is only a picture hook in the wall — not even the faint outline that marks the space from which a picture is removed, the wall beneath unbleached by the sun. Lisa, my my sister, like me adopted and as quickly withdrawn, left no outward marks. She is a footnote in my father’s obituary. She is cast off by family, an unmentionable. She is my mother’s deeply hidden scar.

I am repeatedly drawn into this room. It’s walls never change, the pictures periodically replaced. I need to visit, to assure myself of — what? Someday, too soon, this exhibit will close.

First appeared in Pitkin in Progress, Vol. 3, No. 1 (2002)

ON LOSSES

By the way, the headstone is lovely,
designed by your niece, it pays tribute
to you as aunt, as sister, as friend.

I do wish it had said mother as well
but I know I’m the one secret you thought
would fit into a corner of the pine box,
buried with you, to be, like you, reclaimed
by the rocky soil of West Virginia.

Little could you have imagined that
a few cc’s of saliva could expose
what you so carefully hid, and you
were helpless to avoid it regardless.

My adoptive father, the second one,
slipped away slowly, dying before death,
under the living eyes of aides and nurses.

You just lived your life your way,
answered to yourself and perhaps God,
and decided it was time to go, needed
no permission, made no farewells,
and in that regard, I am one of the family.