THE HOUSE ON PEABODY

It was brick, red I am told.
on a quiet street not far
from 16th Street and its traffic.
It was small, but a good home
for a couple with a child or two
in the heart of the District.

I have no recollection of it,
save the tile, black and white
in the bathroom, the radiator
on which I hit my head,
and the front stoop, and that
only in the picture of me
in his arms, my father,
the man who adopted me
and later a baby girl, then
dropped dead one morning
of a massive coronary.
I have no recollection
of him, of the sister taken away,
or the house, but I mourn then all.

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 Lisa, my my sister, like me adopted and as quickly withdrawn, left no outward marks.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)

MEMORY

We were told the average background color of the universe was turquoise.  She said “that’s because a coyote ripped it from the mountains outside Cerrillos.  But now they say it’s actually a shade of dark beige, drying mud colored.”  It was a glitch in the software, the astronomers said.  The coyote was unmoved.

She sits on the floor sorting coupons and roughly clipped articles on herbs and natural remedies.  Occasionally she looks down at the hollow of her chest, at the still reddened slash left by the scalpel.  “I’ve got no veins left.  I hate those damn needles. If they want to poison me, I’ll drink it gladly.  Socrates had nothing on me.”

I rub her feet as she slides into the MRI tube, and pull on her toes.  “I can pull you out at any time.”  I look at my wrist but there is no time in this room, checked at the door.  Just the metronomic magnet.  As she emerges she grabs my hand, presses it against my chest.  I cradle her head and trace the scar across her scalp, trying to touch the missing brain matter, the tumor it nestled, pushing aside the brittle hair.  “Lightly toasted,” she whispers with a weak smile.  She hates white coats and stethoscopes.  “They’re the new morticians.”  They take her in small sections.  She is a slide collection in the back of my closet, on the pathologists shelf.  I want to gather them all and reassemble her.  I want her to be a young girl of fifteen again.

Coyotes wander down from the Sandia hills.  They gather outside the Santo Domingo Pueblo, sensing the slow seepage of heat from the sun baked adobe.  There is no moon.  They know each star.  They stare into the darkened sky.  They see only turquoise.

Reprised from March 31 2016

TREPIDATION

I approach it slowly, overcome
by fear and desire, warned to step
carefully over the uneven earth
that on this hillside haven set behind
the rusting wrought iron fence , its
master lock dangling askew, peers
out through the trees to the Kanawha river
flowing unknowingly through the valley.

The stone is set in line with the others,
neatly incised, a name, English
and Hebrew, two petunias, cornered,
in perpetual bloom, a beloved sister
and aunt, and unstated, unknown perhaps,
a mother whose son, gently touching
the stone, washes her with my tears,
and we speak of love in silence, and I,
a child of sixty-seven, embrace
my mother for the first time, and I
am finally and for the first time, complete

DOG DAYS

Growing up my family always had dogs,
only one at a time, of course, since we
were a modern suburban family,
which may be why we had a dog.

It clearly wasn’t because they loved dogs,
they tolerated them on good days,
ignored them the rest of the time
and the good days were few if any.

I never asked for a dog, knew
the daily care would fall to me, for
my sort of brother and sister would
never lift a finger if they didn’t want

and they rarely wanted for other than
themselves, but I didn’t mind, for each
dog became my true family, we all
shared a common blood among us,

which is to say none, and we all said
in our own languages, which we all
understood while no one else did, that
we were orphans who beat the system.

THE SENTENCE

I was honored to have this poem recently published by Please See Me, 2019 Issue 3. You can see the original here (and other work by some fine writers:
https://pleaseseeme.com/issue-3/poetry/the-sentence-louis-faber

“Probable metastatic lesions
secondary to breast cancer.”
Complex words set
at the bottom of a page,
impenetrable jargon.

Two spots where pelvis
and spine are joined,
where motion fulcrums
down legs, a torso
and its twin concavities
lever up, fold down, torque
in slow rotation
living.

The words stare out
from the page; defiant,
aberrant cells nestling bone
foretell a pillow
blanketed in hair,
rosy skin sheltering
burning flesh beneath.
I offer platitudes,
empty aphorisms
neither she nor
I believe. For me
self-serving hope,
weak bracing
for a hastily built bridge
spanning a gulf
of absence and neglect:
a young girl abandoned,
a woman rediscovered.

For her, baby sister,
a smile born of the pain
of the surgeons’
hollow handiwork
across skull and chest,
an unguent smile
to soothe my
festering guilt.

We watch words
shatter against
the impenetrable reality.

THE VISIT

I have never visited
the grave of my mother,
either of them, which seems most odd
primarily to me.
The mother I never knew
until it was too late to know her
is buried in Charleston, West Virginia
a place i intend to visit, grave site included
in the coming months, to see
where my mitochondrial DNA was planted
and grew into the odd shape
that greets me in the morning mirror.
The mother i knew so well, who could always find
ways to frustrate me when I was certain she exhausted
every possibility is buried next to my sister,
placed there by my brother who couldn’t quite
get the funeral together, at least not the one
she would have appreciated, with the near famous
all pump, never the right circumstances
so into the ground she went.
I will visit there too, someday perhaps,
but helical gravity will always
pull me to the Mountain State.

IN A ROOM OF HORSE MANURE

My sister only wanted a horse
an my parents thought they could solve
that dilemma with a pony at her fifth birthday party
where she would get all the extra rides,
her friends and playmates be damned.
Like most great parental plans,
this one was doomed to failure,
and failure marched front and center
as they learned from the pony was loaded
back into the trailer and my sister
tried to tie herself to the trailer
with ribbon from her gift wrap.
She was never good with knots,
even when she died at 52, the cancer
having ravaged her one organ at a time,
but even in her waning days, she
whine to our mother that all she ever wanted
was a horse, then winked at me, staring
around her hospital room, since we both knew
there was a pony in there somewhere.

ARF, HE SAID

Growing up my family always had dogs,
only one at a time, of course, since we
were a modern suburban family,
which may be why we had a dog.

It clearly wasn’t because they loved dogs,
they tolerated them on good days,
ignored them the rest of the time
and the good days were few if any.

I never asked for a dog, knew
the daily care would fall to me, for
my sort of brother and sister would
never lift a finger if they didn’t want

and they rarely wanted for other than
themselves, but I didn’t mind, for each
dog became my true family, we all
shared a common blood with them

which is to say none, and we all
in our own languages, which we all
understood while no one else did, that
we were orphans who beat the system.