UNTO TARSHISH

In this place
there is a fatted,
sacrificial silence.
It is the large
Jewish Cemetery
nestling the road
where Maryland
and the District are loosely
stitched together.
It is a small plot
goldenrod dirt
outskirting Lisbon.

This ground is sacred
not for the blessing
of one who
has taken the tallit
of holiness.
The sanctity of this
ground leaches
from the simple pine
boxes that return
with the body
to the soil.

The stones, mostly simple
with neatly incised
Hebrew inscriptions
are all blank
to me, worn
smooth by memory
denied.
I place my ear
carefully to each, wanting
to hear a voice,
a fractured whisper
that will resonate
in the hollow spaces.

I pass by those
with shared names
for if he or she is here
each must share
the isolation
they willed me.
I look
at the faces
of passing mourners —
none resemble
the morning mirror.

I grow tired
of the search, sit
in the paltry shade
of the ricinus plant
knowing we both will
be gone by sundown.


First Appeared in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 29, No. 1, 2005.

PATER INCOGNITA

He often comes to me in dreams.
In most he is faceless, but intently present,
speaking in a voice I instantly know,
nothing like mine and totally mine.
On occasion his face appears, blurred,
as if seen through a scrim, back-lit,
vague, an actor in some film I have seen,
but yet not that person, that character.
For a while I saw my own face, but I knew
that was just my wishful mind filling in a gap
which has yet to be filled, knowing
that it likely never will.

WHAT DO YOU READ, MY LORD?

There is probably much that could be said,
a bit less that should be said, but I
I’m not the person to say it, and remain silent.
You are surprised by the silence — it is
not what you expect of me, and that
you find disconcerting and a bit unnerving.
If I asked you what you would have me say,
I doubt you could find anything in particular.
It is more the sound of my voice you expect,
not the words I choose to utter or retain.
It all comes down to words, doesn’t it?
And yet they fail us with such regularity,
we each must wonder why we speak at all.

APPARITION

In the night
what I am perched
on the edge of sleep
you appear, just
out of the dream shadows,
avoiding the light,
you are featureless.
I call to you and I think
you must be smiling
but your voice is the wind
through the Austrian pines
and the drip from the ever
shrinking icicles
that slowly abandon
the eaves of the house.

ASKED AND ANSWERED

This morning I made the mistake
of asking where the coffee beans were.
My spouse didn’t hear me, but Siri
offered her opinion, leaning toward Guatemala.
That didn’t set well with Alexa
who said they were either in the cabinet
over the stove, of in Papua New Guinea,
since she prefers lower acidic coffee.
Probably unsurprising, but Siri did
not take well to being corrected,
and got into it with Alexa, and I
was left trying to interject, being ignored.
I asked the Google Voice Assistant to intercede,
but it only wanted to know which voice
I wanted it to speak with, and
then froze completely awaiting my answer.

ANCESTORS

He clearly remembers standing on the edge
peering down into the almost bottomless canyon,
listening to the narrow river slide across the rocks
thrown down by its walls over millennia.
He was a visitor here, knew he would stay
only briefly, then leave, his spirit hiding
among the rocks in the nearby mountains,
staring down on the mesa for eternity.
He remembers listening for coyote, begging
the wily one to tell him the tales of its ancestors
with whom he will soon share this canyon.
All he hears is the wail of the jackrabbit,
coyote’s message in a foreign voice,
as night engulfs the mesa and he
stares up at the galaxies and stars
which barely notice the small orb
hanging in the distant sky.