following Li Po’s lead: to those left behind: on this Easter Sunday in Istanbul, 2019

you are all there
in dreams
our youth on display
strength resting still
in these arms
weaker with age
there is music
Mom dancing in apron
as she sings off-key
to Al Martino
my brothers my sister
nieces and nephews
that long extended table
Charlie Aunt Mary
Grandma’s raviolis
filling the plates
seconds thirds
the turkey the broccoli
sausage and peppers
coffee and cake
platters of fruit
peanut shells and walnuts
George playing The Four Seasons
Johnny teasing Robert
Robert sighs dramatically
into his glass of wine
and I laugh
oh I laugh
waking with tears
in my eyes
Easter Sunday
in Istanbul
so very far
so very long

on being home: for Ali

Ali callserguvan
I see erguvan
our special flower
only here
in Istanbul
suddenly now
I am home
we are home
it is so beautiful
and I tell Burhan
your uncle is home
he smiles
as we drive
from apartment
to apartment
until I too see
and I too
am home

dreams of Lyon Place

I’ve been sleeping
looking for a dream
the place
my dog there
and my father
though neither knew
the other
both having lived
decades apart
my mother is cooking
I can smell her sauce
my grandmother
is kneading dough
for her cavatelli
Johnny and I
both get a piece
to roll
in our hands
before eating
my father stands
holding the dog’s leash
and before their walk
he pats my mother
on the ass
and says
that’s why
I married her
she giggles
like she always does
at that joke
and though it should be
taking the dog out
it is my father
his white shirt sleeves
rolled up
my grandmother sings
some Neapolitan song
Harry is there
George Robert
my sister Theresa
is coming
with the kids
a holiday
or just Sunday dinner
at two o’clock
Uncle Mike
from New Jersey
is there
my cousin Carolyn
Aunt Mary too
and Uncle Frank
watching Westerns
on TV
though he was dead
long before
Uncle Joe
with his cigar
in mouth
is dealing cards
Aunt Bernie Cousin Betty
are setting the table
Uncle Dominic
is mixing gin rickeys
Charlie is reading
The New York Times
on the back porch
my Grandfather
picking tomatoes
in the backyard
and suddenly
all the people
I’ve loved
are in one place
one house
on Lyon Place
and we will sing
my mother will dance
to Lou Monte
Calypso Italiano
George will know
all the words
and everyone
will laugh
the whole day

Easter Sunday in Istanbul

Okay, I know I shouldn’t be drinking this early in the morning but if I only did the things I should do and avoided all the things I shouldn’t do, I wouldn’t have done half the things I did do, which, some people in my life, my brother Johnny being one of them, would probably say that’s just the point.

Anyway, here I am having just finished a spinach pie for breakfast and yes, having a cup of spiked coffee and a glass of red wine to wash it down, and thinking I have no one to answer to for the things I do or don’t do so what the hell. I mean, it’s Easter Sunday back in my old world which is actually the new world but my old world while I sit here in my sweatpants and fleece-lined slippers in my new world which is actually the old world but it’s all pretty relative, isn’t it?

So my point being it is morning here in my new world but still evening, late evening, in my old world where I would be if I was going to celebrate Easter Sunday properly with my brothers, with Rita, with Steve, too, now that his sister lives in Florida and though he’s Jewish, he never passes up a holiday dinner, any holiday dinner, with people he loves, at George’s house where there’d be Robert’s tomato sauce with meatballs that rival our mother’s and hot and sweet sausage, broccoli with garlic and lemon, probably some fried pork George’s in-laws will bring from Chinatown on the way out to the Island, and Cecelia’s cheesecake for dessert, several bottles of red wine because they know I’ll be there and the kids watching Disney movies in the living room while we all bad mouth the Republicans and discuss healthcare and the Mets.

But I’m not there, but here, where it’s just another Sunday morning, a bit overcast, but I’m not going anywhere, and plan to spend the day rereading No One Writes To The Colonel because, you know, Marquez died on Thursday and I thought it appropriate to revisit him today, and then watch a few movies, maybe In The Heat Of The Night or Inside Man or the original Taking Of Pelham 123 because they’re so NY (the last two, not the Sidney Poitier film) and I sort of miss NY today having read an email from Rita thanking me for the flowers but mentioning the opera and wishing I was there and well, it’s mornings like this, when it should be Easter Sunday but isn’t that I do miss NY more than a little bit.

So I’ll drink my wine with coffee if I want to, eat some more hazelnuts, play some Miles Davis on the stereo in the living room and maybe, just maybe forget where I am, where I’ve been, and only think about where I’m going.

And that’s really what Easter is about, isn’t it? Rebirth. Like a phoenix, one rises from the ashes and flies once again.

the spiritual aristocrat 1: for Zhihua

this is the hardest one to write
since what we are
keeps changing
these 20 odd years
but you have been a presence
in my life
since that day before class
when you stood in front of the room
arms folded
head cocked to the side
listening to the questions
and then at the board
demonstrating the meaning of Chinese characters
so confident
it was a surprise
for you sat so quietly
listening to the others in the seminar
not bored like me
but intent
and now
many years later
I value that ability of yours
to listen as well as speak
and wish I had listened more
to the advice you gave
for you can be more objective
though sometimes too judgmental
at least in the past
but you are
after all
an aristocrat in spirit
and thus tend to bestow advice
kernels dropping from your mouth
you are so knowledgeable
about so many things
literate and cultured
you embody the classic Chinese concept
of an eclectic mind
of values and principles
how upset you would become
with people who did not know
the history of countries they visited
or who couldn’t appreciate
the beauty of a vase
people who see us
know us
think of us as a couple still
but though looks are deceiving
we are more than that
we have become that
and though I continue to go
stubbornly down a path
of my own choosing
you have grown accustomed
to my absence
the hole that is left
a hole I feel too
for you are missed more
than anyone else
the theatre we went to
Off and On Broadway
the shared opera season
the Bolshoi Ballet
concerts at Carnegie Hall
those late night movies
once, twice a week
driving into Manhattan
hunting for a parking space
then catching a 10pm show
tea afterwards at your house
the bottle of wine you always opened
just for me
the slices of fruit
the mooncakes
the food you put aside
for me to take home
like my mother would do
you were constantly feeding me
your cooking is something I miss
almost as much as the conversation
and the food I associate with you
Peking Duck
and Szechuan style scallops
seaweed salad with sashimi
watching you browse in gourmet food markets
who knew there were so many cheeses
in this world
and remembering your curoisity
still makes me smile
we would have to stop
in every gift shop in Bar Harbor
or try pastries in countless cafes
in Vienna
and I still miss the Chinese markets
the frogs in plastic tubs along the wall
the eel slithering in water
the fresh fish laid out on ice
and rows of vegetables
star fruit and lechee nuts
and dim sum in Flushing
chicken feet and shrimp dumplings
how every waiter seemed to know you
we always got special desserts
you cooked spaghetti with tomato sauce
my last night in New York
and when I drove away that night
I felt an era close
more than Johnny crying
or Steve’s farewell embrace
leaving you in Bayside
was like losing a part of my history
even now
on the phone
it’s hard to hang up
and when I do
I sit in silence
mourning the bridge I burnt
the life I left behind
or at least the part of it
that you occupied