Sara's Eyes*

From the photograph, it's impossible to tell
whether she is Afghan or an ex-pat worker
who fell for a mujahideen. The caption reveals
her name, Sara Ashe, and her age, 30,
and that, pregnant, she made her way to Maslakh,
a refugee camp on the site of a former slaughterhouse
where now two of her eight children vomit blood.

What I remember about the slaughterhouse
across the river in Breslau was the cold.
How you opened the door and wide ribbons would wrap
like gauze around your head and how hanging cattle
torsos were lowered on pulleys canting from the ceiling.
And the smell, it must have been blood,
how it always made me gag.

There are mud huts and tents at Maslakh,
plastic toilets under a tarp secured with poles
whittled from the last stand of pistachio on the Herat plain.
Temperatures edge below zero most nights.
Sara's hand touches her chin and her eyes,
framed by her hijab, appear pale. They must be blue
to be ringed so visibly in a newsprint photo.
A bull's-eye, dead center of each iris.

* First Place, Free Verse Category, Oregon State Poetry Association Fall 2008 Contest


I study her daily at dusk, one more
silhouette in a pane. Memorize
the poetry of her fingers, sudsy with soap,
the way she tidies her hair, an apostrophe,
behind each ear.
                    Light leaves the day
and it seems forever she waits.
She knows she’s got me cornered.
I watch as she raises her hand, jerks
a chain to illuminate a bulb that hangs
bare above the kitchen sink.

* Second Place, Members Only Category, Oregon State Poetry Association Spring 2009 Contest

Fifteen-Minute Family

With the turn of a chrome faucet,
she sees not the woman, defiant
as an afternoon's sun casts
her silhouette over the soap dish,
but the girl, barefoot in a hippie skirt,
baby on her hip, testing the water's
temperature with the back of her hand.
Anyone outside looking in would never
guess the tenuous pretending that day,
all three of them in the tub
the baby between them, laughing,
the mother in front cautious,
offering up the soap, a ritual
to the water until it softens, frees
the sandalwood, the washcloth
from its papier maché skin.
Who even sees the father
behind her, taking
his turn with the soap now,
polishing, determined
to make that incense
scent into a family.

Remembering Gravity*

I remember driving to the hospital that night.
You opened the door as the car took a corner,
and you threatened to jump.

According to Aristotle, there's no effect
without cause, no motion without force;
all things weighted move skyward
in pursuit of their proper place.

I go to the shore where your sister said,
you, mixed with the ashes of two dead dogs,
without ceremony, were dumped.

I wait until no one's watching and toss
a green glass bottle into the water
with lines by Neruda inside.

Brahmagupta said
it's the nature of earth to attract bodies
as the nature of water is to flow.

The bottle floats, wobbles, cycles on its side
out to a couple in a kayak
before a new wave catches and flips it
upright within their reach.

That night, the highway air fanned hatred
through me until I dared
the power of centrifugal force,
the physics of a body in motion to stay in motion,
to go ahead-pull you out.

* Second Place, Free Verse Category, Oregon State Poetry Association Fall 2007 Contest

Leda Before the Swan*

Before his shuddering fall into her arms,
his wings thrusting, their edgy caress,

she saw not the feathers, not the Olympian swagger,
but bathtubs and goat skins, her husband's nightly pursuit.

Later, she'll say that's why she didn't hear
the whirr, the dizzy miles he soared across the Aegean.

She was singing herself a song and threading
her braid into a coil at the nape of her neck.

She dabbed attar on wrists, weighty with their bangles,
and settled into the hammock for her afternoon nap.

* Honorable Mention, Members Only Category, Oregon State Poetry Association Spring 2007 Contest

The Cat Lady

The woman next door says she's clairvoyant.
She hasn't had a night's peace in years.
You want to ask her who it was
who found his body,
how long he was left hanging
but you stare instead
beyond to the leaf pile under the tree.
She fiddles with her buttons. You could
tarry for hours and still not be privy to where
his ashes were scattered or who got to keep the cars.

Time to assemble your gratitude and move on.
As if proxy for revelations, she offers
a painted cat she pulls from her pocket.
Once his, she says, brushing away lint.

She'll go back into her house,
spoon food onto saucers for the cats,
nameless because they come and they go,
something she's already told you,
something you already know.

These Miles To My River

I set off in shoes that pinch,
sink heel-deep in mud.
Cross levees to worship at the street of Erato,
her bridge the span of a prayer.

Beyond this archipelago of anthracite,
the miles to my river drain shorelines,
turn oxbow-weighty, the trees on the bank
a chorus of umlauts and howls.

I was told there’s a furnace, one smithy’s forge
near the dock for the ferry where words,
heated then hammered, emerge perfect,
first violin in a string quartet.

If I chew this taffy long enough,
the flavor will rise, anise India ink,
and I can float my message downstream,
on the back of a leaf in a bottle:

These miles to my river wear a tragedy
of donkeys, blinkered and chained
to an underground pen.

Stillness Until the Wind

Car tires on the road below us
speeding somewhere, maybe home
to the day as it leaves, white-blue,
the hundred-foot firs in silhouette,
bedroom’s amber lamp.
Until the wind comes up,
stillness accompanies the temple bell
to the whistle of midnight’s train.
Under a patchwork cover,
running stitch worn luminous,
we sleep with the window open,
the madrone at last light,


Prose Poetry

Empty Nest*

Garnet yams are the beginning of dinner in the oven and, in the living room, my son's on the couch, baseball on the television set. I escape to the deck-metal of the 50s patio chair my back, wine in a glass on the table beside me-where it takes but a second to find silence in the wind. Nuthatches dash from the feeder to a bird bath suspended from a branch of the light-starved pear while a raccoon raids the compost: freezer-burned pita her preferred menu, the meat scraps left for midnight's skunk. A black-chinned hummer-Archilochus alexandri-hovers, seven seconds in a ruby begonia, the blossom pendulous, the tiny bird at its neck. Clouds tip their hats and wander farther south.

The night shift irrigation starts, sputters, competition for a cappella frogs that live in the intermittent stream below the gravel drive. There's more wind, it's cooler, and the oaks that circle the house drop brittle, twisted leaves. They skate across the deck, the sound of one hand scratching, and I look at my hands: all this work and I've chipped my Afghani emerald again. A mountain next to the pickup, two cords of woodstove heat this winter, waits for my son to change his workout from free weights to splitting then stacking logs. Spiders tat elaborate lace, fill what's empty between the table and the arm of my chair. I lift my glass, catch a web between finger and thumb. The world is hanging by a thread.

* Honorable Mention, Prose Poem Category, Oregon State Poetry Association Spring 2008 Contest


From “Sins of the Mothers”

Desiree Diamond’s house was on Elizabeth Street in the historic center of Key West, across the island from where Ivy and Lorenzo lived. Ivy rode Lorenzo’s bike so she wouldn’t be late for what Desiree had promised would be a “light but sumptuous” lunch. A light lunch was good because Ivy woke up feeling sick again. The first sip of coffee turned sour the second it hit her empty stomach and Ivy thought she was going to have to make herself throw up. But the ride to Desiree’s helped. She hopped off and pushed the bike through a wrought iron gate and up a flagstone sidewalk.

Desiree’s house had manicured grounds, a patio with a latticed trellis and a diamond-shaped swimming pool behind a high, white fence. Ivy leaned her bike against the trunk of a tree and climbed the wide front steps. A light-skinned girl, fifteen or sixteen years old, answered the door. She didn’t look like a maid.

“Hi, I’m Ivy Everett. I’m here to see…”

“Yes, Ivy. Come in,” the girl said. “I’m Kenya. My grandmother’s waiting. She thought you’d prefer lunch on the porch.” Ivy followed the girl down a long, airy hall that smelled of mustard and fresh dill.

The inside of Desiree’s house looked nothing like what Ivy imagined from the street. Every room was an international bazaar crammed with dozens, in some cases hundreds, of objects from around the world—rugs and tapestries, sculpture and paintings, curio cabinets full of shiny, colorful things Ivy couldn’t begin to name.

Out on the back porch, Desiree waited alongside a table piled high with photo albums and cardboard boxes and mounds of shells and rocks. Her geometric print caftan made her look like the reigning queen of an African tribe. Silver bracelets, solid as a cast, clamped her lower arms. Her red hair was now all blonde and her toe and finger nails green with silver flecks. She wasn’t wearing shoes.

“Ivy,” Desiree said. “Welcome.” Desiree extended one of her astonishing hands. “You’ve met Kenya.” Ivy’s young guide had already disappeared through a pair of swinging doors that must have led to the kitchen.

“My daughter Lena’s oldest,” Desiree said. “Wants to go to culinary school. I hire her whenever I entertain. She’s good, almost too good. You know, the sins of the daughters visited upon the mothers. If that isn’t in the Bible, it should be. I don’t know, do you think it is?”

Ivy sat down on the wicker chair next to Desiree’s. Her stomach did a somersault, righted itself, then lurched. “You have an amazing house,” Ivy said.

“It used to be Clifton’s. Clifton Sands, my second husband,” Desiree said. “He died, oh let me see, back around that Watergate.”

“I mean the inside too, all your interesting…stuff,” Ivy said. Ivy felt her words go flat next to the vivacity that was Desiree.

Desiree’s hands massaged the air when she talked. “I collect art. A veritable kaleidoscope of my world travels,” Desiree said. “And my life.”

Ivy wanted to climb inside her palms.

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