Maybe you wanted to become
the sun, be noon, stand
on the threshold between
ante and post. Maybe you resolved
to straddle magnetic poles, mold
latitude from every veil wrapped
around your heart. How long before,
elastic knotted into a jungle of jump
rope that snapped then stung
the legs? Later came the celestial,
constant, every coordinate deemed
scribble then muck. Maybe you’d hoped for
a tooth of recognition, a dermis of float,
skein from salts, in the bath
one ellipsis inside a great-circle
symphony of wins or prepositions,
a cut-off pinky, saintly relic
resurrected within the lines
of longitude through St. Peter’s
holy holy holy in Rome. How long
could you stand before the bullet-
proof glass and weep, one more son
marbled across his mother. Her gaze:
window on your midday, your own lost
count, the too many pulses past
ante and post.
On the threshold.
Your sun dallying.
Crossing at noon.

  * First Place, Free Verse Category, Oregon Poetry Association Spring 2013 Contest


It’s the slow, cumulative suffering she carried
into her dreams, oven mitts too thin to curry

the burn from her hands. Whenever he’s back
from the dead, she can’t touch his back,

blistering under patchwork, lost in the curled
bone-cage of a bird. Ever now, she conjured

still that day, his hanging in that tree only
to flit from him to new men in Mississippi,

all-white faces leering in the flashbulbs below.
Until she decides—he is better left one faux

Icarus flown afar from the trap,
his dance shoes both white-capped

and bobbing. The wind’s too harsh to
quell our flotilla of question marks.

A Month of Sundays*

These July clouds that jewel —
they lie. Augur rain maybe a gust.
Just a tempering of the heat,
nothing except time
unreeled, and tempting
a sober probe that hankers us
back to our days of slack,
of rain-forest spring.
When I couldn’t remember
the way a light mocks, so strobes
the gray. Where a novice seeking
embers on the verge would never
wend the flagstones, declare
dissembling to be a blizzard of embrace.
how it overnight blurs
a jangle into the new
with its wet,
with its ossuaries of moldy
leaf, every web long ago fallen
or trounced, never much heated to
febrile sweat, all our brewing
gone utterly airy, and steeped. Oh but
we march, one foot in front of
the other, grow old. A few of us
thrilled to wear our denim
into this future, aping the prill
of a peony in bud,
lilacs and azaleas long past,
the rain barrel filled by a crying sky.
May you live to see another year.
May you next time through
make a chart of the blooming —
pole bean and cosmos, sunflowers crowning,
pollinators rocking out a Woodstock frenzy,
stages the bee balm, rocket,
echinacea in the wings with Bobby Darin,
ole Mack the Knife now crooning down
with love, with Junes, the moons to wrap
in cellophane more July clouds
bejeweled, belied.

* Second Place, Experimental Category, Oregon Poetry Association Fall 20114 Contest

Up in the Old Hotel*

Those shiftiest of letters “Q” and “A” take
The elevator, take the A train, take
The talk to the shabby, the scarab or the scab, meet
In the middle, stick
With the worker, queening it over while they honey
Up their offertory statistics, explode
More firearms (per capita) until they halo
Into hot gas, old stars that sphere
Around a galaxy, swerve
To retina, to whirligig then beetle,
Gemstone hieroglyphics under a jetty, more chinning
Zigs as if king or bird, the bee’s knees to tell
Me myself I, tell mine to merry-go-round, to seal,
To flame, to tender, to do the drip drip
Woo-hoo, uptown apiary toodle-loo before it’s necessary to believe
Being is in their candle, its missive of yellow and broke, and brood
Because long live the face, their personal mermaid who’ll angel
Every unexplained echo, stoop
To bunny-tie their shoes, bend
Beneath the fray and net
The two of them, larval yet dishabille, steadied
By return (as they must) to wax and be
Pillars of the code who radio
The letter H, loading-dock deliveries bound
For this hospitality capital, more types written
“Sticky/Wicked,” riced.

* Published in Posit. Nominated for a 2014 Pushcart Prize.

The Time of Small Despair

After her hands cracked,
after the steroids
thinned her skin, made shine
her palms, their lifelines
gullied and thumbprints
evanesced, she longed
for the whorl, one more
flywheel she could seize,
velocity no
longer tapered off.
this is evening.
The signposts speak in
tongues how every blast
undoubtedly burns
down. While the makeshift
mover-shakers, such
chattering mayflies,
refuse to admit

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 Poetry Association Fall 2008 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.

Tableau Mourant

My great-grandmother died
where she sat, rocker by the window
afternoons captive to Guiding Light,
no need to study skeins or the afghan’s squares
buried in the calico of her lap.
That day, her netted hair—what wisps were left—
held, taut at the nape of her neck
and her stockings—she called them hose—
rolled her ankles like crullers baked tight
until her skin marbled blue.

In the naked-bulb kitchen, her spinster daughter
still unknowing wields tongs,
lifts scald-hot jars from a canner,
the taboo “shit” a hiss from her lips
when one slips back into the pot and breaks.
Against the plastered wall, she scrapes
a match and lights her cigarette.
The air is pickle-sweet;
a percolator burps.

It’s nearly evening in Meander, in autumn,
in a coal town through which the wind
pushes the sun past one final
click and flash of a purple crochet hook
and into the sudden smell of peat.

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 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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