Upon this altar I place
the sweet honeysuckle of those
truth or dare behind the neighbor’s shed,
the color of your hair that lies somewhere
between sweet honey and the blazing butter
of fall leaves burning through that railroad
and graffiti town.
Laughter rising hard and fast,
a freight train carrying us to
pregnant too young and married
to hard-fisted men.
I place my closed heart
next to your silent misery.
Take my blindness and guilt
and all those cold days kissing boys
who tasted like cigarettes.
Let’s waft the scents of lavender
and fresh linens,
listen for the sounds of our babies
screaming on the rusty swing set,
the dirty lake lapping at their tiny toes.
The way you could whip up dinner delicious and hot,
with only scraps from those empty cabinets,
the food stamps long gone for the month.
Popsicles and sprinklers, the sound of storms
coming in like cloaked men in the night.
The taste of lemon drops and whiskey tongues,
sound of quarters dropping down deep,
pool balls clinking like bullets loading
into the chamber of a 9mm.
Heap together the damp carpet and the quicksilver bugs,
the mice shuffling through the cabinets,
that tiny, useless built-in air conditioner,
and the back porch that nobody ever used.
I place my heart pounding with so much fear.
I place the home that raised my sister
to learn not to want to live.
Take these mud pies on Plexiglas as an offering.
Let’s pray together to the gods
of old folding chairs and appreciate how they scrape
the concrete floor of the church basement and the way
that they leave permanent marks on my heart.
after Archibald MacLeish's poem of the same name
A poem should be smooth,
worn slick as supper plates
waiting in warm water
as the night wears itself out.
Damp as a basement
with graffiti-rough walls,
no college degree in sight.
A poem should shoulder
A poem can't do the dishes
because it’s too busy
A poem is the time between
when I realize I don't love you
and the day I say it out loud
in an empty room.
A poem takes its time.
Running, as the mountain pulls
boulder by boulder, my legs
gasp poetry under their breath.
Leaving, as the elk bounded
from the meadow
the night of blazing vodka stars.
A poem should be equal to:
The way the curtains catch
the sunlight, paint a perfect slant
across the linen.
the crooked house and two hands
in the dishwater -
A poem should not mean
And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly accustomed
And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom
from In Memory of W. B. Yeats by W. H. Auden
Wander the towns of America,
are you free?
I asked this of a woman in the Dollar Tree parking lot
which had been wilting under the sticky Cleveland heat for weeks.
My head was a donut just out of the fryer.
She barely looked my direction as she gathered small children
set them right in the cart, tied a shoe, patted her purse.
Her hair needed a wash.
With a heave, she drove the cart, rusty and listing to the right,
up the ramp. The door opened out
and I watched as she maneuvered through
with a hard twist of her shoulder and a quick two-wristed shove.
But what I want to know, ma’am, is
are you free?
She turned on me then.
Her eyes were broken bottles
against a backdrop of painted bridges,
blackened three times and counting, and held enough hope
to kill a man.
The sound she made wasn’t a laugh
or a cry, it was the sound
of supper time forks clattering
but not enough vegetables or meat.
It echoed with the resolve to save beloved children
from war and the knowing that you will fail.
It was blood and spit, looking your enemy right in the eye.
It rang with the hammer beat of labor camps and the slow seep
of gas oven deaths.
Without one word, she spoke of children who aren’t safe
even in their own homes,
held all the too-early deaths
of the falsely accused
and unjustly persecuted.
It sang from a hymnal clutched in rosary hands
passing baskets of money. It held up choir boys forever changed,
and looked down upon televangelists just in it for
private jets and swimming pools, amen.
It broke her heart.
It shouted poor is bad and I will kill you for that,
one way or another.
Her voice was heavy smoke, rising right there in Aisle Four
between the Pringles and five dollar frying pans,
and it threatened to burn the place down.
And then it was gone and in its place, a soft breeze.
She patted a startled child on the head, smoothed his porcupine hair.
We have never been free, she said, sliding
a box of Strawberry Frosted Pop-Tarts in the thin space between
a son and a daughter, you just like to think we are.
Note: this piece was first published at Short Edition.
It’s not normal to cry over an egg salad sandwich.
I know this.
Three days ago, he called to say he was clean
but hadn’t eaten in nine days.
I’d heard from him maybe five times
in the last quarter century, but I knew exactly who he was.
You don’t forget a thing like that.
The day I met him, I was a screaming fucking maniac
throwing all of my douchebag boyfriend’s clothes down
steep stairs into the street.
I was 17 and hadn’t been home in months.
He parked that piece of shit motorcycle, and without a word
helped me pitch a six-drawer dresser to splinter in the green grass.
Guns and Roses raged from the neighbor’s porch
and suddenly it was all rain in my face,
wind in my hair,
strobe lights down there.
Come on, baby. Give it to me good.
Cocaine, fat joints.
Fists and I’m so sorry.
You know I love you, but we should
put some ice on that.
It’s just you and me –
except when it’s me and her, me and whiskey, me out all night.
Bruises, band aids, motorcycles sliding on asphalt.
World by the balls and small, small town.
Eight ball, stripper pole, black lights,
shots of Jaeger before each shift.
All I wanted was for him to love me.
And love me he did.
Some people love with fists and fat lips.
Then it was crack cocaine, sharp fear in the night,
that glass table in so many knives on the floor.
I remember watching his tattoo as he cracked
five eggs, each shell shattering itself again and again
on the tips of his fingers.
He wasn’t wearing a shirt.
I had red lipstick and cleavage,
both a little too much in the bright light of the kitchen.
We were still drunk
with the power of youth,
didn’t even suspect the devastation to come.
No way to see
the son, the daughter, waiting quietly beneath his skin.
Only his stark beauty and the fact
that I’d never before eaten egg salad, which explains
why we two left the party, boiled water
in a stranger’s pot, and spent the next five years
loving each other almost to pieces.
Now those kids are older than he was then.
Now it’s been 23 years homeless.
I can’t stop, baby please help me.
Snow, ice, batteries
from dumpsters, cardboard signs, dirty,
Old man face, brain a cluster fuck of need and regret.
Four fingers, two toes gone.
Staph infection and no ride to the hospital.
The stench of bridges burning to the ground.
So yeah, I sent him money the other day
because nine days is a long time and your first love
is an addiction worse than any drug.
When the hospital called
to say he’d stroked out, that he sure as fuck
wasn’t clean, never had been.
That those two kids, grown now, are next of kin,
and could I ring them up on the phone?
I happened to be eating an egg salad sandwich
and I couldn’t help but cry over those five dead chickens.
There’s something about a dirt road
that rises in your chest like an incantation.
The seconds throb in your throat,
patient and panting, keeping time with the ocotillo
rising and falling to the left
and the right in the evening sun.
I become the howl of dust rising in fire light,
the stomp, stomp, stomp of bare feet
and molten lava stars dripping from the sky.
I’m trying to say that I meant what I said
when I shouted drunken poetry into the night.
The echo returned to me wild,
threaded with hope, sounding exactly
The way words can never adequately convey the miracles one stumbles across and the way they can so easily be taken away.
Remember how there was so little to hold onto in the early days but so much concealed inside and underneath that I couldn’t see? The small, halfhearted start then the division, multiplication, and the branching away. Recall that I had good intentions but forgot to water things sometimes. Relationships and tomatoes suffer the same from that.
The forgiving nature of the whole thing. That one way or another, it all works out. So many soft surprises coming slowly, slowly then rushing in all at once, the colors of jade, garnet, and coral, spread with sunshine butter and the feathers of birds.
Never enough, and I do think tomatoes can be called that, grew deep roots, reached toward the sky, and woke up one October morning heavy with fruit hidden in all the secret and dark places. It takes some work to find them.
On certain days, when the light shifts and the harvest is halfway gone, the richness and solitude sweep themselves together and place an offering at my feet. Sunshine warms my hair, which is wild and sprawling like the hedges that these tomatoes have become, and it is beautiful. I harvest with only birdsong and leaf rustle for company and know the meaning of plenty.
The light on our bedsheets is emissary
of more. It hints at the way you will cry
when your mother is buried,
not from heartbreak
but at the way that you feel
nothing and then mourn for your
own heart, forged steel, smoothed
granite, laid to rest
so many years ago.
The first time you almost killed your baby brother
because you hit him so many times
and all you could see was blackness,
a glorious Spirograph of pain.
The next day, you were late for 4th grade
because your mother couldn’t drive with so many tears in her eyes.
She told me this story yesterday, your mother,
regret a coyote loping slowly
across the 40 years between then and now, mangy, flea-bitten
starved to tell someone, anyone
the shameful black truth that has been hiding in her mama heart
all this time.
I told her I was packing my boxes.
she tells me that her son is a beast.
That she will never forget how flat your voice
sounded when you answered her questions.
I can’t help it. I am afraid of what’s inside of me.
She will not admit how many times you said these words over the years.
She says she loves you still and always will
and that she’d hoped I’d quiet the roar.
My own intuition has been telling me to run
since the very first moment I sat across from you.
I did not run and now eight years later,
this light is thick liquid, creeping
golden and alive
across your rising and falling chest
and it foreshadows the exact opposite of
warm beacon, dripping life, electric
salvation leading homeward.
rescue me from the dark.
It speaks of how the gravedigger knocks at your door
every single week but goes away empty handed
because you are trembling under the bed blind with rage.
Heartbreak, the way your mouth tastes like pennies for days
no matter how many times you floss and brush.
How you have always known that tears taste like the ocean
and sound exactly like fists landing hard on flesh.
You are afraid of everything, most especially yourself.
And rightly so.
Do you remember that scotch filled night in which you told me
that you'd never had kids because you were terrified that they would
turn out exactly like you? I do.
Why are you so upset?, you asked.
I’ve worked so hard to bring you to this place slowly.
It sounded like strategy. I remember the hollow places around your
eyes. The way I felt suddenly cold and unsafe in my own home.
I can see you standing there in our kitchen,
haunted and terrified.
Terrifying. Your empty eyes.
And so I am awake right now, watching the light
dance across our bedsheets
and I am left wondering if the difference between you
and a serial killer or you
and a sexual predator is simply fear
and I am thankful for that.
Grateful that after all the posturing and bravado,
all the anger and telling me what the fuck to do,
that underneath it all
you are just a coward quaking with fear.
A small boy afraid of what is inside.
I am not the same anymore.
I will not be hunted and I will not stand in place
while you pick me apart.
So I am packing my suitcase and leaving.
The breeze strokes the leaves of the trees
that my son calls weeds
but I call wonderful. They will spend the day
thinking about turning brown and drifting
to the ground.
Soon it will be fall, but not today.
Today, the birds wait on power lines
heads tilting to catch the sun.
They send an occasional song through the air,
which lifts and joins hands with others,
singing itself across my wagon-wheel potting shed.
The lavender digs her toes a little deeper
into the dirt. Prickly pears
widen their shoulders and stand up straighter, fuchsia
cups on the tips of their tongues.
On the west side of the city, someone’s motorcycle
is growling its way forward too fast and I worry about safety -
his, hers, mine, ours, everyone’s.
Wind chimes whisper my name and I answer silently,
so as not to break the spell.
I used to sleepwalk.
Throughout my childhood,
I rose at odd hours,
took to my bare feet,
fled through the kitchen door
and into the moonlight.
I don’t remember it,
but I understand it.
What I wanted then
was a mother who was sober,
if not all of the time, then at least
some of the time.
I wanted to curl into soft blankets
and wake to the smell of pancakes
and quiet in the house.
I yearned for a cool glass of water
on a clean white tablecloth.
It was not to be.
Until these days of quarantine and face masks,
I had forgotten about my need for safety.
It was buried deeply in the fine sifted soil of university,
covered over in the frail gauze called 401K.
I have found safety in distance –
social and otherwise.
This city encircled in mountains
is 1600 miles from that kitchen door.
and I am still not sure if it is far enough.
Today, I can hear that little girl’s voice.
She hisses like a teapot gone to boil,
high pitched and impossible to ignore.
She cries and I try to soothe her
but she knows better.
She knows that my solution is
to sleepwalk my way through it
and she is wise enough now to know
that this is not an answer.
Still, she wants to be held
by someone stronger than her.
Save your bottle rocket.
I could set you on fire with my eyes,
start the smoldering using the heat
that rolled in with the clouds this morning
spitting sparks into the hollow valley
and burning brush from these blackened arroyos.
Secrets must be told closed-mouthed.
Whispered, drawn out long and slow
like holding plums in your mouth
and sucking them dry.
I don’t fear abandonment
but I do fear apathy and chill.
I worry about admiration that ends
in organized disappointment.
I want a love that gathers itself in flames
and burns itself to the ground every night
as the moon rises and calls our names.
Hands thick with paint,
songs on my lips and a swing in my hips,
I lose myself again,
turning myself inside out
again, just to feel something that isn’t there.
Lying to myself so as not to break
my own heart.
I fear my own low expectations
and growing old too fast,
losing the wild side while time spins
softly on a Saturday morning.
Pen strokes paper,
paintbrushes sunbathe in the sink,
and the desert light drapes itself into a curtain
across neat rows of beans and kale.
I wish for harvest.
I wish for lightning.
Remember how I took your hand
and led you to my room,
to that sweetness of candle and sigh?
I’m sure of who I am and who am not.
Beautiful and strong.
I speak the truth to myself, no matter how hard.
I am nurturing and soft. I get shit done.
I can’t promise the world but I can promise
that you will never be bored.
So after all this time, I’ve still got you on my mind.
You who didn’t know the first thing about balance,
which is what I loved about you and I guess is also
why you flung yourself headlong into the abyss.
Me either. Can’t balance a checkbook
or all these cogs spinning around in my brain
and it’s always tripping me up.
I’m always on the verge of falling.
Despite the fact that fall is my favorite season,
I don’t navigate falls well.
Falling off of my big wheel, out of trees, out of bed
blood pooling and nose cracking.
Falling into love and out of love
more times than the stars in the sky.
Falling into myself, that black as tar mystery,
falling away from you and from that snowstorm city.
Joy has been sharpboned and shadowed ever since
because nobody falls like you did.
Autumn always makes me fall
into heartbreak. Speaking of falling,
I love waterfalls.
The crash and break of it all,
the smashing and reveling in the destruction,
the fact that we don’t have time to sob over spilled milk
and that things get lost in the churn
and wake of water,
the weight of it all.
Is that what happened to you?
You got pulled under?
This shit is heavy and
I guess I always thought we’d do this together,
falling in and out of things.
Falling because see here’s the thing -
had I known you were falling I would have begged you to hold on.
I would have tied you to this earth with ropes and all the bungee cords
I could buy at the dollar store.
We could have done shots of lemon drops until we were falling off of
our bar stools and then stumbled home in the snow.
I would have told you that they’re not worth it
but we are.
now I can never stop falling.
I am still here and the leaves are falling -
they call your name every night at 3am.
Remember that day when I was a spinning top
and you held me in your hands until I slowed down?
You didn’t let me fall.
I wish I had held you like that.
Like something beautiful and precious.
Like the purest water falling from the highest cliff
sparkling like diamonds all the way down, the sun
sifting its way through like so many crooked and beautiful teeth.
I would have brought you a parachute,
made you promise to sleep in it every night
and reminded you that falling is
The trees without leaves look just like spears and daggers.
So it’s fall and you might see me smile on some days,
but just know this -
nothing is the same anymore and I keep falling
over and over again into a space shaped exactly like you.
( <3 August 23, 2003 <3 )
elegy: a poem of serious reflection, typically a lament for the dead
Remember how she smoked too many cigarettes,
flicking them one after another into the cold street?
Standing there for hours under the streetlights,
breath and smoke locked together like the blue and silver
holiday wreath she found at the Thrift-a-Lot and carried through
two husbands, one apartment, and a house.
She once got top marks in typing but then failed out
of business school because she took up with
a beautifully broken man who kept her up too late and drove
her to class each morning, swerving through patches of black ice,
motorcycle tires spitting snow onto her stolen white jacket.
I've always wondered why she never had warmer jackets.
I've always wondered why she stayed so long.
She couldn't leave because Wednesday was ladies night.
She knew all the jukebox numbers by heart
and made a habit of going home with the wrong man.
Remember how she never cried
but could take a punch and give it right back,
how she spoke in circles and shouted
until the sun came up?
She once said her life was an afterschool special
with tired country music blaring in the background and she
Remember how we put her to rest
in that record breaking blizzard?
How nothing seemed real anymore
and the snow was soft feathers against the windshield?
The road led west and it turned out
that she could have rescued herself all along.
May she rest in peace.
What if the earth were poetry
and all the curses were lies?
If rejoicing in sweetness
was learned from the start,
would we have more of an
inclination for heaping grace
upon others and ourselves
like wildflowers fresh from bloom?
Let’s build something
together, you and I.
Carefully water the seeds,
patiently wait for the roots
to grow deep, and hold me tight
on those days when I am my worst self.
Speak of grace when I have forgotten.
I will do the same.
Is there anyone who could remain
Or would everyone react as I do -
dropping their parcels and purses
to sink deeply into this generous offering,
arms and legs swimming
as if the sea were only one stroke away?
I will not walk through this day.
I will float through a field of sunflowers
soaking up the silence. I will move as if
I am a welcomed and grateful guest.
I will silver the earth with softness.
Hey, listen. Don’t lose hope.
Just know that this glorious city of ours holds so much
more inside of her alleys and adobes than monsters and meth heads.
I know what it feels like to wake up each morning and search
for just one reason to hold onto hope.
I know that sometimes the bad far outweighs the good and I know
that my not good enough words are nothing like jackhammers.
They are whispers, wisps,
tiny drops of water disappearing into an endless and angry sea.
But I won’t stop and don’t you stop.
I can’t speak to you directly of her because
I didn’t know her.
What I can speak to you about
is the way my daughter’s blond hair
used to fall across her cheek when she was ten years old.
That her smile was pure sunshine and sometimes
just the sight of that would almost break my heart with joy.
I can tell you that evil walks this world on two feet
wearing sneakers or flip flops,
that the human heart is a labyrinth, a dark and frightening maze.
Albuquerque, we grieve as a city.
Our tears seep into the cracked and dry dessert,
onto the dust which surrounds her so sad grave.
These same tears also water ocotillo and pinon.
They rise like hot air balloons.
Did you notice that on the day of her death
you could smell fall in the air?
As if the entire earth had put its foot down
and declared you shall have not one more moment
of sweet summer in the face of this travesty.
All of this - the prayers, the sobbing,
the broken fucking hearts - comes together and holds her
tight, wraps her in feathers and the kind of bubbles
little kids play with in the bathtub.
Combs her hair softly before bed and reads her a story
about a castle and a dragon.
A fairy tale of warmth and love and human fucking kindness
and I don’t know
what kind of mother doesn’t love her daughter like that.
I don’t know.
I could have written this entire
poem to just say I don’t know because
I don’t know how we have come to this place.
What I do know is that I have spent
days crying, that my heart is shattered
like yours, that we cannot change what happened.
We cannot take away the blood, the pain, the fear.
What we can do is drop
our versions of sunshine & glitter into the world.
We can send them out day after day after day.
Even if we don’t see them come back to us, even
if we don’t know where they have gone.
I can assure you. Love makes a difference.
Love. I want to speak to you of love
but what about justice and what
about this wild rage in my chest?
We need to understand this.
she was not alone.
There are children in this world,
right this second, in situations of grave danger.
They cannot defend themselves because their hands
are too small and their hearts are too sweet.
I ask today that you hold onto hope.
That you heal one thing
even if it’s just yourself and then do it again
tomorrow, and the next and the next.
Because sometimes this is all that we can do.
For Victoria Martens, who died on August 24, 2016.
Afternoons flow like warm honey,
the sun a soft scar
in such a celebration of sky,
a hush holds you sweetly
like spring and summer
have fallen in love and
cannot stop holding hands.
Even a river could lose its way
but there is no river here,
only dust swirling between tufted grass
and silence swelling wide like a secret
that everybody already knows.
Nothing rushes in these clarion
canyons, not even water.
A mantis prays,
tilting her head heavenward
and I stand captivated.
I want to believe that she stands
in the gap, holds the line.
That she drops to her impossibly
small knees and implores the universe on my behalf,
each explosive morning and again through crisp, black nights.
If there is any justice in the world,
each of her meals is a dedication
to the gods of mother nature.
Each head torn off is a sacrifice and a curse.
A plea to end mankind’s pillage and bring blessed silence
back to these hollow sunlit mornings.
hands pressed together, head surrendered
to the heat of the dirt
and pray for the first time in my life.
The mantis tells me,
you are not lost.
You are inclining toward grace
and it is this place that will redeem you.
Note: this piece was written for the Literary Inventory of the Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks, edited by Eric Magrane, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Geography at New Mexico State University. It was published at Spiral Orb.
On a whim, I decide to bake bread.
It’s not that I actually have the time –
I can hear the murmur
of remote meetings and emails
calling to me as I stand in the kitchen
absentmindedly searching my cupboards.
Flour, yeast, sugar, oil.
Basic ingredients but miraculous
to find them quietly waiting.
When was the last time I baked bread?
I remember vaguely that on bread baking day,
there was always the certainty that
at least one good thing has been accomplished
and I reach for that.
I measure and mix,
hold the slack weight of it in both hands.
Each movement takes me further from today
and closer to you.
Like that time you put your head into my lap
and cried. I think we both knew then
that nothing could save you.
It was quiet knowledge,
splintered and sure in our hearts,
but never spoken aloud.
Oh yes, now I see the connection.
It was that day you came beaming through my kitchen door
cradling a used bread machine in your arms.
You’d gotten it at a yard sale for $3
and brought it to me immediately.
So I could spend less time in the kitchen, you said.
I wanted to love it,
but it allowed no space for sinking knuckles deep into reverie,
there was no pounding worry and frustration into something useful
and solid like dinner rolls and farmhouse white.
There was an empty hole at the end of each loaf that couldn’t be ignored
so I returned to folding and kneading on a floured board,
but I left the bread machine on the counter so that
every time you came noisily through my door, you smiled.
I would recognize your hands
anywhere. The way your right pinky
turns slightly out, a vine
The way your knuckles speak
of late nights and early mornings
makes them the most dangerous part of you,
as exposed as they are.
I want to place my thumb softly on each one,
finger-speak for you have found a place
to rest. So rest.
I crave a meal or an argument,
anything complex and wild -
something worth staying up too late with the night
winding down around us.
Let’s tiptoe into the back garden
to snap kale and basil by moonlight.
You gather those sweet yellow tomatoes
in your hands and not one will be bruised
when we return to the kitchen.
Let’s squeeze a lemon over drizzled oil
Have I told you that turning the salt
grinder sometimes feels like
just a hurdle between me and a beautiful cream sauce
but is actually the foundation
upon which this world was built?
The way the wrist turns roughly, the glass solid
in my hand. The way I know that our eyes will meet
over this meal, agreeing without words
that what we have assembled is beautiful,
and will not last nearly long enough.
Then I will spill like salt upon the table.
It was early morning and we had the legs of newborn calves. Our eyes brimmed with mountains nestled under sky, our breath was winter white. We ran.
I hardly knew her but she already knew me. She knew that I needed to stand on a salted surf board in the Costa Rica sun. That I longed for someone else’s pillows, dolphins gliding beside a tiny boat, drunken dancing in a second story bar with the breeze sliding in over rough wooden rails. I needed to rip my notebook paper to shreds. I needed pebbles so hot that we ran across the sand, laughter rising into the air to meet the cranes.
The spring after we returned, she knew that I needed enormous jars of honey just scraped from the beebox and fresh eggs that needed a good wash. How did she know that the thing I most needed in the world was a small bucket of kale, hardly beginning to sprout? It’s out there now in my garden,and is so much like her - wise and lush, sleek and dark, quiet and strong.
What you mean by shelter
will not make sense to me until
I have written these secret appetites
across my open palms.
Until then, these cardboard boxes will have to do.
I will tape the corners together and hope they hold
against the wind and rain, against
the sound of my heart breaking
My voice is brown bear breath.
Oh, it is moonlight campfire hush
and I like it that way.
My heartbeat careens through the crosswalks
of my dreams, just one more ambulance
wailing into these sawdust hours.
We can make it one more night, can’t we?
April was a blur of terror pasted over
with false courage and hollow laughter.
The high-pitched nervous giggle
of dentist chairs, executioner hoods,
and divorce proceedings rises into the dangerous air.
We are unhinged.
Midway through the month, a cold snap
crushes every bud and bloom
that had dared to rise in my garden
holding up hope like a hand-painted picket sign.
Smoke tree, sage, grapevine, kale, quince, bee balm,
lavender, iris, lily. People. The people died.
I stand in the morning air, my tears slipping
into the collar of a February jacket.
I can’t tell you why I am crying.
Is it the garden? Loneliness?
Perhaps it’s the fleets of refrigerated trucks
idling in parking lots and gravel shoulders of roads
all over this country waiting to carry away the dead.
People are dying and the only thing I could think to do
was to water these plants, bless a crumbling leaf
by holding it lightly in the palm of my hand,
the breeze rocking it ever so slightly,
then speak to myself with false confidence -
things may look bleak but sunshine will greet us soon.
The house sparrow will balance on a branch,
drawing my eye to the smallest green slash,
folded tight and gathering strength.
It is preparing to enter this world with the same unbridled hope
that we all hold in our hearts
that we will get the chance to briefly exist and turn our faces up to the sun.
Running along steep mountain trails, each footfall is a battle cry, a prayer, and an apology. My shoes kick up desert dirt behind me, embossing my calling card into the tracks of those who have come before me. I am here, I am here, I am here. Surprising, the way things chose to reveal themselves. The snap of a branch startles, echoing into the empty canyon. Dappled sunlight leaks through a labyrinth of leaves. Rocks rise and melt like glaciers. Roots reach, like me, for anything they can find. I understand that and nod in respect, keeping a close eye on the ground. The blinding blue of the sky. Egg yolk trees coming into sharp relief as I round a bend. The trill of birds rising, falling, surging into a glorious crescendo three thousand times a day, whether there is an audience or not. The sun grits its teeth all day long, a bruiser, a brawler, holding a hard fist in the air until sunset. When orange and purple slur themselves across the sky, that same sun makes no excuse, just sinks suddenly into desert black. Every step I take is a revelation, a hair’s breadth closer to joy.
I have been trying to teach a man how to love me for three years.
Teaching a man about love is less about fingers and tongue
and more about untangling fragile egos.
We’re navigating the dark together in a small boat,
dipping our oars into the ink, trying to reach shore.
The map was cryptic when we started and now it is creased
and waterlogged. It is coming apart in our hands.
He is dragging and pulling the water with a powerful stroke,
an athlete approaching the finish line
oblivious to the spectator sitting glumly on the sidelines.
I drum up enough enthusiasm to clap my hands but my eyes are not smiling.
Teaching a man to love you is exactly the same
as teaching yourself that you aren’t worth loving.
And this is how the end of my life begins.
I was waiting to hear if I was dying or not,
perched on the edge of an ugly orange chair
because I can’t stand hospital beds
and because I didn’t really want to know the answer
to that question,
I inquired about your sickness.
As an answer, you said
if your body will no longer hold you,
where will you spill?
Are you a glass of water sloshed onto the kitchen floor
seeping into every crack and crevice, begging for bottles, buckets,
someone’s outstretched hands formed into a cup?
Will you eventually meet a wild and raging river?
You, only one small molecule now, having scattered bits of yourself
every single step along this sweeping journey.
You tell me that you have already announced your death on Facebook
and that you post periodic updates.
I wanted a more comfortable response.
Something that didn’t require getting my hands dirty.
Something that didn’t sound quite so much like the sobbing
of the voice in my own head.
It seems logical to me that the dying would recognize the dying.
Probably a little known form of black magic, wouldn’t you say?
You say nothing and I sure as fuck say nothing
because I don’t yet know how to raise my fists
against this poison.
Later today my name will become terrible, terrible surprise
and no amount of wishing will change that.
Nevertheless, I do wish.
I wish my name were sweeter
like a bellyful of gummy bears
or a tree of cherry blossoms
opening their mouths to the oncoming rain.
My breasts are dangerous knives flashing in the night.
At this point, another name for cruelty is calendar
and a calendar is nothing
more than a method of counting the time
that we don’t have left.
And so I don’t ask again about your cancer.
Instead, I pretend to read the latest edition of Cosmo.
We sit in silence, your face an empty canvas but your eyes shrieking this:
Woman, this will be that year.
The one in which everything lists
a little to the left
while you dig your fingernails
into the wood and grip the railings
Those very same stars that you love will collide noiselessly
above thick, slumbering mountains
which care not one tick for your joy.
Each bright day will fade into the next.
One day you will rise too early
to the sound of nothing
but your own labored breath and sigh.
You will pluck your dreams from the air,
capture them between steepled fingers,
and struggle valiantly to hold onto them,
the heft lead in your palms.
Let them go. The end is so much nearer than you think.
I look you square in the eye and say – the truth is, I’d rather not know.
And then I walk out into the silence of the night
to make the most of every single second that I have left.
cannot be pronounced in the English language.
It is the sound of the deepest blue waters slipping
past sharpened glaciers which have never been kissed by the sun.
Sleeping in black beds of crystal and constant
change, they hold tight to nothing.
Once a man whispered my real name in the half light
of sunrise, his hands flitting above my skin
hummingbirds home for the feast.
Coming from his raw and beautiful lips, it sounded like celebration
and sex shouting into an echo chamber.
It was thick orange marmalade, sharp and sweet on the tongue,
begging me to eat from the jar with my fingers.
It tastes of honeysuckle and regret,
the heat and burning of one thousand freight trains grinding
to a halt. Of deep space and stars, dust and the passage of time, sharp metal,
old pennies and gunshots fired in the wrong direction.
My real name sounds like ink pens scribbling on pages,
paint and glue, sunshine and grass growing through cracks.
It feels like hips swaying in a purple sunset sky.
My real name was woven into my braids before I was born and still dances
barefoot in the dust clothed in dark skin, light skin.
No skin at all can contain my stars.
My real name curtsies easily but bows for no one, stands quick
and proud as the sky falls around me. My real name raises its hands in delight
five thousand times a day and doesn't settle for less than love
on fire, burning the house down around us.
It is razor sharp and laid upon the altar each morning,
a blood sacrifice to the gods of transformation.
It lies low under the surface of the water waiting
for the right moment to sink your ship.
My real name sounds like stubborn in six languages,
feels like cactus splines nestled deep in your favorite socks.
It's the noise a burning fire makes as the forest settles for the night.
My real name is as old as the world and is reborn every morning
as the sun tastes the mountain tops.
When I walked through the open door, I was a bee buzzing in a field of daisies. I was an eel swimming through cool shade, rocks and crags my sweet safety. I was meeting myself again, anew, as if for the first time ever. My voice sounded like Sunday hymns touching fingertips with the high mountain desert. A disco ball lit up the sky.