POETRY

Traces

That spring the lightning took two trees
From our backyard: one oak, one pine. 
They lay for days, each on its spine,
With branches lifted to the breeze. 

Their trunks were my bridges until 
My father worked from dawn to dark 
With saws that screamed to touch the bark.
I watched him from the window sill. 

He stacked the trunks and limbs in rings
Onto the rented trailer bed. 
The tires snarled when they sped
Away what once held tire swings. 

Tree vestiges were left behind:
Twigs, sprigs, and leaves smashed in the ground
Beside a disregarded mound
Of rope and rubber intertwined. 

Last spring my father died and he 
Left his work boots, his leather chair,
His tools, two paintings, one stray hair,
A teaching job, a wife, and me. 

The neighbors baked us pies, sweet things,
While others proffered flowers, cards;
Some came just to give regards.
All carried some small offering. 

And while the adults sang a hymn,
I walked with mother down the aisle,
Looked at my father’s lifeless smile,
And thought it did not look like him. 

The real remains, unseen, are mine, 
Hours swinging, laughing faces;
But humans like to cling to traces,
We buried him inside a pine. 
 

Traveling Light

I drive east from Dallas

the trunk of my car laden

with boxes of journals –

I am desperate to hear my own voice again.

 

How fast can I leave the city behind me?

With each mile words crawl up my throat,

poems push forward – fall over my lips

like a heavy tongue.

 

God, be an open sky,

be a piney wood,

be a place where my tears can breathe,

where my soul can stretch and run!

 

Kyrie eleison –

first sung prayer

of the penitent season.

Lord, unshut me with mercy.

 

Here, among unhurried wild plum trees

blooming in blankets of soft needles –

 

Here where incense is pollen and

a light rain falls to christen the journey –

 

Here is the ground on which I will vomit rubies,

sifting them out of the dirt,

turning each over in my fingers

training my mind to remember

the shape and weight of gut treasure.

 

Here is the place I will sort gemstones

from stomach acid,

wear down sharp edges,

swallow the soft ones back up

and cradle them safe inside me.

 

Kyrie eleison,

Kyrie eleison –

 

Gore through my mouth,

shaft into my center

release what the body cannot hold. 

 

Merciful mess,

bless my unrest

in this

desperate wrestling

with glory.

Southern Storm

*for Ahmaud Arbery, d. 2/23/20

 

The grey sky

sprouts lightening –

tendrils flicker,

reaching light fingers 

— flash —

and then gone.

 

The wind has quieted now,

the air is all hush

and holding

and here —

breathing in honeysuckle,

magnolia blossom, chlorine from

the neighbor’s pool –

am I – 

born onto this southern ground,

pale-faced and safe from

the horizon’s flaring.

 

A female cardinal crouches

low against the speckled eggs

in her nest;

a squirrel scampers

hurriedly up a cedar,

sniffing the air;

a cat slinks sideways across

the shadow of the roof.

Meanwhile

—  flash —

white herons fly overhead

seeking shelter.

 

Where do the black birds go

to weather the storm?

 

This is a time for signs

from heaven

This is a time

for revelation

 

Another black man shot dead

by white men in Georgia

for no reason. Only

the usual suspects:

suspicion, prejudice, and

generations of pressure

systems colliding.

 

No charges made.

 

In a cloud, when positive and negative charges

become too great,

an electrical field is formed,

looks for release.

When it strikes, I am told,

it takes the closest and easiest path

— flash —

 

What happens next is unavoidable: 

air expands explosively,

hotter than the sun.

The atmosphere recoils,

contracts, compresses.

The hot air then cools

so violently

the column vibrates,

the sky rumbles,

the ground shakes

 

Flash against the sky

Wait for thunder

Pray for rain

Desire

 

I was made to want this,

To fall into the center of longing,

To acknowledge what is holy in the word:

Desire.

Desidere

De sidus

In Latin the words mean literally

Down from– the stars.

 

Some scholars suggest

It has to do

with wishing, with waiting,

But I think desire

Has to do with immediacy –

With impulse –

The celestial already born

Within us –

And so desire requires

Not a reaching out toward,

But a sinking down

Into the body

Trusting impulse

 

Impulse means

to push against

From the inside,

To set in motion,

Exerting force against a body –

Impulse –

From the same root word

That gives us our word for

Heartbeat:

Pulse –

Blood pushing against

Cardiac tissue, arteries

Suddenly swelling outward

In rhythm –

The rhythm that keeps you alive

A central point of energy

A regular expansion

Caused by contraction

And so you can see how even our pulse

Is caused by a dynamic flow

Between push and pull

Pulse

Pulse

Pulse

Im-pulse

In the pulse

Desire –

The exile of religion.

That it can be considered

too human and base for

divine conversations

is laughable:

we are made to throb,

to beat our way through.

 

In a biological sense,

to stop pulsing is the same

as to die,

and so, it seems,

 in a spiritual sense

to divorce ourselves from desire

is to smother the fire

of God inside us

the force of cosmos

the power of the heavens

the motion and movement and pulse

that thrums out and in

out and in

out and in

like the sea

like our breath

we are not made

to clutch only

release only

but to dance between

restraint

and

surrender.

Desire means

To be alive,

And life is exactly

The gift we – incomprehensibly –

Are given,

Second by second

Heartbeat by heartbeat

By whatever

We call God.

Surrender

I am a small rock in the waves and

you, like the sea, surround me,

overwhelm me,

tumble over and roll beneath me –

what glory to feel touched

on every side,

what terror to wonder if this is how

I lose myself

completely.

 

Water, over time,

wears away the surface

until it is almost nothing

until it is silt and sand floating

as elements

in the water

no longer separate

no longer firm.

 

Is this dissolution of self

the undoing of all

I have

worked to build,

have known myself to be?

Yes, yes.

Is this process

of becoming

an invitation to expand

into a self more vast

than I have given myself

permission

to understand?

Yes, yes.

Do I resist? Yes –

Or surrender?

Yes—

 

As I lose the shape of a rock

am I

becoming

the

sea?

Resonance

 

One note

      you play

I hear

      chords

One breath

      you take

I pull

      towards

One word

      you speak

I see

      pages

One time

      we touch

I feel

      ages

What is the human spirit?

 

What is the human spirit?

So fragile, a whisper can wound it,

So strong the fury of genocides cannot break it,

So delicate, it dims before disappointment,

So resilient, the darkness of grief cannot choke out its light.

 

Tell me, what is this human spirit

Stretching to touch the length and breadth and height

Of beauty, of mercy, of joy –

Marked by the divine,

But doubting, fearing, doubting

Its existence?

 

Show me the human spirit

And I’ll show you a place

Where a dream can grow –

Like a vine through a concrete wall,

Where a word can feed –

Like bread expands a famished gut,

Where a heart can resurrect –

Like a body rises from a tomb.

 

I know this human spirit –

Too often dragged and degraded by shame

But powerful beyond rule or reason, description or death,

When free to be

To speak

To reach

To rest

In love

In God

 

Look at the sound and see in me

Listen to the soul and hear in you

What is the human spirit.

There is a place I keep making

Furniture made with metaphors
Is over used here – worn from holding
Tired bodies that sag and slump, 
Seeking relief in verbal constructs
That will, they hope, somehow
Shape experience.

Characters breathe voices here,
Deal in voices – a pound of soprano
For your tenor, please. In the 
Marketplace of human echoes – 
Currency is used and reused – 

In the place I keep making. 

A Memory

You can’t imagine how hard it is to get there, 

  like trying to break open a bolted door or

  turn a photograph into a movie or

  force a rod down my throat 

  a 
  
  milli-
  
  meter 

  at 

  a 
 
  time – 
 
  hating every second 
 
  the taste of the wood,

  the rub it makes against my tongue – 



  Until the reflex is triggered, and 
        after pleading, praying, pushing, pounding, searching, 
        stretching, reaching –

   out come 
        his eyes, 
         his nose, 
          his oily skin, his
           hooked smile, 
            the scowl he wore 
             that night, his
              breath that smelled of beer 
               and fried okra and days 
                without bathing, 
                 the dammits and the "fuck-yous" and the 
                  "you know I hate to do this-es" and 
                   the way his touch felt at once like 
                    fire and ice and sandpaper and 
                     a million other things and
                      somewhere in the house somebody 
                       screaming, always screaming, and
                        the news anchor on the television with his
                         fake hairpiece saying something about 
                          a beautiful day – 
                                                                 
                                     
Years later,
I continue to dry-heave. 

Dear Odysseus

The neighbors are playing Frank Sinatra again
to cover the sound of yelling
about who’s to blame for
forgetting to water 
the geraniums. 

I flip coins – pennies, nickels, dimes – 
(quarters are for soldiers)
to watch metallic glints
against florescent lights – 
heads or tails – 
the anticipation kills me. 

The dress you sent me still smells
of sand and crude oil; it feels
soft against my breasts 
at night, and never 
speaks of gunfire. 

Our olive tree will not die, 
though I – jealous of Dido’s
fire – tried to torch it. 
My ghost must always
turn to greet you. 

 

 

To the man across the counter 

Dear sir, your uncovered cough in my face is fine
If I can cough in yours. (I have the Swine.)

​​​

A woman’s pride 

Here stands my man: here let him stand.
I’ll sit: I cannot be unmanned. 

 



 

In the Museum of Oddities 

     A portrait labeled The Girl with Two Hearts hangs next to a photograph of a 1,300 pound pumpkin being dropped from the sky. Across from these stands a plastic replica of The World’s Largest Meatball (weighing in with New Hampshire state officials at 225.5 pounds). To the left of the bra that can be converted into two gas masks, is the statue of a cow named Frederica. Her plaque reads, "Cows with names give more milk than nameless cows." At the very end of the hallway, just past the picture of an infant falling from a fifth story window (he survived), are the peculiar objects you’ve come to see. The souls. Pinned crudely to velvet cushions beneath glass casements, they appear as you expected – pristine, but stiffened with formaldehyde. The soul of a woman who adopted 78 orphans: Barely fitting in its large glass box, the first soul on display looks as if it might have belonged to an elephant – like the meatball, its impressiveness is its size. The soul of a child killed in war: The second, though a quarter of the size of the first, is made of beautifully colored shapes ceaselessly crossing and converging like images inside a kaleidoscope. The soul of a monk who spent his entire life in prayer: Bright light emits from this soul in every direction as powerful scents of lavender and jasmine rise from its case into the otherwise stale museum air. You stop finally in front of the fourth soul. Your soul. As you stare, all is silent, but the clicking heels of two women who cross behind you. Letting out a muffled laugh, one whispers to the other, “You’d think they could find one more extraordinary to display.” 





In Bluebeard’s Castle 

Who has bled to feed your flowers? 
These lilies, tall as men, are stained 
With secrets hoarded in your towers.
Behind locked doors they are contained. 
Who has wept to fill your river? 
It’s silver surface, tranquil, still,
Conceals the countless tears that quiver 
With substance you cannot distil.
Who has died to build this fortress? 
The lifeless bodies, stacked like stones,
Still scream at night; they’re torturous
To you who cannot mute their moans. 
Your loves, your loves have bled, wept, died
To build the world you’re trapped inside.


 



Circles

Man has always been drawn to a sphere,
Perhaps because of the sun
In those first hours of creation.

Like the dog who retrieves his ball
From the ends of the earth 
And unto death, we return

To orbs of light and fortune,
Glassy eyes that see and speak
Deeper than sound or tongue – 

To balls that bounce for children,
And to arenas with millions 
Fixated on a pass, a lob, a dribble…

To circles of the body, the roundness
Of a breast, a cheek, a palm
Energy ripples outward…

A sphere. It is the simplest shape. 
And so like God. We cannot see 
Around it. But it is always the same.

 

 


 


Writing, after the Waste Land 

April, pregnant with hope for 
Renewal, bled into trenches
Without roofs to hold 
A barbaric yawp, 
Not after Auschwitz (or No Man’s Land,
Hiroshima, Rwanda, Darfur).

Not even the rain could make
Dead hands grow upward
Like branches reaching for light;
Poets were foolish to plant 
Corpses and anticipate lilacs.

April was the cruellest month, 
Bleeding rain, dissolving silt and rock
Into the sea of neverminds
Where minds never went, 
Loving solids. The sun over shone, 
Melting solids into air. 

Still born into a world of 
Bloodied redemption, 
Poets raise their palms, 
Straining to touch the liquid pillars
Connecting earth and sky.


 


Living OnLine (a few observations) 

Before computers, a mouse was 
only ever a rodent. 
A mouse had a tail.
Now mice live like bachelors 
on pads, or have been evicted
because trackballs and touchpads
take up less 
space. 

Space is exactly what we can 
no longer define. 
Is it yours? Mine? 

To get in the net, you’ve got to get on a line.
To enter a chat room, use the window, not the door. 

We confuse our language, 
mix our metaphors, 
talk casually about 
surfing the web, as if
Youtube depended on 
spiders spinning thread
to support bodies on a wave. 

Nouns can become verbs in the digital vocabulary. 
Lovers don’t goggle, they Google each other.

To read
text on
the screen
scroll up
or down
or left
or right
as if 
the words
were still 
placed on
a piece 
of parch-
ment you 
could hold 
in your 
hand. 

(Physical scrolls are still used every week
in Jewish religious services. 
I Wikipedia-ed it.)

Before computers, cursors were 
people – messengers who ran on their feet
delivering news from village to village. 
To us cursors are icons that click 
on links (not parts of a metal chain).

Three clicks connect
cheese
and 
Jesus.

(Cheese – 
red wine – 
Christianity – 
Jesus, 
for example.) 

The cursor’s aim remains the same: 
connection 
between
disparate locations. 

If I wanted, I could google-map your house 
and scroll over the shape of your roof. 

I don’t mean to be creepy, 
but 

Three clicks
(or fewer)
connect 

Me 
and 
You.

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