Saturday, March 29, 2014


You’re sure if you squinted at the stars enough
heaven might notice the trowels, spoons,
tiny coins left in the dirt where you once
buried the ashes of the family dog. Daffodils
and grape hyacinths sent up their
green apostrophes the following spring,
and you once found a ring in a gardening glove,
sure it was sent by your dead father.
Now you do everything with your father’s
shield and sword in your hands, as if he bequeathed
them to you and you hadn’t really just stolen them
from a hope chest to remember the quest
of his imagination. You are still so far from guessing
the true meaning, but can point at the constellations
and rename them all: Falstaff’s Wrinkle, Circular Bear,
Skeezix and Threnody. You have something
to get you home safe and sound. You have
a belt full of tools at your hip as you stand  
in the center of your triangle of fire.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


I know a lousy handshake
when I receive one, half-meant.
The unfocussed gaze. Not listening.
Or the hug that is so light I can feel
the chalk outline behind it.

It’s difficult to keep from falling
into the big black hole that hides
under all those metal plates
you see on the streets. To be swallowed
whole, to disappear, to drown
or be blown away by a gale-force
windbag you met at a university.

Unfair. Creating meaning requires
a good amount of just staring into the air. Time.
I like to build an act or a house of words
to walk through, a series of rooms
outfitted with damask and china,
then let neglect kill off all the plants.
Creak out empty nails from the walls where family
photos once hung. The windows were blown out
with buckshot that burst constellations of glass
on the floor, left shards and shadow.
An umbra that howls at night
so much it makes your knees jerk.

I think you have to add a lot first
in order to subtract.  Unless
you want to be a totally charming
but bad star in the field of creation.

Ask me when I am 90 what I loved most.
First I will tell you it was being held,
second, the slip of buttons through fingers,
then I will get lost in a spin of all there is to love,
a rambly multiverse that makes you wish for silence.
Ask and you'll receive a hug so hard you’ll feel
my whole life ahead.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Why It Isn't Spring Yet

Because we will it so. Because the song of traffic thrums
against the wrestle of city gristle and grime, disguised
and then revealed by March's greyed lens. Because we will it so.
There is a mansion of snow for the carnival players
who burn their scripts to improvise longing. Because we will it so.
Because a rose stampedes its red into the eye. Because paper,
when offered up for an autograph, deserves one, but not right away.
There is a pause. A breath. The absence glitters.
Because we will it so.

Friday, February 14, 2014

We Always Have Things To Do

for Maggie Estep

“I would not think to touch
the sky with two arms”
                                    - Sappho

Oh no, not like this, not yet, with prophetic weathermen
singing their dirges of ice. Winter’s closed off attitude –
blank space. The erasure of entire fields, faces lost to scarves,
elegant thoughts to scientific sacrifice.
I’m not sure if this is right,
or even if the thoughts were
that eloquent, and what’s wrong
with a little Bill Nye, some blood
in what feels like a bloodless art?

I’m not sure if this is any good.
I’m not sure. Here. What can you tell me?
I am sure that snow drifts,
and other people’s memories float
between my own: a Lego lodges
in my throat, I skate across the pond,
I once sang in an opera, added graffiti
to the dome of a courthouse.
I forget myself, windblown
in the stories of others. No,
I remake myself. No, that’s bullshit.
I re-forget myself by turning the page,
by hating what I love, all of it. The words
that pile up at my door, shivering,
and the ones that sit at the end of the bed, waiting
for me to line them up into meaning. Their eyes glow.
They snarl. Their teeth are lovely, see?

Tell me a story and tell it now,
the story of a journey, a transformation,
a bit of dust in a storm.
Make the dust want something big,
to have arms to touch the sky with,
to think and breathe. Yes, make it breathe.
Please. Before my heart stops,
and before yours does too,
tell it.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Birds of North America

for Mom on her birthday

The only stretch of pavement for a mile around was our driveway. It was a capital U that sloped from the dirt road above our house to the garage. In the negative space of all that asphalt, my mother planted a few boxwoods along the perimeter, daffodils and crocus to bloom in spring, and a variety of perennials that exploded like fireworks throughout the summer and fall. A tulip tree dropped wooden flowers that looked like closed umbrellas. Patches of violets were a short walk down the road to the left, just past the blackberry bushes and sweetfern. They were actually in someone else's yard, and I snitched them often to bring them home for my mother to put in whatever lilliputian vase she could find.

What really ruled our home was not flowers and plants, but birds. We were visited by them at a schedule more regular than that of a train station. My father built a tray feeder that stretched along the length of the two kitchen windows. In the spring, the windows were cranked open to let in the scent of thaw and warmer air. A dogwood tree sprawled in a gnarly bloom of levels just beyond the kitchen and it was a safe perch for finches, chickadees, sparrows, titmouses, and the occasional cowbird that my mother admonished for its bad habits. Woodpeckers drilled the oak that supported our treehouse. Goldfinches flashed their sunny band uniforms, and a family of them lived in the little red birdhouse Mom put out one year.  Bluejays deviled the little birds with their bold markings and beaks, and called out like soldiers. The cardinals seemed built for cheering up winter, and hallmarking Valentine's Day.

Inside, our kitchen was golden and checkered. Baskets hung on the wall like nests. A sign that read "Virtue" hung above the kitchen table. On a spring morning, as my sister and I gulped a thick vanilla Carnation Instant Breakfast or wolfed a piece of toast, I shared "a really weird dream I had," as Mom gazed out at the feeder. She'd spot the first robin of the season, ask if Kristen had recorded last year's sighting in her journal, and claim that it seemed "awfully early this year." One morning Mom sang off key at the kitchen sink, and we wailed about how horrible it was, how out of tune and off key.  We asked to turn on the dishwasher. I felt immediately like I'd choked a swan. We squelched the song and ignored the beauty of our mother because she was the safest place for us to test out cruelty, but this didn't make us any less rotten. Cowbirds.

The front of our house had large windows that perplexed the birds of our woods. There were many afternoons where I'd arrive home after school to a small box on the porch with a bewildered bird inside it, all hunched down with its tiny eyes clamped shut in a dazed meditation. As sad as it made her that her birds dashed their brains into dizziness, my mother loved every instance she got to hold a patient inside her cupped hand - to feel the varied textures of its feathers, the light quick huffs of breath, and the wiry legs. She'd tell me all about the discovery of the bird on the porch, how close our cat Pyewacket came to finding it first, and the wonder of holding it in her hands. I listened, or didn't, lost in thought about how I'd started to dissect a cat in biology that day, the scent of formaldehyde still lurking in my pores, the word fascia caught in my mind.

My mother's birds never stayed long. I always thought we might keep one as a pet, but in an hour or two, the box would be vacant, the slow bird revived again. I'd hear Mom retell the story to Dad at the kitchen table when he returned from work.

My sister and I have twin graduation photos, taken three years apart. We stand at the lower curve of the driveway, flanked by our parents. We both wear the gold drapery of a gown, the sleeves like wings ready for takeoff. Not long after those photos were taken Mom watched us, a little bewildered ourselves, drive up the slope of that driveway and off into anywhere, anywhere else. She knew just how to catch, how to hold, and when to release.

Thursday, January 16, 2014


Listen, we are human beings.
We are given to love
and there is no other war
quite like it. We fail,
and flail and fall, and will,
with a life lived well,
with every organ speared.

Inside you are continents
that pulse. They don’t need
your help too much. They dance
as you sleep, in the chilled out rhythms
of a lava lamp. During an ultrasound,
belly gelled, you may not even recognize
the liver, the pancreas, your own aorta,
the same way you aren’t sure
if Myanmar is near Thailand or India.
It all looks like the Aleutian islands to you,
all coral reefs and volcanic ranges,
borders unguarded. You could use
the comedy of a sea otter, but imagine
eruptions only.

The tactics are to fend off any attack,
to win, always to win, or at least get out
with only the loss of some vision.
Your health consultant for today
has set her sights on this dark region
over on the left, which could be a lake,
or the tar pits. Please take a deep breath in
and hold it, she says and you can think
of nothing but exhalation, the explosion
of air released from the lungs.

Hold and release.
Retreat and advance. 
You belong to a clan 
but someday a foreigner
may ask to carry you from one land
into your next. Let them.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Annette Funicelo is Cast in Your New Year’s Poem

The bar of each year of your life is set like a game of Limbo
to wriggle or shimmy under, or just barely slip through that period
of the film where what you sought was not what you got.
You didn’t plan for the letter you sent to be returned to sender,
the grain of your own handwriting on the envelope covered
in the high court of post office codes. You wanted to keep in touch.
This year you tried to reach out, connect, bend toward the light
backwards. Look at you! Trying! The revelers at your beach
didn’t get the file on the quiet you needed. They all danced,
played their ukuleles in the key of too loud.
You fell into their barbecue pit.

Well now, it’s time to walk on fire, match the accident
with an event of your own making, strike a note
of such volume the string vibrates its highest and resonates
for nothing but the greater good. You meant it, see? Springy
footsteps are the answer. Bounce the inflated ball into the air
but don’t expect to know where it will land since seals have a way
of popping their charmed noses up. You can’t decide on a deck
or a basement when it comes to levels for this year, but the cast
holds the rope anyway. You choose how to pass under it,
trip on a brick, sail through the air, land on a flowered towel
or in the surf. It’s all finesse, seeds of foam at the shore’s edge
as the audience gets a wink of a mermaid’s tail. Credits. Song.