Intimacyhere, a quake, so I name
your fourth abdominal after
Venezuela - that land
of tectonic plates
that slide so subtle below
the ocean floor, and just now,
with my fingers feathering
your hip bone and your mouth
adjusting the tempo of red rivers
under the surface, I feel
like a new mountain birthed
by the shattering of old growth:
bold, eager, desperate to possess
that soft blue sky.
Birth of PoetryI tangled my fingers in the curls of the universe,
pulled. The earth fell out: round, warm, spinning.
Awkward and shy, she wondered how she got here; how
a rock that got wet and grew moss could be significant.
So I scooped her up in my fingers, breathed her scent:
(lilies and oceans and ozone and forests and fish and birds
and whales and rain and the empty elegance in wolf howls)
death and life. I found chaos
and knew beauty.
Accidentat the corner of boone trails and owen
she learned the brevity of flight:
glinting bumper for launch pad
trajectory approximately 5 feet
across the median.
as proud, as swift
as any prima ballerina
but the landing
this I keep for her -
the listless weight of limbs
defying gravity, the beastly beauty
of a body bouyant before
Dear Teen MeDear Teen Me,
Too often, we lean toward writing to the general audience. I've rewritten this very letter at least three times, and had to scrap it each time because it did not accomplish what it needs to accomplish. It needs to be a letter to you, not to every teenage girl in America. It needs to speak to your heart, your dreams, and your faults. It needs to be about you.
Since we were able to comprehend compassion, we've used it as a shield to avoid ourselves. We've sympathized with the plights of the starving in Asia, the trafficked in India, the raped and tortured in Sudan and Burma. We've given to the Red Cross on behalf of hurricane and earthquake victims. We've spent hours coaxing the mentally ill out of suicide, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. We've given everything we have trying to help others. And it is noble and just and right and selfless to the point of being unhealthy.
You are a person, too. You need time and attention and care and space just as much as the
The First Time I Cried While Reading PoetryHe asked if a soul can ache
while I wondered
do little girls in Thailand
sleeping in servitude
and blameless sin
believe God loves them?
He reached across the sheets, pressed
the pad of his left thumb into my hip,
and impaled miracles on dull words:
"look at us, all agony and grace."
Then rolled away.
I kissed his palms,
closed my eyes,
knew love to be a rabid dog.
The first time I cried while reading poetry,
he sighed and asked:
"does the world make more sense
when it's blurry?"
But the bite doesn't hurt as much.
luhv --verbAs a small child, love was not a word bound by definition. Love was not a word at all. It was my father sitting beside my bed, and our nightly exchange:
"Papa, read me a bedtime story."
"Alright," he replied, opening his hands like a book. He pretended to scan the contents of his palm. My face split into a grin, knowing the next words before they came. "Once upon a time," he began, his tenor voice filled with drama. Already I was giggling. Then he closed his hands with a soft clap. "The end!"
"No!" I squealed. "A real story, Papa!"
Afterward, Papa pressed his whiskery face to my forehead, whispered the same prayer he whispered over all his children; he continues to whisper it to himself, though his children are far too old for whiskery kisses or pretend bedtime stories.
As I grew older, love changed. It grew into screaming matches with my sisters: words flung at each other with enough precision to maim, but not kill. Each of us struggled with the need to be close and still occupy a spa
Redthis is the way we are set loose:
like bulls released from their pens -
all anger and bucking fear,
unaware that we have thrown away
the most harmless annoyance
& quivering, we await
the wrath of realized
mistakes - the end
of the fray.
To My Younger SelfDear Little Lili,
Never try to cut your own hair. God or genetics or the fates (whatever we'll eventually prefer) blessed us with many skills, but coordination is not one of them. For this reason avoid any sport that requires contact with others. You'll save a few broken bones.
Read everything. Books will be better friends to you than most people, but that is because they are humanity distilled - all of the beauty and none of the beast. Love them accordingly.
Touch the barbs of velvet-petal roses before you inhale their perfume. Get used to the way blood wells, then rolls across the ridges in your skin. Emotions are not so different. You cannot cross through this life without a few scars, but you can prepare yourself for the pain.
Love the people you meet. This will be so easy for you now, while you are young and see the world so clearly. With time, grime will slowly creep into your vision - a cancer of the heart and soul that medicine has yet to diagnose.
Hold on to the words from the
ObjectI prod the sticky skin
between your ribs,
find air lacking.
there are words for this.
I do not want
to know them.
ten years ago
you said that a human
was more than an accumulation
of bone and liquid
but here, with a cloth squeezed
between the few fingers
not touching the object
that you've become,
PerigeeWhen the mare went blind
my heart clouded like her eyes
she walked calm along her dark path
she learned step up, step down
I led her by the forelock
her trust like the moon between my hands
A Long End to a Brief Life I didn't know it was illegal to move a person's ashes from the spot you said they'd be (my garage) to multiple others. I put Mom-in-ashes in the trunk of my car because I thought we'd find a place for her soon, but Mom and I went hither and yon while my sister looked for a real "resting place."
I even forgot Mom was there, and we went shopping, to the movies, out to eat. Was it disrespectful? It didn't feel illegal.
When I thought about it, it seemed kind of cozy.
There came the day though, when my sister Jocelyn found a good mausoleum to put Mom at a full stop, the final resting place. I went with Jo, and that's how I found out it was illegal to move Mom beyond the shelf in the garage to the mausoleum -- it was supposed to be a direct line between the two places. Of course I didn't tell the man Mom had been all over town with me.
We had to pick out an urn to put at least part of Mom in (the whole of her was too big,
He Found Me Before I Knew1
suddenly rain -
our reflection in the windshield
becomes a deluge
texting each other a renga -
on rain-soaked streets
home from work
he finds me on the bed
in a pile of warm laundry
between desires -
the children we were
in another life
finishing the fence
he smells of wood chips
from my dad's workshop
I connect constellations
of freckles on his shoulders
gray morning -
I open a melon
its green perfume
at the dining table
writing this haiku
the fridge faintly hums
you need to have a plan...so here's to
to some forgotten shore.
2. fall desperately in love with
i. the ocean
ii. the sky
iii. the honey sunrise and
iv. the steelgray winter dawn.
soul-deep into the water and
4a. search out the requisite words
i. from behind white and blue curtains
ii. and underneath clam shells
iii. and in the wakes of fishing boats, and
4b. pluck them from the ceaseless
scrawls of sunlight
against the slopes of waves.
5. make time for
ii. and other
Autumn was my first love.October, I follow you -
from the magic lights of New York
to moonshines in Georgia,
until the colors dissolve.
The anxious poetry of autumn
made a memory of me.
Here’s to things I take for granted:
country road thunderstorms.
Unspoken words, unwritten ideas.
October, I follow you;
I thought I saw you on the shore
where the river runs through gold
on the last boat leaving the city of a hundred spires -
or perhaps Pittsburgh
(it was the lights I guess).
Here’s to the things we leave behind:
sunbeams in November,
letters addressed to no one,
poems, wounds, dead birds.
I’ve got that summertime sadness.
Maybe you’re gonna come back;
we’re changing our ways, taking different roads
and loneliness knows me by name
but October, I follow you;
without you I’m a winter heart,
a love story you don’t want,
a November shade of grey hunting ghosts
in cities that sleep inside our heads.
You told me you lied the night you kiss
cyclic motioni. every sad story starts with love.
ii. there is you sprawled across the bed
with your ankles tangled in cotton covers
and the golden waves of sunlight
breaking themselves through fissured glass
to drip into your hair like bright honey,
your hands reaching upward
as if they were young birds waiting on wings.
you wept for those flightless, wet-beaked children
anchored helplessly to your wrists
but their hearts were not as weak
as the foreign fist beating in your chest. they collapsed
and only left behind
the impressions of dying constellations
they had scratched beneath your eyelids.
iii. at dusk i watched the night take you in waves, glowing,
and said you were the most beautiful thing
i had ever known.
it was a lie. the want of a thing
is always more beautiful than the thing itself.
these are the quiet things we do not tell--
the secrets touched only in the dark
when hearts are laid open
and everything else forgets to exist.
iv. i whispered that to myself when the last shadow
Ixchelthe new year riots in
on its horses,
all helmets and gunpowder,
reared on its haunches
like a conquistador army.
your invasion brings out the
Mayan in me,
the pre-Columbian refusal
to be subdued,
the impetus to reclaim my territory,
hissing like a serpent,
is scattered like stars
in centres of sacrilege, sacrifice;
my heart an ancient ceremonial
stone, a step pyramid raised to the heavens
like a rocky intake of
I, hellcat, spitfire,
tongue like an obsidian flint:
I rage like a goddess.
you, soldier to my warrioress,
discipline to my fury,
to my unabashed lust for destruction,
you glutton of an empire, you—
withstand my volcanic wrath
and you are welcome to all of the gold
buried in the belly of my desert.
ConfluenceAccording to the old religion, a scribe
must bathe in natural running water
before she draws what is dictated to her,
because writing's just like cleaning a mirror,
she says, it's like rearranging stains
left on wholesome rivers. For three nights,
I drew geometric shapes in the margins;
I had been instructed to take notes on
the underside of snow, and how it colonized
the lithosphere, musically and without hurt.
It felt like a call, but it wasn't a calling.
The paper was made in Himalayan foothills
by a woman who had cleansed knots from fibrous bark
and dipped her bleached hands into boiling water.
I mangled the page into a cottage, then a castle;
for I imagine that the grime of Dublin
could fold me up into my questions. But to give
creative attention is always an act of love,
and the most sincere. You have always known that
only at the fringes of the intellect
can love become voice. So may
it all be fringes and love
its nonexistence, but not yet, not yet.
SuffocationI found a vintage denim jacket
in the bottom of my mother's closet,
underneath a black-and-white montage
of shoebox photographs with burned edges.
Like she had been trying to asphyxiate
the memory of my father
but kept coming up for air.
syracuseListen to the audio version for the full effect, pretty please.
cloudshot sky like an oil painting and i am watching the
darling, i will swim for you
and swallow every whitecap.
i will pluck myself a coat of pelican wings,
sew them up with salt and spray--
become icarus for you.
you are calling me across the waves, love--
but you pull against the ache
in my bones, the hollow--
the clawing out for unseen sunsets and unturned tides.
i hear you, love
give me time.
i will always listen.
glass in the tidegradac, croatia; summer.
it is a town climbed up from the sea:
a salt hymn, an exhalation, a brightly calcified
spray. the houses here are overgrown
as wildflowers, paths like tiny winding veins
sprung alive between them. from my balcony i watch
the sun crest slowly into afternoon,
and mothers lead their children
down stone slopes, arterial pull
to the water. by the shore,
vendors sell bottles of olive oil, salt,
sage, gathering up anything with the taste
of what mystery inhabits the air—brimming over
the glass lips, a curving kind of joy,
the whole earth, a bowl of it.
at night, my uncle drinks beer
and i drink wine. he watches
the football game and i try
to write this poem; try to bottle with language
some tipped draught of the night water
below me, the children still dancing loud
in its repeated unfurling,
in the morning, we swim, and stretch out
our salt-damp bodies at the edge
of the sea. lying there, i rustle
through the beach's tiny stones, pick out emer
fishermanI am a fisherman-
all roaring waves
and rush of sea salt
beating seagull wings
and a tongue carved from
My hands break levees
and my breath births dams
the taste of chilly morns
still melt on the roof of my
mouth like I never wished
for anything besides the smack
of sodden rubber boots and
the scars from entangled
hunks of ivory nets
the sea has not
forgotten my voice-
I can hear them
when the wooden floorboards
crackle like hurricane bruises
from water laden saunters
through land sunk libraries
it has been a forever
since I held a dream
caught between my fingertips
and the gentle rock of a
boat and foamy froth on
but this new trip I have embarked upon
carries more clanking hooks
than screeching sinkers
yet- my line has not changed-
I am a fisherman and the sea
forget who its children are.
Holiday TweetBaked two spiced pumpkin pies,
barely stretching the crusts over
each dish & everyone will know
that I am a poet, not a baker.
Wrote no poems.
He Remembers 1961He always puts extra steaks on the grill,
in case the neighbors stop by.
It’s not that kind of world anymore.
The wind was the only visitor that night
and it assumed an odor of burning leaves.
He thought about all the funerals he had
attended and he thought about Hurricane Jenny.
The sun’s last breath felt like thunder.
A child yelled “Olly olly oxen free” but
to him it sounded like “All your friends die in Spring.”
it strikes me
that this woman
could be a palace.
I marvel at
the opulent dome of
her brow, her arch
skin like a courtyard of
a thousand intersecting
golden lines about her
head and neck.
she beams from atop her
beatific and beautiful,
spreads her arms like
invites you to be one of
who have wandered her
I’ve often thought
as a castle:
all rough-hewn stone
a temper like molten
my head is crowned
at the crenels.
I look out from my
guerites, my brattices,
eyes like arrow-slits
and a murder-hole
for a mouth.
I wouldn’t blame you
for choosing her
for regarding my fortress
as too daunting,
for deciding easy acceptance
better befit you
than proving your worth—
I could forgive you
for being a coward.
but you swam the moat,
killed the guards,
scaled the battlements,
demolished my fortifications—