Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Chain Stitching

There’s the drip like a waterfall
And the sigh of her breathing
And the light of my screen 
And this loss.

The loss I can’t name,
But it’s something like dawn when I try,
Like flowing honey and morning and sky.

The loss is like sunlight,
Its rays the embrace of a friend,
Like the chain of an afghan
On a cool summer night:
Breeze metered by yarn, metered by breeze.

And it creeps through my heart by degrees,
Like ivy is climbing and spreading, and 
Soon it’s all you can see.

One night I was violently ill.
She brought me clean sheets,
Laid cold wash cloths on my feverish face;
It’s all I can think of here in this place.

I’m sitting awake, 
Waiting her needs,
But she’s sleeping softly,
Retreating from me.

I retrace the steps of my childhood
Among the dripping and—
I don’t hear her breathing—
There it is, so soft, and a snore.

I retrace the steps of my childhood,
Trying to find 
A place or a time when she was not there,
But her presence cannot be extracted.

Like the ivy that encasing the walls, 
Becomes the thing holding them up,
She’s there,
Metering my memories with naps peaking glimpses of daytime tv,
Chocolate chip cookies and overnight stays;

Now I meter hers by holding her hand,
Watching the drip and the lights,
Reminding her 

Of her name and the day.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Art of the End

She’s teaching me to be old:
With every Thank you uttered
To every nurse who draws her blood;
With every reassurance
That everything is good;
With every stifled groan
She can’t remember to repress;
With every single visitor
Who comes with old regrets.

She’s teaching me how the body
Swallows up itself:
How the mind can lose the past
But not civility;
How the shriveled skin
Can still hold tight;
How the smallness of a frame
Can recede and shrink and fade.

She’s teaching me the art of the end,
Of slipping away,
A lesson I’ll only remember
As long as there’s no need.
But I’m studying hard,
Trying to learn the softness of the language,
So maybe something here will help me there someday
When my own body begins to turn away,
When she is gone and someone uninitiated
Tries to set me right—

And I’m retelling stories of this night,
And they know it might have happened,
The way I know she might have loved
Playing basketball when she was twenty-three
(At five foot nothing)—
The only thing she can recall from the eighty years she’s known.

We must not get to pick our memories,
So I know this useful one will go,
And I’ll likely only know the day I sledded in the snow,
Forgetting who was there and where I was but not that I was thirty-three
Or the wind-chapped sting of glee
As gravity pulled me

So hard away from home.

Sunday, December 4, 2016


I can see change
But not time.
I can hear melody
And imagine time like that—
More fanciful than the ticking, chiming of a clock.
I can touch the empty cradle, the fallen leaf,
But time’s texture is a mystery.
Wherever, whatever
Time is,
I see the lightning bolts of white
Working their way
Like magic
From my temple to my skull,
And whatever Time is,

It has touched me.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

What You Have to Do

The night we brought him home
From where he’d stayed throughout the move,
The turtle died. How Landon knew, I was never clear
Because I was more focused on the Injustice of Death,
How the Kids Would Take It,
And then, forgetting, when I found it awaiting burial
(Formal rites of interment must be delayed until the family can be gathered)
In the bathroom in the middle of the night,
Bumped it,
Looked to see what I’d bumped (a bucket with a dead turtle sitting listlessly
Inside like a giant rock one of the kids had found and left
Somewhere strange),
And saw—of course I screamed. There are women who can kill rattlesnakes, set
Mouse traps, clean up the remains
Of whatever the cat brings in. I’ve known them. But they are never
The face that greets me in the mirror. I would not burn down the house over such a thing,
I’d just drive out of state.

The ceremonies progressed, Landon playing pall bearer, minister, and grave-digger
(With the borrowed shovel the handyman was strangely glad to loan).
We said a prayer (St. Francis preached to birds):
Please grant peace to
Thank you for the joy of
All creatures are Your handiwork.

And then the call. From his place of suit and tie, he’d searched a little longer,
Wondered what had given rise to sudden death and found
That reptiles (even turtles) hibernate.
He might not be dead. He said he’d never ask me to dig up a dead turtle
Like some kind of twisted horror flick…
Of course, the only thing I could imagine worse than digging up a dead turtle
Was a live turtle dying slowly in my back yard.
I did what any mother would do:
  • ·       Locked the kids in the basement.
  • ·       Poured a glass of whiskey.
  • ·       Found a broken beach shovel (because by now the handyman was gone).
  • ·       Sat down by the turtle’s fresh-turned grave.
  • ·       Began speaking to myself/my long-dead father about Mark Twain and Faulkner and the funny way the dead come back to haunt us.

The thing about unburying dead turtles is this: you have to touch them. Live turtles
Are potentially hazardous
If they are snapping turtles or
If you lick them. But the hazard is only potential, and otherwise they’re funny creatures
That run away like dogs when you put them in the lawn
And run in circles like bugs if you trap them
And scowl like my great-grandmother when my brother was being bad. Dead turtles
Are a different story. Their potential for hazard has been fully met: they are the epitome of dead.
And here I was touching one.
Not just touching, either. I was digging him up, collecting him in a box,
To take back to my kitchen to nurse him back to life:
After Failed Experiment with Monsters, Dr. Frankenstein Moves to Zombie Turtles.

When resurrecting turtles, you have to:
  • ·       Wrap them in towels.
  • ·       Drop water on them from syringes, three drops at a time (like a witch’s potion).
  • ·       Put a heat lamp above them (because heat + a dead body = LIFE).

You have to be patient. Let the turtle warming in the kitchen gestate
While you try to think of other things (not the times you threatened to make him into soup).
You have to check him periodically (if you’re not staying with him throughout the procedure),
To look for signs of life.

Signs of death are clearer, though. Once putrefaction sets in, the situation ceases to be
I still don’t know exactly how.
I screamed something like “Mouse in the kitchen!”
Loaded the kids in the van
And waited at McDonald’s for Landon to come home

And re-bury the dead turtle.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Six Pounds

The bottle’s label says that God has set him down again
Into the loving arms of Mother Earth,
And I guess that that would be true enough
If we had buried him.

He said he wanted to be taxidermied,
Repositioned so the grandkids could sit upon his lap
Like Ronald Macdonald.
It was funny—in a roll-your-eyes sort of way—
Until he died suddenly
Sitting in a rocking chair,
Arms positioned like a welcome,
Head dropped like he’d just nodded off.

Now he’s sitting on my desk
In a champagne bottle,
A weight of dust I couldn’t part with
Contained by dusty glass—
Part of a package deal he bought
With tickets for a hot air balloon—
Because I recognized him in the dust,
Like filled-up ash trays on the porch,
Like gritty sand from walking on the beach
Where the grit and crunch that holds you up is someone else’s life,
Someone else’s bones squeezed in between your toes.

I feel his sacrifices like the shattered shells I can’t avoid,
Making up the shoreline of my days.
I move across these years
With respect that tastes like salty tears;
My life is taking him
(In such an insufficient way)
To places he could never go,
But I go there on his life of sweat and toil.

The winds have welcomed you with softness
The bottle’s label says
(We poured his dust into the wind)

The sun has blessed you with his warm hands.
(Except his eyes are dark, and all the warmth is gone)
You have flown so high and so well,
(Suggests a fuller life than 49)
That God has joined you in your laughter.
(But no one joined him in his tears).

“Inflated Account”
Was the name of the balloon
And fits the unreality
Of this fictitious space without him,
Of a flight from which I had to fall,
Of the brevity of life

And the joy of after all.

Monday, July 4, 2016


The landing strip is gone and now I’m lost
The numbered spaces meaningless as strangers’ faces
Words I read again like places I have been
But changed.

I went back home today. Someone else’s car is parked
In the place we used to play.
More houses have been built, crowding in together;
Faces that we knew have long since passed away.

Are there ghosts within the text that move the words around?
That take the story that you knew you knew
And make it more profound?

I only want to find my place and work from there in forward motion;
I don’t want to get lost in revisions of the past,
But I’m turning pages, drawn like Hamlet to a ghost,
Falling in to this,
A place I’ve already been,
Where the present me encounters one I shouldn’t see
And tries to yell the future,
Spoil the end,
Like yelling from a moving train
That love will come,
Love will come,
Love will come.

Just hang on till then.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Fairly Creative Guide to Telling Tales

At long last, A Fairly Creative Guide to Telling Tales, my creative writing book is a reality. Thank you to Royal Fireworks Press for persevering!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Coping Well II

I don’t want to be told I’m doing a good job
in labor: what my body is doing is
against will
against reason
what my body is doing
is a trainwreck of an idea,
for which I deserve as much credit as
beating my heart.

Complimenting labor always seems
condescending, a strange distraction:
how should I respond?
And in this massive state of indignity,
to think of a polite response
only reminds me
how impolite this state of almost-born.

If I could help “doing well” –
to will or unwill it—
what would that even mean?
Withhold the prisoner on the verge of
making a break for it?
Hardly a prudent plan.
On the other hand,
if I could grant him clemency,
release these prison doors,
distribute personal effects,
I’d be glad to help:
sign the papers,
look the other way

But I am neither
guard nor bailiff:
I am the earth he tunnels through,
part of nature in this moment,
part of quaking,
part of being
not choosing,
nothing moral,
no act of the will.

Only being broken,
being stormed,
being flooded,

Say I’m coping well.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016


Only at sunrise and sunset do I
Think of him. Only at the color of the sky
Or smell of hazelnut in coffee
Only when reading Huckleberry Finn
Or teaching multiplication.

Only if I wake at night unsleeping
And find a child awake
And make a sandwich and play a game
Instead of watching old westerns.

Only if I have to carry sleeping children to their beds from mine
(A thing that hardly ever happens)
Only if I smell the beach or cooking meat
Or hear the stars and have to shush a chatter-child.

Only then and when I think of places that we’ve been,
But those are roads I’ll never drive,
And I stay indoors at night.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Ontology of Three-Year-Olds in Mass

You ask me, “How was mass,”
and I don’t know what to say.

Are you asking about the homily,
whether the priest inspired, entertained?
Are you asking about the quality
of the presence of I AM?

How should I respond?
What could I ever say?

But I think that what you mean is something like
how did the kids behave?
I’m glad you’re home;
welcome back
to the day-to-day.

But still, you framed it up that way:
How was mass?
I don’t know whether to answer the question that you meant
Or the one you asked.

Shall I say that God is always God,
that mass is always good
(even if my countenance betrays my mood
which perhaps betrays a lack of faith
perhaps because the two year old
perhaps attempted to abscond
with, perhaps, the purse and hair
of the parishioner she could reach
with her toes—
can you imagine the indignity of someone else’s
in your
at mass
that she—the two-year-old—forgot to put her panties on,
and I only noticed when she found a way
to hang
from the pew, my face, the missal
by her toes—
yes, you’re counting right:
that’s three times I had to turn her over,
peel her from my face—
why, I wonder, did the Almighty see fit
to give toes to toddlers)?

These things have nothing
to do with the metaphysical question you just asked.

And so I stutter in the kitchen,
end up shooed away.
“She doesn’t understand these kinds of conversations,”
I hear him say apologetically,
and I’m grateful because here I am,
months later,
still wondering:
How was mass?
And thinking

Thank God she’s three!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The End of Beauty

We would stand on the lawn looking up
like the opening scene of an alien show
every day.
We looked strange, I knew,
but I couldn’t help wondering where
the neighbors were—
how could they ignore this?
As other-worldly as an alien
invasion or a Raphael,
as fleeting as childhood
and immortality,
a gift fit for gods
but we live close enough to peek
to taste the spilled ambrosia
to see the colors altered
by an altered sky.
Why would we go past this,
go beyond—to what?
We don’t believe in a beyond-truth or
a beyond-goodness, but past
doesn’t always mean surpassed:
maybe we’ve just missed our turn?
Maybe if we stand on the lawn,
they’ll notice us, and no one
will overshoot their destination
or at least they can make a u-turn
at the end of the street,
pull over before
they give up and deem beauty medieval,
before they decide we’re too wise for thunder gods
and roses. I used to walk past
them, there at the front of the grocery store
where penitent and forgetful men can buy
before they get to the chips and soda
and forget.
I used not to notice;
they’re not advertised, after all, to women.
We’re meant to walk past,
Distracted by children and grocery lists,
beautiful bursting blossoms
invisible to us
(except for office parties,
customs of social investment,
when we walk into a separate place
with petty cash
and make petty choices
for the requisite office acknowledgements).
We manage to see
past beauty
even when it surrounds us.
But if you stop to touch or smell,
you'll find roses
are soft like silk
and hold memory like picture books,
like the soft folds of my grandmother’s face.
How did we ever start with stone and papyrus,
when the touch of a rose petal holds
more memory and allusion
than a library filled with coded paper,
when it must have been that way
in Egypt, too?
But we’ve gone beyond beauty. Why?
Because we’ve found something better?
We in this century have realized that dancing in the rain,
leaning over to sniff the rose,
touching the shiny flow of silk
and satin in the fabric store,
the use of exclamation marks!
Sensory stimulations are childish,
And the worst thing in this post-modern world
is a child.