Illness smells out the trite like beagles
with noses near to the ground —
like a mother who knows
her daughter’s been smoking
in the bathroom downstairs
a dozen walls away from her.
Suddenly this narrowing
of breakdown lanes, of space to roam,
sidewalks cracking from the ice.
Slippery sunsets, stretching winters,
each hour of spring fresh popcorn
to a starving duck.
Truth becomes too short to hold —
like mustache trimmings in the sink,
like bones that go brittle and snap,
like hay that meets immutable rain.
Don’t we wish it didn’t take
a teapot growing cold and chipped
to make us want the chamomile.
The poem is a rose to press;
the rose is a poem to read —
this might be it
for both the garden and the light.
*First Published in Lily Magazine
I question the empty page
like a moldy slice of bread —
it might have been a decent meal
in someone else’s hands.
The clock records a passing hour.
Still no verse worth printing out.
A filthy kitchen floor
sticks to my shoes
like an uttered lie —
I flip through yesterday’s mail,
stacking bills in heavy bricks,
thinking I’m an ad for grief,
ought to get different life
that dwells upon a butterfly.
Our puppy slams the keyboard tray,
pulls at my socks with rollicking teeth.
Her tail wags east then west —
pointing out with clarity the aching light
I’m missing in this clouded room —
all the blinds pressed
firmly shut like coffin lids.
She rolls upon her fluffy back,
offers me her tender skin
and clammy paws fresh from
morning’s dewy lace —
she knows somehow that suns
aren’t jars of mustard seeds
to stash on racks and never use.
I expect we will always argue about
fixed conclusions of a chair —
that image of defeat so raw
it could be hanging, stinking beef
unabated by the wind.
Call it fealty to dreams, to rivers
drying as we speak —
if you guess I’ll yield
to rolling wheels with arioso grace,
you’ve not met my real soul
who thinks that even tortured legs are still
a poem with missions in their syllables.
You will say I have more strength
than monuments of will I know.
You will say that chancre is a cornered bird
in rooms we never knew were there.
And I will say I’m featherless,
a brittle corpse that mourns
the facts of wings erased.
I will see these body parts
as idle, feckless, useless strings.
Health is blind and illness sees
what happens to the fallen leaf.
I won’t be sitting happily
in soft green sarsaparilla grass
salving the going bone —
reading a book clothed
in chamois leather flesh —
liking who I am inside.
Ugly as this honesty may be
to such defensive love,
I will be staring at lightless stars
glued to an onyx sky — reaching
for a .38, if only in a metaphor.
Three women lounge beside a pool —
comparing scars and silently,
the sizes of a spreading waist.
Laughing at the family branches,
reading stories for reprieve.
Different brands of syllables
to suit the weight of sorrow’s cloth
and longing, well, it hangs
in sacks beneath the eyes
behind their shades —
it hangs in every swaying elm.
Children cackle in the water,
race across the hot cement
to blankets of their mothers’ arms.
Dancing like a moonbeam’s stripe
toward that grand chameleon, death,
unaware that bodies
are tenuous treasures at best.
Denominators of the years
will water sadness tacitly.
The chairs are facing east
where light arrives and doesn’t stay.
One discusses discipline
for nine year olds
who think a mouth is meant
to tell their father off.
Another, brands of tanning cream
that fake a blush for summer months.
The third is reading Lucy Grealy,
hiding titles under towels
that also drape a half a leg.
She’s the one who wears her grief
like stains across a white lapel.
She’s the one reminding them
that shaving pairs of flawless thighs
is running digits through dazzling silk.
The battle went flat like a candle pinched.
One moment you were pale soap
resting on a double bed,
dwindling as our tears raged on.
I’d read to you from hardbound books
as if thin scrolls of verse you loved
could break the silence
rubbing against my quiet screams.
A hospice nurse shut down the drip.
I made her check your pulse
at least a hundred useless times
between my racking sobs.
We’d clean and paint the haunted house
as if a broom or brush
could mitigate this hurt.
My sister and I drew straws.
The short one got your bathroom drawers;
the long one got your greenhouse
full of gangly roots,
scents of old geraniums
smothering the faintest smell
of Nina Ricci clinging to the caving walls.
We passed the trinkets of your life
back and forth across the room.
Bubble-wrapped your china dolls
to open when our strength returned.
Balls of cat hair raced my arms
like moths react to woolen sleeves
we rearrange as seasons fold.
Your shoes became two empty rows
of bobbing boats beside a pier
that’s slipped into a stormy sea.
Whatever we grabbed
scalded our tender hands.
*First Published in Retort Magazine
A strange melange of curves
against the thorns and barbs of war.
Dog-eared berms wrestling
with another storm.
A soldier sleeps against
the barrel of his gun,
dreams of cherry trees at home.
A white picket fence inside this world
is concertina wire and guards
in suits of glaucous camouflage,
bombs for crickets
singing in the evening light.
Camels pass in dusty colors,
their instincts blend
with parched terrain —
they’re born prepared —
and we are not.
Sand is all the grass they know.
They wander by so casually,
an orange sunset at their heels.
*First Published in Tamafyhr Mountain Poetry