Opening the Closing Door

Your only son is a stat in the war.
Our U.S. flag will grace
his coffin coming home.
Royal blues inside the cloth
become a permanent bruise of grief.
Your nightgown weeps down
dumplings of your swaying hips —
his father sits in twilight on the patio
replaying games of chess he lost,
the house a place of hollowing.
No message from a general
can mitigate the darkness here.
Serenading nightingales,
off-key and singing all the same.
Talons gripped the olive branch;
it splintered into gray remains.
Time to dye white towels green.
Surrender is impossible.

You leave his room just as it is.
Walk a plank beside his bed
as if the sea had not destroyed
this paradise you nailed down.
You’ll dust each week, change his sheets,
hope sunlight visits icy grass.
Opening the closing door
will break your wrist.
You’ll iron a basket of Sunday shirts.
Count the buttons, put a stitch
in slipping ones that threaten
what the truth demands.
Placemats stay in stacks of three
as if a patch of DNA could tell a lie.
His toothbrush stands
attentively beside the sink —
a monument to sterile wish —
a column in a coliseum
crushed by the falling sky.

*First Published in Poetry


A rush of tenuous joy
attacks the statue of Saddam
now hollow and approachable.
Iraqis spit and throw old shoes.
Roads of dust are wearing
signs of renaissance rising
to meet the gluttonous smoke
of battle as it’s winding down.

From citadels of easy street,
it’s strange to witness such applause
as tanks roll in to stake their ground.
Then again, I haven’t seen my brother
hanged in circles of a village square.
Blend this with the tortured voice of a man
imprisoned for eight long years,
beaten and burned for “praying too much.”

“Let me take you on a tour …”
he rails to a camera lens.
A warren of cells, no light, just filth,
a cockroach train for company.
This is just a trickling of mud along
the River Styx applied to earth
by terror’s heavy choking hands.
If horror has a Louvre,
these would be the hallowed halls.
Human contact was a whip.

No wonder men are kissing
soldiers on the cheek, clapping
to the sounds of music
right behind the bullet fire.
There were souls of sacrifice
who didn’t stay at home —
in labyrinths of their
comfort zones — did not leave
this bruise of pooled blood
to fill the oceans of the East.

*First Published in Poetry

A Speech Before the Splattered Blood

The DOW spikes up, banking on
a dwarfish draft of Armageddon gloom.
Our president will speak at five.
No casualty is casual.
It’s hard to match a suit and tie
to splatter of the coming blood.
Ahmed, a driver in Iraq, says:
“This is a miserable life.
We spent it shopping for war
or hiding from bombs.”
He recites his summary
as if his time is finished as a boiled egg.
All eyes red from pressing
night’s extended weight.

Justice spelled so many ways our alphabets
no longer know their proper forms.
Iraqis seal their windows shut as if a roll
of tape will come between the fragile glass
and force of missiles jetting
through the tainted sky.
Stirring the hostile soup.
It seems the only spoon we own,
yet who can watch the broth of freedom
dwindle to a water drop.
Have you ever sat on a fence,
answerless and trembling,
wishing posts were firm mirage?

I swing like heavy pendulums
between the prayer to end this horror
and nightmares of approaching graves.
The writer with no salving words,
no sonnets in a pocketbook.
No talons on the olive branch,
no wings of doves, no angels near
as embassies evacuate, as guns replace
the meetings of our shattered hearts
now beetles under heavy boots.
Philanthropy or wet revenge —
I can’t decide and so I kneel
as quicksand travels to my chin.

*First Published in Ariga

Suddenly It’s Solitaire

One moment he’s pruning a wayward branch;
garden tools rest happily against
the brick like spoons in soup.
You wonder how it stayed this warm.
An ancient sun is baking leaves, raisins
in a rising dough of seasons on a schedule.
He edges grass the way he’s always
sculpted love — by doing things
in steady gestures like the rain.
A seizure, then a surgery.
Then solitaire so suddenly.
Feet aren’t there to track rich soil;
welcome mats have lost all words.

I bake two pies and take
two pieces down the street.
It’s a short walk and a long hill
up to the crown of thorns.
The first thick snow is blowing
blizzards of his death as if
some crazy heaven dropped a sack of flour
and all the meals I’m handing you
are just reminders of the cold.
I ring the bell, its tired fly
catches in the vivid freeze.

A single placemat at the bar
stares back at us as if
no cards but this exist.
Boots are empty lecture notes
reminding me that luck
is amputated by the hour.
His coat is hanging like a ghost
beside a hat that buckles
in our winded sighs.
A living room of Roman girth —
spotless but for photographs
you finger in the night’s abyss.

*First Published in Black Creek Review

Inside a Name

I whisper her name aloud —
you tug at a chair to gather your coat,
pet the dog and say goodbye
before a question
kicks you in the tender groin.
Your eyelids curtsy once and clench —
a mirror of the coffin’s hinge.
I’d like to follow roads you take,
through briars of the fruitless vines,
down sharp, dry cliffs
that crumble at the slightest wind.
Our silence is my orphanage,
but you don’t know the windows
you have blocked from light.

Hand me just a sweater’s sleeve,
some syntax, context, anything
that spells the way she made the bed
into a novel packed with lust
and happiness now cherry pits.
Her memory is snow in summer,
smelly oil on concrete floors
of some garage I sense is cold.
Nearly fifty years have passed.
Sores should own a scar or two,
but closure is impossible
without exposure to the air.

I’d like to follow roads you take,
even if this island has no sustenance
and storms direct the weather vanes.
Death might have been a melody
we rode until the song came back.
I step on leaves around her grave,
hear the crunch of missing heels,
stay the hungry hummingbird,
who cannot find the center
of a rose removed —
wings on fire for searching
through the muted spring.

*First Published in Epiphany

Pocket Change

“What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish?”
T.S. Eliot, “The Wasteland” — 1922

As locust of grief gathers its legs
for the pounce and traffic spins
in its clotted grave,
answer escapes by channel of fog.
I am seized by the question’s thrust–
turn toward ways you fanned a purse
and opened it on Christmas Eve.
A man with his face inking a sign
marked homelessness, dotting
your “I” with a tear of having more
than your heart required in wallet clutch,
pushed you to extend your gift.
You dropped $5 in his lap.
He smiled the way a cock must crow
waking up a sleeping farm.
Teeth became a rope of pearls,
real in their soft reward.

Passersby withdrew from slug trail poverty
and the wind raced its breath
toward frost and clung.
“Pocket change, that’s all we are
and all we have, trading pennies for a dime.”
The song of it all in photograph
rekindled decades hence in water bath
for wisdom’s tiny carrot curl.
“One clash with fate, that’s all it takes,”
you murmured quietly, as if your vocal chords
had violins in lumpy throat.
That single reach. Rendering a bible’s jacket
more than paper babble bound.
Undaunted by his drunkenness and sour cough,
a memory pushes through my hands.

*First Published in The Pedestal Magazine

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