Saturday, May 1, 2010

The finish, for now

Yeah, I'm running late. I'm in New Orleans, at JazzFest, overloaded with images, underloaded with energy.

Unsure of how to create the last poem of April (well, more or less), I pulled a random tarot card. Seven of wands.

The Day Before May Day
Before me, a serf wields a flowering stick,
half carrot, half bone. He does not look at me,
but at the ground next to my right foot. Between us,
more wands rise from a precipice. His world
is mostly sky. What feeds the branch he holds?
What is his purpose? Is he ready
to fight impediments, or
is he the impediment?
Maybe he’s yanked out an adolescent tree,
nipped it in bud. If so,
he’s got much work ahead.
They keep coming.
You are never the youngest for long.
I give up. go to the magic book
provided by U.S. Games.
“It is a card of valor.” “Six against one.”
No, I will pretend, against evidence,
they are an advancing morris side, ready
for a stick dance. They rise from death
up to this windy precipice
and though he meets them with fear,
they will teach him the old moves,
if not the old secrets.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Prompt: "And Suddenly..."

And Suddenly My Yogurt Bit Back

Down below the part that’s healthy, the ectoplasm
where industrious bacteria feed and fuck,
there lies the prize, the bliss-rising fruit
of the cacao bean, that dessert for the virtuous,
ambrosia for the fauxhemian saint. Yesterday,
some full-grown coworker asked me
“What is macrame?” The cutoff date: 1965.
Born later, and you missed everything.
Still, these tall kids in the office, with their
earbuds and tramp stamps and superior hair,
they’re buying the same stuff as me
these days, the organic-guaranteed brand
with the mellow brown cows on the cup. They’re
sucking up the same mind-altering sweet bugs,
stirring and stirring until the nutraceutical goo
is engulfed by the good stuff.
Chocolate Underground, baby. Dig it.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Run on, brave sentence, run on....

This is a quickie. I had to work to get the meter more or less right, and in the process I've left some lazy language in there ("bright" needs to be swapped out). But it meets the Brewer prompt, which is "end of the line."

The Neverending Fender Solo

What matters isn’t that he plays it loud.
What matters isn’t speed. What matters is
the way, when all seems done, he comes around
to find a lagniappe, a hidden clover
bearing four leaves, deep buried among threes;
as if God gave him elemental breath
attenuated, never labored, bright;
as if each of us dreamed of being trapped,
our streetcar barreling down Lombard Street,
with switchback after switchback bringing thrills,
or fatalism, fear, raw ecstasy,
and when it seemed we’d hit the water’s edge,
that trolley would create another track
stretching before us, unbelievable,
longer than any one of us could breathe.

font problems

I need to sit down one of these days and figure out why the fonts in this blog are so wonky.

Seems like the only time I sit down, when I'm not at work, is to write poetry.

Oh, right. And to watch Law & Order. And eat macaroni and cheese.

Anyway, if anyone reading this can offer me advice on the fonts, have at it.

(And no, this isn't intended as a poem, even though the layout kinda makes it look that way.)

Never too late for hope

Hope, Northeast D.C. Style

Hubcap hung from a tree
catches sunlight, headlights,
blends the blinding
and the beautiful.

Monday, April 26, 2010

More than five times


The first time,
I was four. Mom took me on a walk,
and just over the District Line
we found a tree shedding sweet
The second time,
I had a yen for the three-cent sinker
in the fishing aisle of
Youngblood’s Hardware. That, and
the bright green filament line.
The third time
I gave, letting Lena Walters
see my answer to the question
“How many candles fell
in Miss Havisham’s rotting parlor?
The fourth time,
it was a kiss, under the rampant horse
in Washington Park
with someone else’s
The fifth time was yesterday.
Or maybe there were six.
It’s hard to remember, to number
such sins.

Running to stand still

This is for yesterday's Brewer prompt: a poem inspired by a song. I'm not happy with it, but I rather like where it's going.

From the Wolfhound’s Companion
“and I said that we might settle down, get a few acres dug…”
--Richard Thompson, “Beeswing”

Together, we tasted like grass, new-mown,
a hint of wild onions. We grew in the earth we lay upon,
under the rough army blanket, stars in our hair.
He was a ginger, with the face of an eternal boy.
Our children would go off with Peter Pan—
but they would come back, take that bespoke suit
and the mortgage, bury themselves in Bank Street.
I could see how his green eyes sparked
when he recalled Comp Lit, the hesitation in his hands
when picking up the quail I caught for supper.
He could not bear blood—and he would never be
the one who spread his legs for his pretty heirs.
He was not meant for this place, and what
he tasted in me was what he wanted to taste:
that curry-combed show-wife, bound in pink ribbons,
fine as a bee’s wing.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The old up-and-down

The Word “Evening”
God forbid God
should slam down the garage door,
shut out the sun. No one needs to be scared;
we will go gently, with plums and grays,
until all is reversed and indigo holds sway.
It’s tepid, tame as a cardigan.
So God does not explain Led Zeppelin,
whose song tears through like cadets in training,
all sweaty rubber shoes and chanted pain.
That rhythm, up and down, sure as life.
Jimmy, honey, that’s not “In the Evening,”
that’s after dark.

The prompt: "exhausted"

There are tunnels through my brain, as if animals
have traveled through. Or so it seems
when I’m this tired. I reach for a thought
about the word yeast—singular or plural?
I grasp the memory of Oliver’s fiddle
in a hotel room at 3 a.m., music that foretold
his eternal spirit. I look for my driver’s license
and find instead the smell that smacked me
the first time I descended the subway stairs.
Where have my aunts’ birthdays gone?
Gone to crows, fled south for winter.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

More autobiography


You gotta eat a peck of dirt before you die.
This was my grandmother’s adage,
told me by my mother. I remember Grandma only dimly:
after a visit to Natural Bridge when I was three,
where I fell and cut my knee, she bandaged it
as I wailed.

No. That, too, is a memory that was told to me.
All I can see of her, truly see, is a shape under sheets,
too scary for an eight-year-old to approach,
as she lay dying of cancer in Aunt Cleo’s bedroom.
I knew her best by the things she owned: the waterfall furniture
in the room where she last breathed, the brown jugs
that held lemonade at the family reunion.
Her golden slippers, small enough for me to wear
after she died.

I know stories: how Granddaddy loved her at first site
in her mother’s boarding house, how his hands
just spanned her waist. I know love leads inexorably
to death: within a year after they set the stone,
Granddaddy visited each of his 10 children and then
joined her once more.

I knew her by words. Mama called it schmierkase,
Mom said, scooping cottage cheese. I knew her picture,
hair pulled back, thin metal glasses softening her,
looking so much like her daughters, so little like me.

Daughters withering like daffodils, worldly goods
gone to estate sales, memories fading: how deep
would I have to dig in those mountain valleys
to find who she was, as everyone who knew her
is swallowed by the earth?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sometimes it happens...

April 21

It’s a day that dreams died. If I could learn
to confine all mourning to twenty-four hours,
this day would be the one: amid spring,
as like to shower as shine. Here, I have inured
myself to the joyous redbud, another year
my mother won’t see it. Here, the pollen:
fecund, throat-clog spume across the blacktop,
here, road workers set up their fruitless repairs
(the storms of winter will again bring potholes).
Here, in this particular place, I am pricked
by recollections I want to wipe away,
phantom pains in places I’d forgotten.
Who knows where the time goes? I do.
It doesn’t go. It lingers, festers, flowers, falls.
My wounds and sorrows are so small;
why must they swell in April? I reject
that folderol about the cruelest month.
I sleep with my window open to the bay.
The courting birds cry at night, emotions
and species I can’t discern. Life renews.
Not for all, but for some lucky few.

Forbidden words

I tried to get my Facebook friends to remind me of words they'd been told should never be used in a poem. Some of their forbidden words are below.


According to Melinda,
art must be beautiful.

According to Jake,
each line should begin with a capital letter.

According to Rainer,
a poet who has not loved, lost, drunk, drawn blood, seen death,
and ideally done the killing is no poet at all.

According to Justin,
women can’t be funny.

According to Alex,
true poetry died with Sinatra.

According to Leona,
the letter “t” always symbolizes the risen Christ.

According to Stacy,
black is slimming.

According to Tina,
a line should never exceed eleven syllables.

According to Lucas,
one must never use the following words in a poem: heart, soul, moon, sun, languid, orange, moist, Nantucket, uterus, wine, couple, poet, poem, poetry, poesy, rose.

According to Carmen,
rules are made to be broken.

Also according to Lucas,
a poem should not mean, but be.
And it should take off the top of your head.
And maybe something else. It’s in the notebook somewhere.

According to Warren,
ignore the stuff you hear in workshops.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Brewer prompt: Looking back

Oh, this was great: just as I started to think about the prompt, KHUM's interview with Wavy Gravy came on. So I scribbled as I listened. This is not about Wavy Gravy, though two parts of it are inspired by things he said: one about "hijacking" a plane, the other about telling kids on a bad trip that they should go out and buy the ingredients for a root beer float.

Noisy Karma
for, but not about, Wavy Gravy

All that he did was money in the bank
for this ragged old age. Time was
we hijacked a plane, with love and hugs.
It’s our trip now, we said. We hung flowers
around the stewardesses’ necks--
you know, they all got lei’d!
He rips a fart,
mutters Sorry, like respectable company.
There were even boy stewards.
We didn’t care.
He hacks up
a few more memories, deep in his chest.
We never dosed anyone. Those were lies.
You make your own karma. We never wanted
to hurt anyone. Some boy with a bad trip,
we’d give him ice cream. It’s OK, kid,
you just swallowed the snake.
It’ll come out the other end, you’ll be fine
Big cough now. He pats the sunken Zig-Zag head
between his withered nipples. We always said the weed
wouldn’t poison us like nicotine. We were wrong.

Asked, Do you regret anything? he brings a knuckle
to the place where his right eye used to be,
gives it a twist, winces a wicked grin, says,
I wish I’d given those kids on the plane
more than flowers.

another name poem

I wrote this one first yesterday, for the Brewer prompt on names. Then I set it aside because I was hoping to revise it before posting it here. Alas, I never got back to it, so first draft it stands (for now).

Mick Jagger

God made him from rubber clay,
stretched and twisted, set to spring
but who could see, back in the days
of schoolcaps, of knee pants, the
that cracked the world
bent the frames, made the moon roll
such a fire needs fuel
booze and breasts and boasts
charlie, chewing gum, china white
burning to black
till black lost its meaning
what a machine
to keep that jittery, unsteady roll
down years, not gathering moss
but shedding all but the essential
clay mouth

Monday, April 19, 2010

People poems--part 1

Gertrude Belle Elion

Who would have expected genius from Gert?
That name so squat, dull as soap,
the face (some would say) likewise,
even the Belle couldn’t help. She never married.

Daughter of a dentist in the Bronx
admitted free to Hunter College with the other girls,
she missed the slot for nursing school,
was denied a graduate assistantship.

A lab tech’s hands thrust deep
into assays and poisons, dark steams
and cold glove boxes. An academic mind
formed microscopic military strategies
to kill the enemy, spare the civilians.

An upper-class Jewish suburban life:
opera, vacations, playing with nephews and nieces.
She never had children. Between everything
was work. She was Dr. Hitchings’ assistant.

HIV pushed back, pathogens held at bay,
liver transplants thriving. What did she see
as she dressed for work each day,
combed the curls, fastened the brooch?
Was she a role model? Was she happy?

In 1989, New York Polytechnic gave Gertrude Elion
an honorary Ph.D. It came a year
after the Nobel.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Been there, done that, got the shirk

To Shirk

It helps if you can shrink,
fold yourself into the corner of the envelope,
maybe under the stamp. Or work

your wormy way under the jars
under the sink. You might slide
down the drain—things get lost there—

or climb the walls to hide
atop the blades of the fan.
Sometimes avoidance can be work.

The house is your burlap sack.
Don’t answer the phone. Let it shriek.
Let the birds, the cats, the kettle shriek.

And you? You laundry layabout,
you call in sick to work
for want of a shirt.


That’s Why They Call It a Band

The bells knock heads
when you’re not looking
and the guitars neck
the bongos bang, the castanets
cast about for company
the maracas make faces
the harmonium hums,
the harp holds hands with the pipes
and everyone dances
but the Symphomatic LX-13B
standing in the center
waiting for someone
to turn it on

Still running to catch up

Yesterday was supposed to be a "science" poem. I keep trying to write about snails. Here's a half-assed effort to do so. A cursory glance at Wikipedia suggests that snails don't really use a foot-mouth, but what the hell. They don't build shells out of fear, either.

there is a snail in Catalonia
that builds its own shell
from slime, salt, and fear
from naked birth it runs
in ever-tightening circles
until it can’t get out again
no more than two beady eyes
that look at what it can see
and one viscous mouth/foot
that swallows the unseen
it is bitter to eat
better to avoid

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Running late

Yesterday's prompt from Brewer was "death." Honestly? This depressed me so much that I adopted a denial-of-death posture and went about my day.

Today I realized I couldn't dodge it for ever, so I wrote this poem. I hate it. I don't like quips disguised as poems by line breaks. Nevertheless, if I don't get it out of the way, I'll never get on with the next one.

So I'm neither the quick nor the dead.

Thanks, folks. Tip your waitresses. I'll be here all week. Unless I die.

Dead Letter
I never remember whether “dearth” means
too much or not enough.
May it be the same
when fate removes the “r.”

Thursday, April 15, 2010


The Pub at the Center of the Universe

Throwing myself onto the barstool
as if it was a bomb and the bartender was you,
I found your note under the Bombay Sapphire and tonic.

Some would say
I arrived too late. But the note told me
where you were.

You died before I was born. That juniper and quinine
flowed through my veins, a mild intoxicant,
not a poison. I have your laugh in my pocket.

I never needed to save you. I swallowed
the map. You dance here,
tipsy, in my heart.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


The Glass Island

I would like us to climb into the shell and ride
the waves to where they sleep.

There we would press our fistfuls of sand
into panes and build a clear house

with ocean floor, sky ceiling. This
would save us for a few years.

But I know that as we drift in dreams,
the sand would remember the earth,

crumble from the walls, fill our eyes.
We would wake crying.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Love or Anti-Love

Today's prompt was to write a love poem or an anti-love poem.

I don't like the prefix "anti-." Call me naive, but I'm no cynic when it comes to love. I've been lucky. And while happy families are not all the same, I do find it hard to write love poems about my beloved husband.

So I make up lovers. Sometimes, as with this poem, I take a person or circumstance or story from life and then pull it away from reality into, I hope, some other sort of truth.

This is neither love nor anti-love.

Ode to the Guy from Drafting on Whom I Had a Fruitless Crush in 1982

We never got closer
than the cafeteria table
where you held court.
If you were in the Major Arcana
you’d be the King of Oranges:
orb in one hand, pocket folding scepter
in the other. “Navel gazing,”
you’d deadpan--you are the King
of Deadpan--that empty dish
beside your throne
filling with fragrant layers. You count
our years in circles of pulp and zest.
You absorb the citric acid
and spill it in riddles, which I imagine
are your valentines. Passing
in the corridor, you mutter,
What’s bright, has a round end,
and lasts forever?
And as you leave,
not waiting for an answer,
I watch your Dockers and think: You.

Monday, April 12, 2010


After reading this outstanding article on Richard Thompson, I read the Brewer prompt, which was to pick a city and make it the title of the next poem. The first few cities I tried--Pittsburgh, Tampa--led me into a tone that seemed judgmental. Then I remembered one of many trips to London, in which I visited the Tate Modern. It seemed like some culmination of my London, which is--as are all places we visit--a place that, to some extent, I created for myself.


From the day I got my name I was destined
for you. Thirty-four years later,
jet-lagged, I sat in a park, watching leaves dance,
realizing how people came to believe
in fairies. Maybe enchantment came
because I looked for it. Maybe
blood speaks to blood.

The quirked mouth, the rising inflection,
the low droll drawl of you. Smiles
with mouths full of humble pie. Green swards
full of small white men with paddles.
Tunnels worn by centuries of pilgrim’s feet,
scratched metal boxes full of musty anoraks.
The satchels you carry.

The rooftop cats, chimneys, the curry houses,
the charity shops. Cakes with strange names:
Banbury, Banoffee. Baps. Baked beans
on tepid wheat toast. Pub windows
washed in whisky and water. The marriage
of disparate minds in the back of a cab.

On the bank by the art factory,
near the bridge disguised as rain,
the cool breath of the Thames
filled my lungs
and my immigrant heart.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Brewer prompt: "The last..."

I did what I tend to do when pressed for ideas. I found a Wikipedia page--in this case, I looked up Tiger Woods, because I wanted to know whether Tiger was his given name--and then clicked on the "random entry" link until I got something that interested me.

By the way, it's Eldrick.

The Last Lanternfish
the last lanternfish
can never sleep
the ocean is
too full of
things that reflect
her luminescent scales
so they stare
as fish and
people are wont
to do even
though they should
stick to their
schools let her
shine after all
she can’t help
it and this
bright skin is
no gift for
even she can’t
sleep at night
can’t hide that
light under a
bushel or reef
can’t swim far
enough away for
the solace of
sweet anonymous dark

Brewer prompt: Horror

Portrait of “Rags,” by Gacy

An old lover bought it. He claimed
he felt sorry for the clown. I think a surfeit
of snark did him in. The lover, I mean;
he disappeared one morning after the night
we read poems to each other. There he hangs—
the clown, I mean—great caterpillar brows
tent-tilted in sorrow. Did murdered boys
see those sloppy lips, that streaky pallid brow,
before they—
No, I can’t go there.
Neither could John Wayne Gacy.
So he painted these simulacra of pathos,
and he killed.
And I write poems that I read
to no one.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Self-portrait with two ears


One of the stories my face tells
is of a winter Saturday in 1968. Takoma Park
is full of hills; this was the next one
over from mine. The snow and ice
slipped down Willow Avenue,
irresistible for sledding. There was an orange barricade,
mark of official approval, where we gathered
to slide down.
Mom climbed on the Flexible Flyer
behind me, I tucked in my gangly
six-year-old limbs,
and down we went.

What caused the sudden veer to the right? Mom had
taught me to steer. Who held the rope? What was
the make and model of the car? Daddy would
have known. Let’s say a ’56 Chevy,
bulbous and hospital green, with a hard bright bumper.
Why, the adult me asks, did they let kids
sled down a street full of parked cars?
My head slammed the metal.

A stranger’s red washrag at my head. You can be killed
by a blow to the temple
, someone said. I tasted salt.
Mom had not stopped crying. The bigger boys
scudded on by, joyful, unaware.
Daddy appeared with the car. I lay in my room
away from home, the big back seat,
fascinated. Mom. Mom. Look. I bit my tongue.
She turned, tearful, from the passenger seat,
murmured muddled comfort.

How strange and wonderful to lie on the white table,
watching white thread go into my right brow
and come out brown. I felt nothing. I learned
so much. I learned about concussions. I learned that
girls with scars on their faces
are supposed to hate them later.
I learned how my hillbilly tomboy mom
could be most deeply injured.

I got nine stitches. I never had children.
Scars are too simple.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Brewer prompt: Tool

I typed “tool kitchen green love” into Google to see what I turned up. I found someone’s paean to a little green colander.


Frankie put it on his head and ran around the yard.
shrieking, “I’m a moon man!” Armstrong would take his step
later that month; the moon was still ours to imagine.
Mom had some nonsense about green cheese--who ever
saw green cheese?--but I knew it was like the dough
she formed into gnocchi with her small hands. Flecked with flour,
then dancing in the water, then made perfect
by a passage through that helmet I wrested from my brother--
yes, I washed it first--it glowed under marinara
on the Melmac plate. Years later, I would learn,
that if you didn’t shake the colander, dry the little orbs,
the whole thing would go limp, thin, and useless
as Frankie after the Harley crash in ’98. That night,
the three of us encircling, I gazed at my favorite food,
thinking, Someday, I’m gonna eat the whole moon.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Brewer prompt: "Until..."

For good or ill, I got this poem going by searching random Wikipedia pages for the word "until" and scribbling phrases that appealed to me. I can't vouch for its historical or linguistic accuracy (NB: Wikipedia); I'd surely check before publishing it. (It's a second draft anyway.)

Until the Words Are Gone

As they fled, slowly,
the Powhatan Nation left footprints on our maps:
Appomattox, Pamonkey, Chickahominy. Laughing
at their rude music even as we use
the names we borrowed, we slip on moccasins,
chase raccoons and opossums, cheer
the Maryland Terrapins, place a persimmon on the hickory table.
Scholars call the language dead.
Here in Tidewater country, we walk on dead words,
but their ghosts rise, trailing rich scents,
even as we write our white papers.
(Chickahominy: grain cracked by grinding.)

Water Flower

Another first draft, all in a rush amid Materials and Methods (I'm at work). The title and general idea have been with me for some time. This morning, two e-mails, a dream hangover, and brought it together.

Water Flower
for S.T.

In my dream, your hotel had bone-white walls,
the plane trees stark against them,
the sand stilled by the baking sun. Cheb i Sabbah chanted
from some inner room, where I understood,
without being told, that the dance goes ever on.
A place remote, with music in its hidden heart,
is not where you live.

I have not seen your house, but you talk
of tinkling creeks, rising loaves of seven-grain bread,
and white blooms, mosquitoes in their orbit,
floating, tethers obscured by the rippling surface.
Nomad of sharp tongue and sharper ear,
narcissus hair and rosy cheek, I don’t know botany,
and for all that I see you in city after city,
for all that I trust your hand and ear and eye,
I don’t know the name of that water flower.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A rose is...?

Today's prompt from Brewer: write an ekphrastic poem about one of two pictures he chose. This one is my subject.

Jessica Biel as Pocahontas, by Annie Leibovitz

She is pretty, and she is running. No. She is pretty,
and she is not running. She looks like she is running,
but in a pretty way. She will get nowhere,
except, possibly, by being pretty.

The deer is also running. The deer is, possibly,
dead, or Photoshopped, or both. The deer’s tail
is a blur. The deer is pretty.

The leaves are a blur. The leaves are a dream. The leaves
tell you that it is autumn. Autumn is Indian time.

Jessica Biel is not an Indian. Jessica Biel is an actress
from 7th Heaven and The Illusionist. Jessica Biel is pretty.
Jessica Biel is, nevertheless, Pocahontas.

The word callipygian means possessed of shapely buttocks.
If the word callipygian were commonly used, the word
callipygian might be applied to Jessica Biel. In this picture,
you can’t see her tail, but it is not a blur.

Woody Harrelson sang a song about callipygian
on Saturday Night Live. Saturday Night Live used to be funny.
So did Woody Harrelson, who has since done
some persuasive dramatic work.

I used to be a critic. I used to be paid to write words like
persuasive dramatic work and, possibly, callipygian.
I am not callipygian, or dead, or Indian, or pretty.
I am, possibly, a dream.

I used to be a critic, but sometimes truth got in the way
of art. Or vice versa. I don't know. It's a blur. Now all I know
is what I think I see or what I read in the gossip pages.

There is a ship on the horizon. The ship heads
toward the fake fall leaves. The dead deer’s dead eyes
look toward the callipygian part of Pocahontas.
She looks--where? At craft services?

This is a pretty picture.

Feeling Rusty

Like so many of my poems, this one started with a wee bit of fact and meandered through the junkyard of my imagination.

Quick first draft, written beginning to end (the title was the last bit).

For Rusty Breitbaum

A chipped, cheese-colored plate soaks up the history
at this mouth-shaped spot where it lost its glaze:
cherry pie, chicken broth, salmonella, salt. In this case,
two or three snows: I found it out back, years after you left,
under the stairs where we played. Fiesta, your mom called it.
We would gather the black cherries from the tree between the yards,
pour them into her apron. She would go back inside while we made
our pies of mud, so grainy, so not like the chocolate we wanted.
I never passed through your door.

Rusty, you went to Vacation Bible School with me,
your aproned mother in the rutted yard with mine, waving us off.
We rigged up tin cans and string, my dreamy mother’s idea,
and talked between our kitchen windows. Your voice a buzz,
a boy’s whine. We looked for Godzilla to pound up Maple Avenue.
And then you were gone.

Takoma Park apartments were tucked behind walls, over garages.
You never knew what you’d find behind the doors
of the Queen Annes. Folks came and went as circumstances changed.
My family, the steady working class, stayed timidly in our flat,
never brave enough to buy. Maybe yours got lucky. Rumor was
that you, like the stars, went to California.

Thirty-some years later, up late searching the laptop for things
possibly not worth searching, I found a Russell
with your strange surname, dropped a line: By any chance...?
The reply was from your father. Rusty changed his name
when his mother turned him against me.

This thing called Facebook accounts for the changes of my sex;
we go both ways. Michelle Jackson Jabari. Kelly Greco Woods.
I changed my name to make new kin; you changed yours
to break off. Did you mourn big losses and small? Your father?
Me? Did your mother cry into her apron
for that lost Fiesta dish that became the start
of a poor girl’s hope chest?

I have cabinets of Fiesta now, old and new. I don’t need
to think of childhood when I hold this plate. I haven’t bothered
to repair the broken spot. God knows what’s gotten inside.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Not for the squeamish

Today's prompt from Robert Lee Brewer was to write a "TMI poem." I tried to think of something that I was willing to write about--and post publicly!--that might include material that would cause someone to chide "TMI!"

I am not a devotee of scatological humor, in general. Nevertheless, my rescue cat's tragically inbred digestive system rather fascinates me. Her stinks are so bad that we nearly gave her back to the rescue agency from which we adopted her. (She was part of what was, at the time, the largest animal rescue in Maryland--over 300 animals, many too sick to save.) I am lucky that, unlike my husband, I have a relatively poor sense of smell.

So here we go. I'm rather embarrassed to have written this....

Neko, Maryland’s Most Flatulent Cat

Like a fuzzy, olfactory Basquiat she paints the walls
with stenches organic and chemical: vinegar, diesel,
dung, death. Artistic remove is her aim: take in the work
and stagger back, wonder at the creator even as you flee,
hand to mouth. She was raised in chicken wire
among hundreds of neglected cats; puny when rescued,
she immediately expelled a stillborn litter no one knew
she carried. If this Guernica of stink is her protection,
it fails: when cuddled, knuckle-petted, ear-rubbed,
she soaks you with sulfur, and when you stop your caresses,
a candy-pink-toed paw, claws lazily in transit,
reaches to smack you gently, to demand you get over it
and love her again.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Seen on Muddy Creek Road


the undertaker birds

with plucked pink wrinkled heads

don’t care where you came from

they care where you made your last trip

where you lay your burden down

education, money, beauty

skin-deep concerns

escape their baleful gaze

when they assess, muster their colleagues,

bend to close study, all that matters

is a modicum of taste.

On a sour note

So not in the mood. Rather down. Nonetheless, I'm here, if late.

Partly Doll

Locked in the castle of her brow,

a marble edifice, beautiful forever,

she struggles to turn thoughts into winks,

words into wine. Her eyes are framed

by the finest mink, her lips as sweet

as cocktail cherries. How will she

summon or beckon but by the luck

that luck will spy that perfect face?

How will she breathe through a nose

like a hazelnut, a piece of great price?

Still, it’s a sweet gilt-edged shelf

she sits upon, looking down.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Today's prompt: Water


mudluscious, e e cummings said,
digging his lowercase toes into the spring
pudding. This is the death of the temporary lake,
April Brigadoon by the pea patch,
where for one afternoon
salamanders sip quick, ants parade,
and the lady in church shoes prays that Old Sol
will toss off his hazy sheets
and suck it up.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

More prickly fiction

I did just spend a weekend with dear old friends. This is not about them, and I'd hate it if they thought it was. Still, there's a freckle of truth in everything.

Quick first draft here. I'm supposed to be working.

At Seventeen Again

We say we’re the three musketeers,
but it’s a tribe, like certain families and religions,
with a manufactured history. We were children
together. We are bone-deep friends now.

Julia and Jamie reminisce
about things I never did. How many high school nights
did they burrow into a boy’s chest,
their mouths bitter with Bud,
while I watched Carol Burnett with my parents?

Remember homecoming? Jamie says
as we shop for middle-aged chadors,
menopausal masques. I wore out my shoes.

Julia laughs. Remember Rocky Horror at midnight
after the spring musical?

How many brain cells did we lose? Jamie is a doctor now.
We did so many lines that night. Remember the powder room
in Ginny’s basement?

Julia looks at me, open eyes lonely. No, I don’t. And I want to
squeeze her hand, just for a second.


It’s Not Me, It’s Me

gathering my hair in one hand and pressing
I transform into a pre-Raphaelite

I could cut off my hair, my arm,
my family for love, but it will not come

no matter that I learn to make asparagus risotto
no matter that I can read the Kama Sutra

upside down no matter that I am good,
that I am healthy, that I can love almost anything

once I get used to it
and gathering my limbs and squeezing

I can shape-shift into Shalott, Salome,
Scheherazade of a thousand stories

all of them about the same person

Happy April!

If you don't already know about Robert Lee Brewer's site, which offers a poem-a-day challenge in April, you need to check it out. He also has prompts every Wednesday, even when it's not National Poetry Month.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Rave On

I'm actually kind of annoyed by M. Ward's lorazepamly cover of "Rave On." But when I saw it on the KHUM playlist this morning (I just missed hearing it), it inspired me to try writing a poem of the same title and infused with the same idea.

(I hesitated when I went to use "careen" here, thinking it was one of those "forbidden words" some poets have. I went with it--it's just a first draft, right? Now I see that I also used it yesterday.)

Rave On

You keep it under wraps, let it slip
when it trembles. It spills from your cloak
like contraband at the security gate,
some living creature that yearns
to be found out. It will go running
if you don’t keep your grip, a gay careen
down Connecticut Avenue, dodging cabs
and catching the kiss of bruises
from bike messengers. Yesterday,
behind the Starbucks, a man in a nest
screamed, full-bore, at homegoing passersby.
His words were curses, petitions to God,
mental straws he grasped to hold on
to whatever ground he had. You think
this knotted spirit will be you
if you rise above that whisper.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Not a tower of song


It’s a luggage belt gone wild, baggage careening
all over Arrivals. It’s a tsunami. It’s cabbage,
bubbling and squeaking in the pot,
stinking up the kitchen. It’s fear of space,
a fearsome place where there is nothing to read
but another face. It’s a failure to communicate.
It’s music without lyrics. I could duet
with it, try to drown it with my sax, drum it
into lockstep. You have something to say,
but it’s not in that nitro-burning, ear-piercing,
palpable pummel of words.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

From yesterday afternoon

Get the Red Out

Mr. Sandman is sunlighting over on L Street,
tossing road junk into the eyes of trudging research assistants
and assistant executives and senior researchers and executive
assistants and program researchers and research specialists and
assistant program executives and seniors.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I misread a Nick Drake title

"Paradise" for "Parasite." So it came to this dark place.

Paradise, Parasite

On the party barge the freshman lounges. Two months
and she’s back in the yellow rooms, taxing her eyes.

Alcott lent Thoreau his axe to chop fuel for heaven.
Thoreau complains that it’s dull, sharpens it for him.

The biographer gives up her job, roams the world to bother
the survivors, calls home for a new set of clothes.

Nick Drake pulls out our secrets, steals the air from our lungs,
and pins it all to a stone in Tamworth-in-Arden.

A father watches his job die, his marriage die. He picks up
the sharp axe. When the work is done and all are sleeping

he detaches the floating dock and pushes off, singing laments
that no one will be left to hear. The sun goes on shining.

Monday, March 22, 2010

How old am I?

I was a grownup, and then in parts of this poem I was 19 or 16 or God knows what. Which shouldn't matter to the reader.

I probably had my first Anchor Steam at about age 33.

No Rest for the Restless

I reckon love isn’t for layabouts. I reckon
if I have it, I have to get off the sofa and boogie.

Trouble is, I can’t tell if love is dream or reality.
I might well have had one too many Anchor Steams,
dozed off between soaps, absorbed the suds

of ruffle-haired swains, plastic blondes, neighbor
nurses with a surfeit of eyeliner, perfume execs
of dubious predilections, and all their attendant
couplings in counterpoint to Pachelbel. Or

I might have talked to that redheaded usher
at Guys and Dolls or felt the hint of a flirt from
Dan at the deli counter. Or I might have looked

deep into my own heart, which dances
in this indolent chest, and seen a movement

toward a dance with you, whether you like it or not.

Staring at my desk fan, I write....

Summer in the City

I want to climb inside this fan,
feel the cool breeze from its inside. The wind
is coldest at its core, I think. Then again,
one July day back in the Maple Avenue flat,
Mom and Daddy and I watched as the gray-blue
box fan in the bedroom window became
some Independence nightmare: a shrieking whirr
and a barrage of yellow barbed sparks
shooting across the polyester bedspread
as the blades drifted to death. Like Satan himself
was hiding, not in sinners’ hearts like Billy Graham said
on the TV that kept me up at night, but
deep in the heart of this human device made
to keep us comfortable. Serves you right.
Who said that? Everyone. Pride goeth
before fire. Air conditioning was for people
who deserved it, the normal families
in full houses with wall-to-wall and dogs
and cars. Everything worked in the Bradys’ house.
The Waltons slept in open-windowed virtue.
I whined at the heat. Now, nearing fifty,
I sit in a grownup office in a big city,
a fallen woman who watches talk shows on Sunday,
and wish I was standing in my childhood kitchen
with my shaggy head stuck in the freezer,
smelling aging burgers and sweet Birds-Eye peas.

Hey, still around

OK, yeah, not quite getting a poem a day. And you know what? I was going to type "And it's not for lack of trying." But it is. Life gets in the way. A little inclination, and I can get at least a not-entirely-embarrassing first draft.

Such as....

Gold Records of the Seventies

I was 17 when Bobby Caldwell wailed on WPGC
I came back to let you know...
in the sort of agony brought on by a bad landing
on the pommel horse. How those boxes, rails,
mats frightened me. Nadia Comaneech was my age,
but she was foreign, and beautiful. I could’t pull
myself up on the bars (Got a thing for you,
and I can’t let go
). I couldn’t keep my footing
on the hip-high beam (What you won’t do
for love
), my body a strange and heavy thing
on size 6 feet. The mat, smelling of legs
and necks, deceptively soft (you’ll do anything),
taught that even being on the ground
wasn’t safe. Worst of all
(you won’t give up)
was the vault. Try though I might, my heart
would stall, my feet stop before my palms
hit the top, before I flung myself on mere arms
into the space above Miss Wells’ head. Kid I was,
I came back to let you know
you’ll learn the turns and tumbles.
Take your time. It’s not about the medals.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Movie poem

For this one, I mined old prompts from Robert Lee Brewer (today's prompt didn't appeal to me) and came up with "write a poem based on a movie."

The Accidental Tourist

My logo is a chair with wings. This gets me
no closer to heaven than being with my child.
Blue-eyed boy, swinging at a pop-fly
was as close as you came to violence
until that dusk visit to the convenience store
a bullet’s-length behind the guy in the ski mask.
Now you lie under the Homeland snow,
your mother lies under her new husband,
and I remain where I was that night:
my academic’s weedy body in the wing chair,
my mind on the other side of this mortal world.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

JazzFest on the brain

True story. Thanks, Festival Tours.

Big Fine

God laughs at me,
fat middle-aged white lady dancing.
My fifth-grade classmates come forward in time
to laugh at me. The ghost of Isadora
laughs. The ghost of my sainted mother
tells me to stand up straight.
My pastor says “Bless her heart.” My husband
hides his face, asks kindly
if I’m up on my meds.

My hips get it. My feet get it. My cardiovascular system
gets it. My gray hairs get it. All of them
have a beat. Getting down
‘til they’re six feet under.

And in a barn outside Eunice, Louisiana,
a place so foreign I think the barbecue sauce is an entree,
as grinding zydeco shamelessly, cool-lessly raises the sweat,
a stick-figure man in low-rider jeans
has his say.

Big fine!


You BIG fine! And he puts his gold band against the place
his hip would be, elbow swaggering, chin tilted to heaven.

He’s not teasing. You got a husband? I tell him I do.
Naw, that’s all right, baby.

Big Fine. I wish I played poker, so I could toss it on the chips,
say Raise. Maybe the Red Hot Chili Peppers get it. Maybe
James McMurtry gets it. Maybe the Lil’ Rascals Brass Band,
kings of the Sixth Ward, get it.

And maybe I’m wrong about why God is laughing.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Barely trying to catch up

You'll have to take my word that I've written a couple that I haven't posted--and that I've been sick and otherwise unable to be here every day.

I just did a reading-between-the-lines exercise with some lines from Richard Wilbur, which spurred this first draft.

In White

White gets extra credit. White teeth
crowd the mouth of the Bollywood idol. White gloves
clasp the flag. White veils wrap
the nymph cicada. As if our off-white lives

have no meaning. As if our amber ale didn’t spill
from brown bottles. As if our manycolored houses
should be crushed and dumped in the skip. As if
our gods weren’t blue and green. In white

we elevate our mortal skin, our unseen
and utterly meaty heart. We pray for succor, satiety,
sauce on the side. We chase apocalyptic horses
from our lawn of dead snow.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Science for beginners

Yup, late again. I'm having a sort of bad-psyche day or days. The anxiety monster is afoot. I'm a stress monkey.

That's not a poem. This is. Or, maybe, it's one (first-draft) section of a longer poem on a nonscientist's view of science.


I always picture the hands of God,
big and a bit gnarly, one on either side
of a blobby, freckled, sunny-side-up
microbe, pulling the edges like
Silly Putty just to the point at which
if this wasn’t God
the yolk would split and a stream
of life, like a wet soul,
would spill on the lab floor.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Name not changed to protect the innocent

I had an assignment, for a class tonight (yeah, I'm a procrastinator--I've been meaning to mention that) to write a syllabic poem. For God knows what reason, I took as my inspiration a recent Facebook discussion--one of those silly things in which I commented that I wanted sugar and a friend replied, emphatically, "Carrots."

Now, this friend's name is Andrew. And he did indeed visit me once. And he does make great music.

None of the rest of the poem is meant to be documentary. Hell, I don't even have much of a sweet tooth--and I love carrots (but not carrot cake).

So I should probably change the name in this poem. I hope that Andrew, if he reads this, will forgive me if I don't, at least for now.

Andrew’s Nostrum

A folksinger came to stay
at my house for two
weeks last summer. He made good
vegan chili, made
great music. Can’t tell
you how he made love.

Carrots, he said, are the cure
for any weakness:
acne, adultery, fatigue,
crooked politics.
Eschew white sugar.
Fill your gut with orange

and green vegetables. Stop warts.
Cancer. Debt. Dandruff.
Andrew’s nostrum makes the sun
shine bright in your heart.
Even on Christmas.
Carrots dangling like orange

icicles between blue balls.
Carrots’ demure green
heads poking from your stocking.
Carrot cake, sans frosting.
Pah. I’d rather die
fat and sweet and young

than old, virtuous, and orange.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Making up for yesterday

Rumple Minze

The peppermint liqueur…has a high alcohol content at 50% alcohol by volume….It is commonly taken with a "chaser" of chocolate sauce which allows the drinker to consume larger quantities faster, with little or no heavy alcohol taste.

The engineering grads’ campout: our first trip

together. Wise old Jack has poured Rumple Minze

with a chocolate chaser: a sure ski

down the slippery slope. Hours later,

you erupt from the tent, stagger through brush.

You retch and retch.

It must be two a.m. I think, “Everyone will hear.”

I stay in the sleeping bag. You return, apologizing

and reeking. You are so warm.

I draw you to me, my first love.

I smell the real smell of your hair. I think of you

outside. It must be two fifteen. I think,

“The stars must be beautiful out there.”

Fake translation

As I've said before, one of my favorite creative exercises involves taking a poem or other text in an unfamiliar language and "translating" it. Sometimes just a few words become a jumping-off point. You can return to the well again and again for ideas that startle you out of the ordinary.

I started here with a piece of a poem by Neruda. I don't know Spanish, but I know enough that I probably could have figured out a lot of the poem, so I didn't use it for much beyond the first line.

Poisoned Poem

The rule: write a sad poem each day. Thursday’s should be

saddest. Write, for example: “The stars are falling, o my love,

falling on your house.” Keep at arm’s length the vision

of the drapes, the bed, the cats aflame. Make the sorrow

beautiful. When the night comes, kiss your lover,

your children, kneel at the hearth, and throw the poem into the fire.

Friday, March 5, 2010


I hope to do something better this weekend than just recycle memories.

The "hubris" sentence doesn't make sense. This is just a first draft, off the cuff, in a hurry.

New Construction

Nine trees don’t make a wood,
just a builder’s folly. This house, while new,
is unsound: warped shingles, burst lines,
sinkholes, snare after snare. The hubris
in having something built for you
and having it be a disaster
reminds me of being seventeen
in a shabby Victorian conversion:
five apartments where one upstanding
Republican family once lived. Noises
in the night, inside my walls; I thought
I was dreaming of devils. One night, as I read,
a small black hand burst through the plaster.
It was a raccoon. The landlord
screwed a square of paneling over it.
I taped a Rockwell in the middle. Soon,
the death smell began, worsened, ended.
And I was still happier there
than on this train-set cul de sac
where the birds never come back.


I wrote a poem yesterday afternoon, but I left it on my work computer, so I couldn't post it last night. It isn't very good. It's the result of a class assignment to write a poem with specific line lengths. I picked a pattern of syllables: 7-5-7-5-4-5. This is what I got (first draft). You can see how I just started playing with words that occurred to me; as the first two stanzas progressed, I found a direction. The title came last.

Washington in Fall

the telegram arrived
faster than a kite
bearing the news of peril
purple and discreet
Who sent that box?
His name extinguished

powder, sick perfume, alarm
rising like the moon
safe alabaster chambers
now cold fortresses
sweat on the brow
check is in the mail

I remember when they fell
I was sleeping well
someone woke me with a shout
all was turned around
How could this be?
Don’t know where to run

Mom, in the mountains, begged me
Come home now, honey
The mountains were not my home
City born and raised
Daddy’s daughter
Eyes closed to the sun

Papers falling, people I can’t
talk about, years later.
Just months hence, the sniper attacks
Zigzag to the car
Death at the Depot
No one has a home

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Sodalis, or Jackknife, or Symbiosis...a first draft


I do not know what Sodalis means.

It puts me in mind of a combination watch/compass, some device that tells you where and when to go.

I envision it at the pivot of a double-bladed jackknife, its edges cutting their own stories into the air, setting their own beginnings and endings.

I am trying to edit a microbiological manuscript.

I have a four-day headache.

I grow distracted and look at an old story, the one about the two filmmakers who, face to face, shot each other.

It’s an irresistible riddle: how they managed to die together, one earthshaking grand mort.

I lie.

A play on words is kinder than the truth: how she swallowed enough drugstore pills to die, how he went missing a week later, clothes and wallet on the beach.

How many days alive without her? Six? Seven?

Too many to fathom.

I knew him by name. By face.

I see him in my memory, walking down Philadelphia Avenue by the Takoma Park Library, a ten-year-old curly-headed boy in a peacoat, so solemn, dark-eyed.

Going to bed early--did I play with him?--and leaving me, his sitter, to ponder his mother’s bookshelves, read the books the library wouldn’t let me have, wonder whether the thin, bearded man in the poster with “ZIG ZAG” under it was her single-mom, agnostic Jesus.

I lie again. Who thinks of such things? I remember

that he was an uncannily handsome child. That is a surface, and I never got to see anything deeper. Maybe in his art. Maybe in that final stroke of tragedy. Did he walk out like Virginia Woolf, or did he find some height

and jackknife into the waves? And what of where I started,

with Sodalis? “Sodalis glossinidius is a maternally transmitted endosymbiont of tsetse flies,” says Google.

I could make a metaphor, but it would mean nothing. A mother, who loved him. A lover with a sickness, who slept. Image after image of colors merging; room after room of the Winchester Mystery House,

the folly of a woman who lost everyone and built room after room, a maze to stave off the reaper’s staff. A bug in the gut of a fly that can be caught easily with an electric-blue net. How do I make it mean anything?

Mostly a true story


At fifty-two, he washed the company out of his life
with Gilbey’s. I never met him, just heard of his adventures:
the budgets padded to soften the clatter of minibar bottles
into gray wastebaskets, forming sticky glass mountains
from San Jose to Wichita to Charlotte, atop one of which
his body was bent, two days dead, a week before the
quarterly report.

Three years later,
the 2003 Pontiac Bonneville still hunkers in the corner
of the lot: gold-green with pollen, its windows
pigeon-dotted, its front vanity plate slightly dented.

I’m going to dent it again. I feel no pity
for the plaid scarf that droops over
the passenger headrest where a head
never rested, the jowly tires, the yellow ribbon
glued on the back glass. This sad man,
given the company passed from son to son,
left it dispirited, twitching. The underling
who hired me was fired a week later.
The work is too disorderly to pack into
a boulder to push up the hill.
I was promised parking. Five years dead,
this fallen leader
still takes up space.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Pro Forma

This is a tiny bit of reverie, mostly here to keep me honest, in case I don't get back here later today with something better.

pieces of the plan
scattered on the cellar floor
covered with a box or two
never go away

all the little horses
running through your head
feel the rafters shake

sizes of seismic selection
shake out a shard or two
somehow that broken piece
will emerge

and you’ll trip
with an armful of sheets
you’ll fall into your own
old dreams

Monday, March 1, 2010


The Bad Movie

Why choose it, when you know it’ll suck
the intellect, the compassion, the gravy goodness
out of you? Why trade two hours of life
for this? It’s not a trip you take alone,
or sober: in the night’s wee smalls you gather
at the screen, jabber like soothsayers, all the while
watching, hoping your laugh
meets theirs in a piss-take
that passeth understanding.

Coming back

I'm hoping to do this exercise again in March and April. I don't know whether it helps me succeed or merely gives me willow switches for flagellation when I fail.