List of all columns

Archives of Tuesday Poem

Glugs of Amber Winelight Lay

glugs of amber winelight lay like legs
splayed/splashed/slayed on the glasswood floor

what one might think of as a heavy
smoke-colored cover of clouds is no, is
actually smoke

honey candies on the fresh white pillow case:
the pillow itself the pillow of a woman long dead
smelling of that woman’s bed i

lay my deathhead down


The child is no one. Her needs are
met. She’s bringing flowers to an idea.

Of bees, there’s a hive the child tends —
fresh picked flowers on a made mound of dirt
packed in the shade of a dark green fire escape.

As she picks (and puts) I think of a singing —
the voice itself a handrail up
to an altar in the middle of a church which once
with Olena I entered
how many summers ago,
where we crossed the hold between kinds

of light and sat ourselves
like Protestants in an oiled wooden row.
We could have been

in Rome, our pair the only audience
in Santa Maria del Popolo, facing the facing
Caravaggios. I wish — but the child is no one. Her needs are
none that I know.

My Own Hikmet Poem

— it’s 1962 March 28th

it’s 2017 September 19th.
I’m sitting at the window on the 3rd floor of fog.
Day is rising.
I never knew I liked
morning lifting like a conductor’s baton.

I didn’t know I loved my body.
Can someone who hates their body love it.
I’ve always schemed against my body.
It’s just like all my other lovers.

I’ve loved long roads all my life — the flat
macadam itself listening under the mist of lamps, no traffic at the
hour. I know that road is both obscured and obvious.
I know its lights aren’t enough to see —

I love to close my eyes and look at your eyes
and see if your eyes are still closed.

My Subjects

There are three
people float
ing in a
lake. One does
not know how
to swim and
neither do
the others
saying I
don’t know how
to swim I
don’t either.
But there. They
are. They’re float
ing straight up
and down so
the top third
of each face
bobs just a
bove the wa
ter. These are
a few of
my favor
ite subjects.

Annus Venereus

(with apologies to Philip Larkin)

Contemporary romance peaked
In nineteen-fifty-eight
(Which of course was rather late)
When mousy Midtown office girls
Sought out rich men to date.

Now, since then there’s only been
A sort of echoing
Of Heyer’s style of thing;
A virgin beauty’s quest to find
A duke for marrying.

For all at once, the smut appeared:
Everyone fucked the same
And every book became
A drenched and dizzy bacchanal
Quite free from tact or shame.

So books were never better than
In nineteen-fifty-eight;
And now is far too late
For those mousy Midtown office girls
And the wealthy men they date.

Iser (pronounced Eeser), 1899-1964

He died on August 15, 1964,
during that hot hot summer.
Mother sent his clothes
down to Mississippi
for the Freedom Riders
or anybody else who needed them.
I wish she would have left just one item out for me,
something with his smell still on it.
One of his shirts, maybe, with the stained collar
or the worn down brown Oxfords
that he always polished.
I would have loved to have the fedora he wore all winter
or a pair of white socks
that he filled with Dr. Scholl's foot powder.
She could have left me anything: a handkerchief,
his bathing suit, an undershirt,
or those thin black leather shoe laces
he always broke.
I would have liked the shaving brush I bought him
or the striped tie he spilled soup on.
Certainly his false teeth, the cup he put them in
and the tall glass he sipped hot tea from.
I would have liked his Russian-English dictionary.
or his bifocals and his damn racing forms.
She could have left me anything,
even the belt he hit my brother with.

Driving Home From Mother's House

As I drive through the bower
of old oak trees
scanning 68th and 20th avenues northeast
I am scared by the moon.
It is so low in the sky this night
I think it will smack me in the face.
I try to turn the wipers on,
but strands of hair white as paste
cover the window like thick rain.
A woman's mouth stretches open
in a silent scream. Bent fingers claw
until they reach my chest.
Some nights I lose my way home.

A poem is a space

and an unspace
It is all and half of all —
a third of half
and a tenth of that
A poem floats — spaceless
yet touches a finger,
an eye, lips and a hand.
A poem’s content
and form are sublime
yet, narrow and broad
A poem is speechless with sound
Such is ambiguity — it lives in every act
Therefore, the poem is an act — an event —
An event is an act — is a poem
— and more —

Uncle Ben: What the Number Said

I’m five years old.
We’ve just been buzzed into Aunt Miriam’s house.
Uncle Ben’s office is to the right, off the hall.
Before walking upstairs to the second floor,
I look to the right and see dark.
Mother holds my hand while I peak in:
Equipment. The kind the Nazis used?
No, for taking x-rays.

Overheard: Once, he gave me medicine
to abort my baby but it didn’t work
and the baby was born with an extra thumb.

I’m thirteen years old now.
Uncle Ben’s been dead eight years.
Daddy says the only good German is a dead German.
That was 1946 and Uncle Ben can’t practice medicine
at Johns Hopkins hospital. No Jews allowed.
Is that why he doesn’t smile?

I don’t know how to like him.
He doesn’t look at me.
He has a Doberman Pinscher named Prince.
When women come to the house,
Prince looks under their dresses.
Men laugh. Women are embarrassed.

In the basement of Aunt Miriam’s house,
a ping pong table and knotty pine walls.
Once when I was nine
a cousin played ping pong with me.
He was sixteen. Now I’m sixteen
and I read about a man the Nazis put in a freezer.
to see how much cold a human being can withstand.
When the man’s testicles turned blue, he collapsed
and guards dragged him out. A doctor records
how much time it took for the man to die,
but I don’t remember what the number said.

Damage Control

keep me safe
keep me safe from those who want to cut
keep me safe from those who want to cut me
keep me safe from those who want to cut me open
keep me safe from those who want to cut me open me and crawl inside

keep me safe from me
keep me safe from my own
keep me safe from my own hand
keep me safe from my own hand if it is me holding the knife
keep me safe from my own hand it it is me holding the knife

On the Subject of Transformation

Last night I became a flock of birds on the eve of their descent.

Last night I was a murder of crows.
To be a murder of crows is to not know
              if you are magic              or dreaming,

                            a flask of ring tones              or a canvas of teachers
                            a worship of poets                or a cashbox of planets.

I did not know body or the hungering scratch for permission.
I was at once a marriage of galaxies, a shining glory of mistakes,

                                                        a lumbering storm of shoelaces,
                                                        and a cinema of head turns.

I walked like a torso of regrets heaving a crease of love letters,
              written in blue, flowing downstream.

I chose to live as a river of ripped journal pages,
                            a sprain of tears, spilling
                                          into a spectacle of wringing hands.

In the pitch, I became
a dictionary of guitars, strings taut and out of tune
I had forgotten what a migration of fingertips
                                          feels like on the landscape of the skin,
I had forgotten I am not the strings
                                          but the articulation of sound when they are played,
how forcefully we pour out of our bodies              to be formless,

                                                        how even in a foreign wrapping,
                                                                      our bodies break
                                                                                    free of the stilled silence.

Family Tree

After Natasha Marin’s Red Lineage

my name stumbles ups the stairs
climbing towards grace, an ascending arc of red and gold

my mother's name mends shards back to glass
melts them down with the heat of a thousand hearts,
an aged and forgiving red

my father's name lives in a spoonful of shadows
hungering for a cloud that will rain red

follow the seedlings and you will see
my name become a little kite dancing in the wind,
stand still under the cicadas’ summer song
and see my mother's name strut
to a living and slowly dying beat of red
breathe in the fire’s flicker and my father’s name
tending to the embers collapsing red.

I come from a people known for speaking without saying,
for spitting the shine on their boots & stomping blackness
into the heavens.


I guess it’s easy to want to be                                black,
when everything is the new black,

shiny as LP spinning at 33 rpm
                in the hipster owned record store
                                on the formerly black block
                                                in the formerly black neighborhood

but do you know what comes back
around for        black? that needle scratch
leaves grooves
                                deep                as the river

don’t nobody want the old                black —
people want the Jimi Hendrix black,
the psychedelic star spangled banner by your own rules black

the sparkled glove, moonwalking, grammy winning black,
not the dark skin, big nose self hating                black

not the Jim Crow                black, segregation                black,
poll tax payin, separate but equal                black,

the happy smile shuffling tap dance black,
not the minstrel show, burnt cork black-face                black,
not the yessir boss                black,

not the whistle at a white girl
and end up cautionary tale                black

when black folks all around you fought
to gain a piece of the real estate
that’s been redlined
and sold off
and sold off
and sold off                for centuries

when the folks that lay claim
to its legacy got that shit on layaway,
but don’t ever get to put more than a bit
                of change down each month
                                and interest rates ain’t no joke
                                                cuz don’t nothing change

then I guess being                black
is like putting on a pair of snow pants
to brace against the cold when
you’re already fully dressed

and you just love your accessories,
                been sliding on                kimonos and                dashikis
                                and                headdresses and                dreadlocks
                                                for Halloween and theme parties

like characters
you can switch                in                and                out                of
like accents,

like a downpour
of a storm

except you get to decide
when it’s time to come in
and take shelter out of the rain


Said the prayer to the dream
I don't believe you want to hear me

Said the dream to paper
I don't believe you want to hold me

Said the paper to the wind
I don't believe you want to help me

Said the wind to the man
I don't believe you see me

The man felt the wind whisper in his ear and swatted the dream
that sounded like a prayer that was held by the paper

In one breath, the wind became an answer
no one ever asked the question to

In one dream, the wind forgot its voice, in another dream the paper
was torn before it learned how to say its own name

In the first dream, the prayer learned what walking through
blackness feels like — it is the opposite of abandonment

In the last dream, all the names are written on the paper
in the form of a prayer that sounds
like the wind and feels like the breath
of a flower across your cheek


like a heavy freight train
    is headed towards you,
but you are running, tripping

over its tracks. You hope luck
    is the taxi ready to pick you up,
but luck’s the subway, luck’s

the bus with the accordion
    middle. You wait
for luck, thought you bought

a ticket, thought the cab
    would stop. At the airport
you hold a sign, Welcome

Luck! But everyone passes,
    luck passes, doesn’t stop,
and you are left

with your sign and a moment
    of hope when you think
you’ve found luck

in your pocket, but luck is down
    the street in the Horseshoe
Tavern, so you peek inside

and see it — luck, in its shy suit
    drinking a beer
with your best friend,

and they are taking selfies
    with their smartphones,
and you holding

your paper map,
    hoping luck would travel
long distances to find you.

Poem Where We Apologize For Being Human

There is a part of me that doesn’t understand longing.
And yet, with my hands full of daisies, forget-me-nots,

I walk into a field of wildflowers and ask for more.
This is how I feel when you touch my shoulder.

There are nights of only so much moonshine
and I want to bathe in more than my share.

Saltwater, you’ve said. The oceans calms. Sometimes
I lose myself and want to go under. Part mermaid.

Part riptide. There was a time when every beach
was a room I would undress in. Now, I forget to live

that openly. Now, I hold back what I want to say.
There’s a belief we each have to live flawlessly.

I rip off the roots of flowers and place them in a vase.
Forget the fields where you could kiss me hard

and instead, call the florist, close the door.
Because we can’t say what we want, we write

a confessional poem where every sentence is true,
except one. Tell me again how often you think about me.

Tell me again how the drowning man finds himself
dreaming how one day walk he’ll walk on land.

Present Tense

My friend on the couch trembles.
She’s crying because someone in her family

has died/is dying/is dead. She has stopped
speaking in future tense and only says, Now.

The clock speaks in abstract sentences
and she says, We need more wine.

A corner of her life is being rebuilt
by a construction company she hasn’t approved.

A corner and her driveway is being paved.
With gravestones. When she cries, I pour her

a glass of minor relief, another glass
of lessen, and still one more of forgetting, a refill

of liquid assistance. There are too many days
to wait, she says. And there are days

when the world’s veil is so thin, she feels God
in the wind between the buildings.

She is almost mourning, but
knows how close we all are

to being remembered. She is haunted
by leaving, by the ones who already left,

all those doorways swinging open.
A breezeway to loss is where we are headed

no matter how hard we drag our feet.
She says she hates that she can’t stop wishing

for all of it to end, though sometimes in the blues
of the curtain, she still sees hope in hospice.


Because there’s a sparrow outside that appears to be dying.
Because I carry it with me, not the bird, but the emotion.
Because its feathers are wet, almost drenched.
Because not knowing what to do is my own purgatory.
Because nothing in the house is sugarcoated.
Because if you position yourself at the window you will see things
       you don’t want to see.
Because there is a forest of coyotes and we keep finding the bones of fawns.
Because sorrow has embroidered itself beneath my ribs and I can’t unstitch it.
Because even when I’m wrapped in a blanket, I’m not warm.
Because we all keep dying.
Because it’s really not a bird, but our country.
Because the rain won’t stop, the rain won’t stop, the rain won’t stop.

The Cuckoo Clock

When I was a girl
I wanted to live
inside of one.

A wooden, small
place to hold me.
I was in love

with its bird
face. I imagined us
married. The dream

of domesticity. Keeping
house à la bric-a-brac
or conversation piece.

But time has told
what makes them tick.
More machinations

than magic. Dark
pastoral scenes
and a stiffness

crowns the eaves.
Clockmakers all carve
the same male game

in their overhang.
Reared buckhorns
and alpha beasts —

They rule the ornate
roost. And it’s a heavy
pull on me. Those two

coniferous strung
weights dangling
their gonadal hang.

Reading Rousseau at the Seattle Women’s Clinic

Henri had ‘no other teacher
but nature.’ I recalled that factoid
from an art history class while peaking

thick with narcotics in the clinic bed
then they scotch-taped me to the ceiling
in his poster-sized jungle print.

The safe place for banished PYTs
ripe with uglifruit, there I learned
a woman leaves The Virgin Forest

much the same way she came in.
I laid across the forest’s plush green
canvas. My own foliage, shorn

the night before. Smooth palm leaves
split open in jungle book narrative
where the shadow doctor conflicted

beneath uterine sun —
part man part beast.
Then the thunder.

And it was broken asunder.
And then it was over.
Blood orange fruition

of the smallest, wild hope
crawled out of me for five days
in broken shells and poked yolk.