Many of my poems have appeared in various
poetry anthologies, some of which are highlighted below. I have also had
the opportunity to serve as editor for six different anthologies (in addition
to my work with Dos Gatos Press),
five for the Austin International Poetry Festival
and one for PoetWorks Press. Both organizations
have been wonderful outlets for my poems.
Speaking of PoetWorks Press, I have two poems in their anthology, Baby Boomer Birthright, "Memory Sticks" and "Naivete." "Justifications for Stealing" was published in the PoetWorks Press anthology of humor, Just Bite Me.
A sonnet, "Memorial," appeared in the 2011 Poetry at Round Top anthology, and a ghazal, "The Hike," appeared in the 2012 Poetry at Round Top anthology. "Ants," yet another sonnet, was published in the July
Literary Press anthology, Celebrations (an essay I wrote about the writing of "Ants" is in another wonderful anthology, Poem, Revised, from Marion Street Press).
Forthcoming: three poems in another anthology, this one from Sibling Rivalry Press, This Assignment Is So Gay: LGBTIQ Poets on the Art of Teaching: "Advocate," "Day of Silence," and "Teaching Tolerance." "Before the Pill" will appear in an untitled anthology of poems about the Sixties, edited by Wendy Barker and Dave Parsons. "Sonnenizio on a Willis Barnstone Line" will appear in The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop, Diane Lockward's forthcoming book of poetry prompts and examples from Wind Publications.
The Writing Life
starting with a Dickinson line (#581)
I found the words to every thought I ever had--but one.
A simple philosophy: for each door I open, I must shut one.
Oh author, this time you'll have to earn your capital A.
Will you knock one out of the park, or will you putt one?
Wishes and lies: the soul is green, the spirit stings.
Give me two false statements, but I will only rebut one.
Feed the starving body before you feed the ravenous soul.
You can't know what the catfish eats until you gut one.
Lines ran through my head throughout the restless night.
I mouthed the words for memory, yet by morning, what? One?
You think you're so original, a demi-god of literature.
I, too, have slept with a dictionary, the great uncut one.
Who knows what depths lie inside the curds of gray matter?
Size is overrated: Gulliver, zero. Lilliput, one.
The elm has lost its syllables. I gather what I can.
Through fallen piles of sounds, I rake from the glut, one.
"Snow" previously appeared in another
fairy tale anthology, Fairest of Them All
I lived in the coffin
known as Sonny White
for almost twenty years.
Long before wearing them,
I dreamed of sequined gowns,
thick mascara, debutante upsweeps.
When Mother caught me in her camisole,
she booted me from home,
like she had Father years earlier:
she couldn't abide prettier men.
To make ends meet, I took to drag.
As Snow, I was a natural:
paper-white skin accentuated
by hair black as olives
and cheeks bright as blood.
Hormones came later,
and--not unlike Cher--
finally, the surgery.
When I glance at a mirror,
I often catch you, Mother--
Ginsberg had his Whitman poem;
I Bequeath Myself
for Bruce Noll
I was touched by Walt Whitman today.
His hands, cool as spring rain, cupped
the back of my neck, drew me
toward his chest, salt-and-pepper hairs
sputtering like live wires through the vee
of a spacious muslin shirt, aromatic
with the scent of workingman, sailor,
criminal, friend of the calamus.
I was touched by the shiny musket balls
of his eyes, their cocky come-on,
the confidence that bore down, invited
me to abandon convention, assured me that
the world was there for the tasting.
The plump lips emerged from a nest
of beard, forming words I'd heard
and read a hundred times before, but these
were hooks, baiting with promise,
luring me, creating a hunger for the blades
of grass lounging on his tongue,
clumped inside the pockets of his pants,
sprouting through the buttonholes of his fly
like wild green pubic hairs. I was touched
by Walt Whitman, his earthy desire--
slugs and worms and life teeming through
the soil between his toes, and I liked it.
An Intoxicating Couple
The invisible kiss
of kumquat martinis
near the buzzy rosemary
at the deck's edge.
The insatiable gift
of sandy sandals
cannot scuttle the kick
of jalapeņo margaritas
or the smoky roast
of love's hot hiss.
The lake and sky
cluster in a perfect
as the staccato tick
of erotic midnight
clocks excited progress.
Includes five other poems
"Plays Like a Girl," "Hate Crime,"
"Skin Trade," "Moonstruck,"
"Watching the Coots"
It Was Never about Romeo and Juliet
Randy was a high school rarity,
a boy with everything, loved by everyone:
jocks with whom he swung bats,
brains with whom he shared chemistry,
even the greasers he tutored in geometry.
I loved him for other reasons:
golden skin with a Scandinavian glow,
eyes as blue as clear June skies,
a jaw chiseled by Michelangelo.
Mostly because he was nice to me.
So when he asked if I wanted to go
to the school play with him that night,
I swooned as if this were a Dream Date.
When he pulled into the driveway
looking like a Ken doll in his convertible,
I raced to the car and told him to step on it,
though I had just told my dad that I was only
stepping out to let Randy know I'd been grounded.
I fully expected my father to arrive,
make a scene, drag me home,
and banish me to my room for life--
he wasn't used to being defied.
But I knew I might never have another chance
to share an armrest with Randy's wheat-haired arms--
my dad's wrath a poison I was willing to take.
A paternal history
of my Chicago roots!
The Facts as I Know Them
Somewhere between Germany and Chicago,
Joseph Wiggermann lost an "n" at the end of his name.
But along the way he found a wife, Caroline Spauer,
and by 1884 they married, their traveling
thereafter confined to the edges of DuPage County.
Joseph was a blacksmith, a wheelwright,
a career well suited to an immigrant with limited English,
decent enough to provide for Caroline and the seven children,
six when Dominick succumbed in infancy to flu.
Caroline herself died eleven days short of forty-eight,
washing, cleaning, cooking, a workhorse to the end.
Ferdinand, the baby of the family, called Fred,
would become my father's father in 1934.
The Great Famine's shadow still lurked over Ireland
in the 1890s when Thomas McShea courted Catherine Ring.
Leaving the rocky glens of County Cork,
the McSheas sailed for what was still called the New Land
in a turn-of-the-century wave of Irish immigration.
They made their way, like the Wiggermanns before them,
to the city of Chicago, as good a place as any to be Irish.
Like many of his countrymen, Thomas joined the police,
but short of forty was shot in the line of duty,
the year before Capone moved to town,
ushering in a whole new era of gangster violence.
Thomas left behind his wife and three children,
Thomas, Jr., Vern, and little emerald-eyed Catherine,
who would become my father's mother in 1934.
For if I don't write it down, even less will remain.
An updated & revised
edition of a classic!
I'm extremely proud to have
five poems in it: "Calm" (a cutaway),
"Cheap Oven Story" (a rabbet),
"Ghazal for the Leaf" (a ghazal),
"Laundry Room" (a fib), and
"Road Hazards" (a tritina).
The two-lane highway is streaked with road kill
north of Lampasas, smeared with 'dillos and deer,
possums and rabbits, vultures that took too long
to relinquish a meal. Rain ushers in a long
afternoon of forsaken towns with nothing to kill
but time, their boarded-up storefronts and deer
processing shops sunk into ruin. Later, a deer
leaps from the darkness, its shiny eyes and long
legs challenging our cautious vehicle, a near kill.
To kill or be killed by deer, we long to make it home.
The Words I Carry
They have traveled notebook to notebook,
emblazoned from far-flung destinations
like stickers on a portmanteau: bracken,
hunger, iguana, totter, reverie.
Some have come from dreams: wingbeat, undersong.
Others seem a witch's incantation:
fizzle, stipple, indigo, hiss.
Some are short and sharp--scuff, blunt, shard--
while others are the soft wisps of whispers.
I'm a sucker for sibilants,
a lover of laterals,
and when the two come together--
luminous, elicit, delicacy--
I add them to my itinerary.
I'm drawn to islands of i's--precipice, frivolity--
and wide-mouthed coves of o's--billow, froth, frisson.
I know my proclivities.
If I had only moments to save a handful of words,
mine are packed and ready to survive.
I would repeat the words I've collected,
speak their syllables gingerly,
track their incandescent magic
to any port of call.
La Seņorita Margarita
I have savored you,
a perfect blend
of provocative tastes:
sweet with triple sec,
sour as fresh-cut lime,
bitter as its ghostly pith,
salty like the glass's rim.
I have swallowed
the froth of pleasure,
licked the iciness
away from your lips.
Daring like the curl of worm
at the bottom of a bottle,
intoxicating as you are,
I have learned to stop
when I've had enough.
Dreams of Fire and Ice
You look so masculine with your hands
in flames, eager to destroy or enlighten,
veins and motives hidden in the blaze.
I lie fractured and distressed, a block
of ice paralyzed with the anxiety
that my cold exterior is not an act.
You approach, red-hot energy flickering
up your spine, a leaf of fire blazing over
your head as though touched by spirit.
I withdraw, withhold, a frigid cube
of shame and desire, afraid that I
won't melt, just as afraid I will.
Winner of the 2010
Christina Sergeyevna Award!
Bluebonnets in December
No height, no spikes, no fruit, no blue--not yet.
The flowers have all spring to shine; but now
the leaves themselves emerge in sad quintets
of tiny fingers, rimmed in salty bows
like maragarita rims. They hug the earth
in search of warmth and ride the winter's chill.
They hunker down, though dreams rev up, spring forth
in colors of the sky: audacious smiles
and vistas wide, from dim to drunken blue.
Applause and accolades will greet them in
three months with fields of photo-ops, a coup
of aspirations. First, the bitter green
must season, wait with patience through the cold--
as all things must, before rewards unfold.
After Hearing Elie Wiesel
I descend into colorless silence,
step by step into incandescence.
My body glows white-hot.
My mouth strains to open,
but no words will come.
My lips are stitched together.
I burn like an ashen husk
of something long abandoned,
no feature left discernable.
My head crackles
with the whimpers of the dead.
I must rip the stitches,
give voice to the bones
burning inside me.
For I am one of the fortunate.
You do not know, and I can't bear to speak
the words: but this is it, the end, over.
So plunge your last, my husband, dear. My cheek
is red from years of tears; your paltry anchor,
though hard and heavy, ceased to stir my seas.
I spread my legs and felt nothing, a dead
and gutted fish, while you flopped about pleased,
enthralled by ego, unconcerned. You read
no signs, no cries for help--and still you don't.
Tomorrow, find an empty bed, a house
bereft of me, though I will bear the brunt,
for I will weep while your will wonder, browse
the halls for clues. Stumped, what will you do?
I'll leave no note. It's always been beneath you.
An ekphrastic poem
based on Linda Michel-Cassidy's
fiber piece, "Residue"
Gaia: A Lesson
Our world was green then,
a lush and lively bounty of dreams,
an endless festival of fields and leaves--
but that was when rain still fell,
before roots diminished to husks
and trees toiled their last gasp,
before the drunken bellies
of seas recoiled
into unthinkable depressions,
before the planetary party
fizzled into a dry, flat earth,
as some had warned it would.
Our world is brown now,
a netherworld stripped to loam,
ashen and pockmarked
by caverns' hollowed chambers,
mouths frozen in hopeless appeal,
sockets where eyes once shone,
a tearless residue
on the face of a planet
that has left us
no longer knowing
if we are the living,
no longer caring.
Back then , you could see roses
only if you went around
to the other side of the wood fence,
where canes like herons' legs
held up a smattering of blooms.
Even then you thought them beautiful.
A decade later, a sea of roses
laps over the fence, spills
in cascades of yellow, rising
a foot or more over pickets--
all this effusive exuberance
crowding in arcs from beyond!
You know it won't be long
before they crumble to brown,
fade like every fleeting season.
The Interview Date
Where are you from?
What I wanted
was to watch you speak,
see the pink raft of tongue
lap at your lips,
the beacon of Adam's apple
beckon up and down.
How long have you lived here?
What I wanted
was to watch you lean in,
observe the swells of hair
eddying from your shirt,
the surge of nipples,
hard as a rocky coast.
Where did you go to school?
What I wanted
was to watch you stand,
gauge the strain of your anchor,
note the cove of buttocks,
lean as the Strait of Gibraltar,
a tight figure-eight.
What to you do for fun?
What I wanted
was to leave the coffeeshop,
shuck you like an oyster,
raise your mast,
unfurl your sails,
fide you into the night--
but that would wait
till the second date.
A bilingual anthology
from the Virtual Artists
Collective with all poems
in English and Chinese!
Also includes my poems
"In Celebration of Gray,"
"West of Fort Worth."
October Revival in Texas
Swaying Like a gospel choir,
their robes outstretched,
leaves swish overhead,
lifting spirits unseen for months
with sounds of celebration.
All that heat and humidity
swept away in soulful swoops,
long fanfares of gusts.
The dizzying roar of a norther
gives wings to gulps of pure joy.
The whoosh of the canopy--
like listening to a waterfall
from a grotto tucked behind it--
a sound so baptismal
you want to dive into the sky.
The only poem
in this year's edition!
We open up veins
and spill guts,
blood-letting as an art.
We whittle words
to razor-sharp points--
and learn to use them
We make numerous stabs
at pounding out rhythms
and nailing metaphors
to the page.
When all goes well, we grab
or killer lines.
When it doesn't,
we smother meaning,
drown it in a sea of words,
or bury our intentions alive.
We usually massacre drafts,
butchering them in a carnage
of bloody pieces,
our fingers stained
Writing can be murder.
anthology of Texas poetry!
It is the month of bark,
the yard under the sycamore
a shipwreck of shavings
against the shore of the deck;
the month of exfoliation,
strips of skin sloughed
to the ground in dried-up curls,
when the great tree
becomes blinding white again;
the month when death,
strewn about so beautifully,
can no longer ignore life,
leafing its secrets among the jumble,
the flotsam of mottled browns
and mossy greens,
the former brilliance in shades of gray,
textured with gnarls and knots,
layered like contour maps,
the wild and woody rinds at my feet.
My first Welsh publication!
I removed the moon and stars today,
a couple of comets, a dozen
indeterminate celestial bodies.
I scraped the stubborn pieces of cosmos
under my nails, where they pricked
and splintered with an uncanny life-force.
I emptied the ceiling of heavenly hosts,
whitewashed space to one great void,
leaving only infinity above me.
Also includes my poem,
"The Interview Date"
She never told her husband,
but like a semiannual sale
the day would arrive,
and we'd get the call
for a ride to the clinic.
As a means of birth control,
it was extravagant.
We didn't question,
needed no reasons,
but wondered why she relied
on two gay men
to minister as her taxi.
We always assumed
the fetus wasn't Ed's,
and he never asked
why she was glagued again
with "female troubles."
Perhaps her husband wasn't
as foolish as we often believed.
When the silent women
and frightened girls
peeked at us from their furtive shells,
puzzled over which was the father,
we both winked back in unison.
We relished the role of co-conspirators.
She was our ringleader,
our fetish, our Wild Turkey,
bouncing back each time
as though she'd lost nothing more
than a mole.
How to Cook a Wolf
The opportunistic hunter who saved us
whisked away the pelt in no time,
leaving the bloody carcass for us to clean up.
For me, I should say, as Grandma was too sick to help,
the reason I was here in the first place.
I'd have thrown out all that gristle and bone,
but Grandma, frugal as a shaded garden,
claimed we couldn't let the wolf go to waste.
With a cleaver, I hacked off the head--
those eyes, those ears, those frightening teeth--
a tiny revenge for earlier being swallowed.
I told Grandma I was getting wood for the fire,
but I snuck the head out with the entrails
and buried them at the forest's edge.
Then I got down to work. I chopped off
the four legs, dropped them into a stock pot
simmering with most of the organs
(but the liver I fried up as a special treat for Grandma,
who clearly needed more iron in her diet).
The body I severed into three sections--
basically, shoulder, ribs, and rump--
more meat than I'd expected
from such a scrawny creature.
I placed each cut in a roasting pan,
and happily shoved the pans into the oven.
Before I cleaned up, I removed my red cap--
the very one Grandma had given me--
and placed in it the wolf's knotted heart,
wrapped the bundle in the bright red cloth,
and stuck it in the bottom of my basket.
I didn't know why, but it was mine now.
My own heart said I'd earned it.
She squats in the muck
at the water’s edge
as she has for a week,
fixed to the spot
like a lighthouse
Her weary eyes stare down
the cinnamon-colored sea,
as if willpower alone
could control its roil,
force it to return
the child she could not
cling to, cannot beacon—
or sweep the urge
from under her feet.
Also includes my poem,
She hears gargled whispers,
not the ahs of an open throat:
something’s caught there.
She hears it again,
a small bird lodged in her larynx:
She curls in a nest,
not a womb,
but a briar of fear.
Hidden within the sinew,
among the muscle’s twigs and branches,
in the bone’s gray shadows,
a snake closes about her,
its thick black rope
She rasps for release,
for the ah, ah, ah of life,
but gurgles the word amen.
Suppose Plato was right:
that we are only half a whole,
a left shoe useless without a right,
a negative stammering through life
in search of its elusive positive.
Suppose our search is innate,
a desire so strong, so primitive,
that without that other half
we ache from constant hunger.
No matter how satisfied our appetites,
we seem always to starve for more.
Suppose we find that other half
and slide hard into love’s spell,
our unfulfilled yearning as intense
as our need to eat or breathe.
As mysterious as levitation,
our lives are bound together,
though we never know exactly why.
Suppose Plato was right,
that love is the pursuit of the whole,
the fulfillment of an ancient need,
two halves becoming one soul,
melding one into the other,
the end of endless questioning,
the beginning of true union.
Also includes my poems
"Asparagus," "Size Queen,"
and "Coming Out"
You just called
to say happy birthday
and to remind me
that you're not
speaking to me.
prickles up my stomach
for no one
doesn't speak to me
like you do.
When I hold you,
it's not to make
a political statement.
When my hand rests
warmly in yours,
it's not to prove
a point to the world.
The world fades
far in the background,
fizzles to white noise
when I'm with you.
My kisses have
no hidden agenda.
I am just
a man in love
to be a man.
Also includes my poem,
"A Week in the Life"
The Weather Inside
Clouds amassed for weeks
where old ones failed to leave,
till gray skies glutted
and light was crushed in their blotter.
With air too black to breathe
and rumbles echoing down streets,
the storm ached deep in his bones.
It felt like a coming heartbreak.
Also includes my poems
"Presence" and "Archaeology"
Her index finger shadows
the coarse hair of his forearms,
connects the dots, freckle by freckle.
Her hair smells of moon and mist,
untroubled by combs or discipline.
Her eyes are kaleidoscopes,
laughing one minute, crying the next,
daring him to discover her secrets.
Her tiny smile hints at confusion.
Pink fragility pouts on her lips.
She will stand in a downpour
with no thought of umbrellas,
rain giving shape to curves
as pretty and useless as tulips.
Like an abandoned puppy whimpers
for someone to take her home,
in her thinnest voice she solicits a hug,
nestles to his chest, and waits.
You waste no time. I’ll give you that.
While grandmother’s hull folds in on itself,
shrivels with tumors and chemicals,
I await the call to fly off to her funeral.
But you couldn’t wait for another victim.
You crawled in bed with my youngest brother,
unfurled yourself while he lay dreaming,
and spread your shadow over his esophagus.
They say the way to a man is through his stomach,
but you’ve perfected every technique;
no organ is exempt from your dark embrace.
When your fingers clasped my mother’s throat,
her voice immediately dropped several registers.
Teams of doctors loosened your grasp.
She didn’t end up with an artificial voice box,
but I hear your echo when she speaks.
I was the next to escape your clutches,
and you let me off rather painlessly,
a bite on the leg, black as a horsefly.
Not that I haven’t taken your visit seriously.
I check my skin with the diligence of a curator;
like you, I’m forced to stay in the shade.
With my father, you attacked the prostate,
spread your scaly fingers up his dark cavity
and pushed down like a rusty piston.
A buckshot of radioactive pellets chased you off;
yet you lurk in the air like a scavenger.
Circling my family in a restless gyration,
you’ll be gorging again too soon.
(for Matthew Shepard, 1976-1998)
To pull the trigger would have been too kind.
They broke your nose, crushed your brain stem,
battered your flesh till it grafted to bone;
left you burned, lashed to Laramie split-pine,
spread-eagled, barefoot, a bloodied gay totem.
The night froze black around a scarecrow alone.
A day later your body was discovered,
limp as the straw of a weathered bale.
You never came out of the coma; I pray
you slipped into it early in the night, hovered
at heaven’s thin edge, unburdened and pale,
before hate spilled over to the light of day.
Anthologies I have edited for the Austin International
||Hotel Room with Six Vigas
You wake to sighs and groans,
the creaking of long spines.
You can't sleep,
so you stare at the timbers overhead.
They've had a tough life:
scars and fractures,
knots like ancient bruises;
splits you could fit fingers into;
cracks riven in crooked lines
like a river canyon
marked with imperfections.
And if you lie long enough,
they are bending to the wind,
releasing cries and whispers
as if they were yet trees.
from the 2006 di-verse-city
Comments greatly appreciated!