I've been very fortunate to have published
hundreds of poems in the past two decades, a small sampling of which are highlighted below--along
with the poem(s) that have appeared in them. But here are a list of some
other journals I've had success with: Southwestern American Literature, Concho River Review, Junctures, the Texas Observer, Big Tex[t],
Swell, the Beat, Möbius, modern words, Divine Animal, Poetry Midwest,
QP: Queer Poetry, Homestead Review, Muse Apprentice Guild, Texas Writer,
Poetry Depth Quarterly, Word Salad, Bay Windows, Limestone Circle, Entre
Nous, utter, RFD, Poetic Eloquence, Paterson Literary Review, Poetic Space,
El Locofoco, RE:AL, Visions International, Black Buzzard Review, and others, some sadly
no longer among the living.
I also have several poems that are currently online. In 2011, I had three sonnets--"Sirens," "The Egret Sonnet," and "Pandemic"--in the summer issue of Hobble Creek Review (and "The Egret Sonnet" was nominated for a Sundress Best of the Net in 2011 and a Pushcart); and in the 2012 summer issue of Hobble Creek Review I have three additional poems, "Deconstructing the Nest," "Pond behind the Cemetery," and another sonnet, "Formations," the latter of which has also been nominated for a Pushcart. Four sonnets--"Hum," "No Rain," "In Praise of Wallflowers," and "One-Point Perspective"--have appeared in The Road Not Taken: the Journal of Formal Poetry; "Summer Storm," a sonnet, in 14 x 14; "Drama," an ekphrastic poem based on Giacometti's "The Palace at 4 A.M.," in Boxcar Poetry Review; "Strike: Variations on Ten Words" in Switched-on Gutenberg; "The Reata Villanelle" and "Questioning the Typing Teacher" in Red River Review, as well as the sonnet, "A [ ] of Sunflowers"; "High Road to Taos" in The Rondeau Roundup; "Soma" in Apparatus Magazine; and "Balcony View of a Prairie Dog Colony" in the "Crowds" issue of qaartsiluni, though I have several other poems that can be accessed here too, including two collaborative poems I wrote with Taos poet Andrea Watson, a sonnet ("Black") and a ghazal ("White"). Another sonnet, part of a collaborative crown of sonnets by seven different Austin poets, "Rising Water," is in Poemeleon as part of their recent collaborative issue. "Marriage" and "Trash Day" appeared in issue #44 of Right Hand Pointing, and "Pelagos," an ekraphastic poem, was published in the July 2011 edition of The Enigmatist. "Good Fortunes" appears in issue #17 (the "Accident" issue) of Switched-On Gutenberg. "At the Paisano" in the fall 2011 issue of Southwestern American Literature."among the stalks," a haiga, in Extract(s): A Daily Dose of Lit; three one-line poems in issue #57 of Right Hand Pointing, a haiku, "only when he flies," in the December issue of A Hundred Gourds; two poems in Impact Magazine, "Ask a Librarian" and "Lilac"; and my first published poem of 2013, "The Village" in Rose Red Review.
Recent: "Our Last Night Together," a ghazal from my Dickinson series, appears in the newest issue (#9) of Tilt-a-Whirl, which sadly is also its last issue. A new haiku ("naked pin oak") appeared in the Wednesday Haiku feature of Issa's Untidy Hut, the poetry blog for the Lilliput Review Reprints of two poems, "At the Paisano" and "Family Wills," which originally appeared in Southwestern American Literature, are now newly featured in Redux: A Literary Journal, "work worth a second run." Two sonnets, "Instincts" and "So Far Away" are up at the Cyclamens and Swords "Birds" issue. "Easter in Texas, 2011," yet another sonnet, appears in the latest issue of Blue Hole, the magazine of the 2013 Georgetown Poetry Festival. "Honeydew" appears in issue #49 of the Red River Review, which I discovered is the seventh poem they've published of mine since 2003, and "Tenth Anniversary" is in their anniversary issue (#50). A ghazal, "Body & Soul," as well as another sonnet, "The Egret and the Snake," appear in the fourth issue of 94 Creations. "Coming Clean" has appeared in the most recent Decades Review. "After a Night in the ER" is in issue #12 of Shot Glass Journal. Two haiku--"corona of pink" and "peppermint sticks"--appeared in 50 Haikus; two other haiku--"widening ripples" and "mockingbird exhausts"--appeared in the March 2014 issue of A Hundred Gourds; and yet two others--"in from the cold" and "worn-down soles"--appeared in Cattails, the journal of the United Haiku and Tanka Society. Another Dickinson ghazal, "The Mystery of Perception," and a sonnet, "Higher Ground," appeared in issue #20 of what will sadly be the final issue of the wonderful Hobble Creek Review. Also appearing recently, "Tracking the Parrots," a sonnet, in the new issue of The Enigmatist, #9. "Fall Equinox," another ghazal, was selected by editor Charlie Bondhus for July for The Good Men Project. Two more sonnets, "Ode to Rain" and "Almost September," have just appeared in Illya's Honey, and "What I Hear--And They Don't," another sonnet, in the new Blue Hole. A Hundred Gourds included my monostitch haiku in its March 2015 issue. A haiku, "impending buds," appeared in the ninth issue of Chrysanthemum, a dual-language journal (English and German) out of Germany. Two new haiku--"transformers" and "rice cakes"-- appeared in issue #34 of Hedgerow. "There Is No Saint Named Scott" appeared recently in the "All About My Name" series online from Silver Birch Press. Another sonnet, "Sonnet for the Year's End," was just published by Mike & Joyce Gullickson in the tenth volume of The Enigmatist. Five haiku appear in the Zen Space as part of their "Summer 2015 Showcase": "full moon," "mountain peaks," "mud-colored," "sleeping rattler," and "frantic orbit." Two experimental poems, "Reverse Distorted Mirror Sonnet (#147)" and "Three Variations on Bashō," appeared in Poetry WTF?!. "Gradients," a ghazal, appeared in the fall 2015 issue of Illya's Honey, the last poem in the issue. Two haiku appear in the new Cattails, the journal of the United Haiku and Tanka Society, "all ears" and "flower by flower." Three poems are up in the Winter 2015 issue of concis magazine, a golden shovel, "Listening to Time," and two monostitchs, "weathered into fine grit" and "halfway through the walk." December 2015 shows two golden shovels are online at A Quiet Courage, "Maximum Tilt" and "The Idea of God." My haiku, "saucer-shaped clouds" was not only published in the January 2016 issue of cattails, but was selected as an "editor's pick." "Control" and "Haliq," two persona poems, appear in the "Love and Ensuing Madness" section of the current Rat's Ass Review. A haiku, "mushroom cloud," appeared in the 16.1 issue of tinywords, and another one, "dog-eared page" appears in the latest Modern Haiku. "Monopolized," another sonnet, just appeared in issue #7 of the Yellow Chair Review. Three poems--"Each Time We Enter Costco," "By Morning," and "Nothing of Me Will Survive"--respectively a sonnet, a ghazal, and a cento--were published on the Fourth of July in Lunch Ticket’s semi-monthly spotlight feature, Amuse-Bouche. "Feng Shui" is published in the September issue of Verse-Virtual. .Also, "Bear-Trap," another ghazal, appeared in the inaugural issue of Calamus Journal; "Admitting the Truth," an erasure, appeared in pnk prl (read Pink Pearl) in November, and eight haiku appeared in Under the Basho on Thanksgiving Day. "Aftershocks," my anti-Trump golden shovel, is up at Indolent Books' "Transitions" pages. "A Thousand Voices Long" was published in Panoply, issue #5, my first publication of 2017, followed quickly by "Christmas lights" in Stardust Haiku. And "skipping ahead" and "aspen grove" have just appeared in Haiku Canada, and "sleeping in the room," "writing under," and "streetlight's rattle" are in the March 2017 issue of . And in time for National Poetry Month, I've published several haiku--"wedding proposal" in Wild Plum, "quick browning" in Brass Bell, "thin ice on the pond" in cattails, as well as three poems--"Life on the West Rim," "Barometric Pressure," "Escape"--in Watermelon Isotope, "New Year's Eve" in Illya's Honey, and "The Slaughter," a sonnet, in Amarillo Bay
Forthcoming: "Self-Portrait as One-Eyed Jack of Hearts" has been selected for the premier issue of Jane's Boy Press' Book of Desire. Four of my Dickinson-inspired ghazals will be appearing on The Ghazal Page. In addition, "Christmas pre-screening" will appear in the next Modern Haiku and "giving thanks" in the next Sonic Boom Journal. "Calligraphy 101" and "Isle of the Blessed" have been accepted for the next issue of the stunning journal Red Earth Review, "Passing of the Matriarch" for the inaugural issue of Ocotillo Review, "Synchronicity," a rare prose poem, for the next issue of Chelsea Station, and "Insurance," a golden shovel, for the "Poetics of Space" issue of Switched-on Gutenberg.
Posted on New Verse News
on June 11, 2017
May we bike a wide expanse of untidy sands,
of outliers and isles of desert brush.
May we ride and ride, our eyes primed
to an iota of wild, a mite of wine
among the tumbleweeds and idle browns:
a bind of thriving cacti. Divine!
May we smile and find a vital prize,
a sign in the uncivilized silence,
a blooming lighthouse, a riot of pink fire,
our desired life, our private tribe.
May we ride inspired while our kind expires.
May we rise above the spineless of these times.
Speaking to the Snake
I only stayed for the children.
Layered in too many clothes,
I wanted to take off
everything, down to the bone.
I longed for solitude, far
from husbands, lovers,
kids--but I told no one.
Deserts beckoned, promising
meaning in emptiness,
if only I could go there,
but I stayed, I stayed,
my mouth stuffed with Eden.
This is a special issue (#25)
of Assaracus: A Journal of Gay Poetry
starting with a Dickinson line (#508)
I'm ceded. I've stopped being theirs.
Now meeting dreams, not seeing theirs.
Unfettered of iron shackles,
I wasted life's days fleeing theirs.
Across the wide river I swim.
Is my freedom foreseeing theirs?
Out from shadows, into the light.
My own god, refereeing theirs.
In the clouds I soar from doctrine.
Choice is mine; disagreeing, theirs.
Sing the scars of my naked self.
My truth: no guaranteeing theirs.
Also includes another haiku,
the past left for others
Also includes my sonnet,
"Couldn't Slow Down If I Tried (And I Tried)"
In One Ear, Out the Other
A nervous day. Caffeine and allergy
meds tramping through the blood. A chug, a jolt,
a lightning strike beneath the skin--whee! whee!
a rollercoaster ride. A jumpy colt
stamps, bucks, my head its small corral. Clear skies
don't help. A moon appears above the fence,
incongruous and plump. A pigeon flies
in circles like a scavenger. A sense
of wrong in every sight, in every thump
and pulse. I've picked the same damned scab again.
My foot taps like a code. An itch, a bump,
an edge--and whittled down by teeth, my pen.
No sleep tonight, no pardon will be found.
Shrill crickets rouse to my internal sound.
The Pity of War
a golden shovel
incorporating a Basho haiku
It comes to an end, summer,
the last sigh of green grasses
and fresh fruit--all
those months, all that
production, and what remains?
Fodder for wind, particles of
nightmares lost as their dreams.
Another Night at the Maverick Inn
I can no longer tell whether they're
arguing or fucking or both,
their earth-thirsty interludes
of growls and grunts and slurs
battering the wall between our rooms.
Better, I guess, than guests
with blaring infomercials or insipid
laugh tracks, but I want to sleep.
Why can't motel walls
be insulated enough to avoid
every sudsy stream of piss,
every thrusting headboard bang?
Are these walls made of the same
toilet paper I've been hearing
roll off its spindle each night
at one a.m., and again at four?
I've got the AC cranked,
the squeaky ceiling fan whirring,
but nothing's loud enough
to drown out the randy--or angry--
couple, except when the train
thunders by, shrieking,
the conductor's sadism let loose.
Of course, the drapes don't close
entirely on either of the windows,
the sink has a continual drip,
and the pillows are lumpy
as biscuits and country gravy--
much that same gray color too.
Yet when I visit Alpine,
there's no other place
I'd rather stay. The truth is,
I don't sleep much better at home.
Also includes my husband's poem,
"A Step Beyond Silence"
The lights were dim when I arrived,
Dr. S. so close I could smell
cigarettes emanating from his pores.
No one in the office but us. No nurse--
I had to swab the blood from my leg.
I watched his forearms, dark hair
swirling over the tight latex gloves.
He eased the knife through flesh
like a layer of seal blubber.
Can you feel it?
That was the year Disney's
The Little Mermaid came out on video.
My red-haired niece in Mesa
was into both Ariel and sharks.
She hated when I called her Ursula--NO, Ariel!--
but believed I'd been bitten by a shark
when she saw me change the dressing.
The hum of the fluorescent bulbs overhead.
A three-inch circle around the mole on my thigh.
Better here than some bony part.
The slow sewing of the stitches.
The sucking sounds of my flip-flops on asphalt.
I walked back to the car as if returning
home from a bad date, imagined
Dr. S. lighting up once I left.
Long before my niece's parents divorced, before
my parents moved there--different cancers--
the Phoenix desert called out,
a shark bite as easy to believe
as melanoma, as intimacy
with a doctor, as becoming a mermaid.
Also includes two other erasures,
"Marriage: A Unique Relationship"
and "The Rest of the Story."
Across the Sky
Also includes two other poems,
"The Old Familiar" and "Shrinking World Theory,"
Why He Doesn't Want Me to Watch Dexter
Two dead mice.
See how they lie like commas
on the concrete sidewalk,
small enough to fit into a palm?
Not mauled, perhaps poisoned:
the park is sprayed weekly
Close as yin-yang.
(I see you thinking,
Please don't name them
Yin and Yang.)
Did they seek solace in each other?
See how they nearly hug?
As if arranged there
for some unknown purpose.
No body parts missing,
no carving knife.
See those tiny ears,
those tiny digits?
Pay more attention.
You almost stepped on them.
When we get home,
we'll re-enact the scene:
what binds us
a single blossom left
on the crepe myrtle
Also includes three other sonnets,
"Blue Heron," A Perfect Day," and "Too Brief"
I heard them first--their quirky squawks--before
I saw the parrots. Green as jungles, fresh
as spring desire, their feathers rich and brash,
so unforeseen, I did a double-take.
So green on green, it took a stroke of luck
to spot these three among the leaves, but then
the telltale beaks, the doll-like eyes, the din
of vibrant colors. Where'd they been the last
ten months? And could I possibly have missed
such flash each day? I savor the moment,
aware it might soon fly away. I want
to turn virescent: blend into the green
as long as time allows. To stand alone,
remain a hidden sentry, wait for more.
Also includes my poems
"Hide and Seek" and "The Illustrated Man"
starting with a Dickinson line (#1116)
There is another loneliness that many die without.
Sixty-four years of trying--but you could fly without!
Why does Daddy's disapproval come as such a shock?
Your breath so shallow: a rattle, with; a sigh, without.
So you're a "fool" for wanting to marry? Then be a fool.
Don't let his dour mood influence your own. Defy without!
For sixteen years I've been a burr digging in his boot.
Uncomfortable with me, yet somehow awry without.
I do not feel estranged, for I've never been a part.
You've had too many years with--it's time to try without.
Don't let your father spade a hole in your full heart.
You're not your old man, you're mine, so do not cry without.
We're showered with congratulations, a flood of love.
He's the only one, the voice of drought. Reply with, "Out"!
The willow yellows with each passing day.
Only July, too early for these leaves
to change their hues, yet cypress needles splay
beneath canopies gone to rust, and sheaves
of bark from sycamores curl at the trail.
The purple horsemint now is gray, and green
has faded from the field, wheat-colored, frail.
The drought is real, but not unforeseen
in Texas: miles of sky and not a speck
of cloud, just waves of heat rising like vines
once did--before withering. Mud and dreck,
the lake's down to nothing. Mosquitoes whine.
Even the water fowl seek shade. This park
too sere for the start of a long dry arc.
Also includes my sonnet,
"Theory of Relativity"
The chinaberry leaves have yellowed, but
no other leaves have changed: dull browns, weak greens--
no purples, reds, or golds--the same old rut
we've seen for months, and now November leans
its chilly bones on window panes that fog
with every breath, a sign we're still alive
on days we have our doubts. If young I'd blog
about the trees, the reasons to contrive
a palette neither brown nor green, one full
of vibrant northern colors--Michigan,
New England--where fall is a spectacle,
the leach of chlorophyll, the origin
of orange, crimson--leaves heading toward death.
At this cold pane, I tally every breath.
bits of kite
flapping high in an oak
my nerves on edge
Also includes my ghazal,
"Wife and Wife"
A Little While Longer
starting with a Dickinson line (#255)
To die takes just a little while--they say it doesn't hurt.
Hurry up now, faster, faster--that way it doesn't hurt.
With sharp toothpicks, the son jabs his father's deadened legs.
"I'm a voodoo doll," jokes the man, "It's OK, it doesn't hurt."
Cancer ward: the term's enough to make a mother retch.
A child of indeterminate sex whispers, "Stay. It doesn't hurt."
After the rush, you'll forget about the needle in the vein.
A simple means to an end--like an X-ray, it doesn't hurt.
At their son's confession, his parents stare in disbelief.
Not a word about his AIDS, just "I'm gay, it doesn't hurt."
Knowing it's worse to argue with him, she spreads her legs,
closes her eyes and dreams for the day it doesn't hurt.
Bullets for an enemy whose eyes and hearts cannot be seen.
The soldier: "The end is but a breath away. It doesn't hurt."
"Now I lay me down to sleep," a child repeats by rote.
Pray he makes it through the night. Pray it doesn't hurt.
this one using slant rhyme.
Two stacks, two clouds of smoke above them like
a stop-gap photograph, frozen throughout
the hour I walk. Two teens down at the lake
are sharing a smoke, their dark cigarette
as vacant as their scowls, my own cold breath
more interesting. And then I spot the ice,
a rim around the lake, a ten-foot swath,
not strong enough to walk upon. Some ass
has tossed a crumpled can on it, as if
to prove it real, for ice like this just seems
another trick. This winter is no bluff:
two more hard freezes forecast. At such times
pollutants frame the distant power plant
while green agaves blacken from the front.
A poem that came out
of a Wingbeats workshop
with Abe Louise Young!
Ode to the L Scrabble Tile
Without you, I would get fat, not flat,
wide, not wild.
I could never be newfangled,
I would eat fan, not flan,
yet however much I ate,
I would never be late,
could never loaf, just oaf,
could bend, but never blend.
Without you, my legs would be eggs,
my glasses would be gases,
my lair would be mere air.
And lo would be oh,
lye would be eye,
and a fling would just be a fing.
My feet could never be fleet.
My slick would just be sick.
I couldn't howl, only ask how.
Though lone would be one,
I would tire of of
and miss out on love.
See Mary Oliver's poem,
"The Egret," the source
for this poem's vocabulary!
The silent water,
green and sheer,
a white froth
at her edge
that open like scrolls.
shoulder in reeds,
words gone thin
in an instant,
The polished wild
smooth bellies weedy
of her fish,
inches from terror,
at every shore,
the inverted world
of egrets and legs,
of flames and such.
at her silky door,
I ripple into liquid.
A gay take
on the classic fairy tale!
Three Billys, Accosted at The Bridge
Twink Billy shrieked
when the talons of Miss T
Burrowed into his arm.
He squealed again
when she slimed the back of his neck
with her raspy-as-a-cat tongue.
"Not so fast," bellowed the drag queen,
well past her sell-by date.
"I could eat you like an ice cream
sundae covered in hot nuts,"
her ess hissing like a punctured tire.
"I just want to gi in and dance,"
Twink Billy blubbered, "and there's
much sexier guys behind me--look!"
Metro Billy entered in a swirl
of designer cologne and duds,
each hair perfectly in place.
Miss T was on him in less time
than it takes to say "stilettos."
"Oh, baby," she cooed, "You
got something Momma needs,"
bending over to kiss his fly.
"Don't touch me, you freak--
these are $500 jeans!"
Aghast in glitter and foundation,
her mouth like a blow-up doll,
Miss T became a shark, aching for blood.
"The trash behind me is more
your style," pronounced Metro Billy
as he swished past into the club.
Indeed, Butch Billy, with his
black leather vest and assless chaps,
set her drooling like a baby.
She looped a lacquered nail
through his nipple ring, murmured,
"Now isn't this convenient?
I adore a man with hardware.
As Miss T grabbed for his junk,
the thick fist of Butch Billy
smashed into her jaw, wig
and false eyelashes flying,
a sprawled mess at his feet.
He growled, "Thought you liked it rough?"
Simpering on her knees to the street,
"I like it gruff, you goat!
I'll find another place to troll."
Miss T was never again seen at The Bridge.
Your trunks are smooth as shaven legs. I look
around before I run my hands up them--
can stroking trees, a little baby talk,
be all that wrong? So why this whiff of shame
when fingers rub your wooden bole, or when
my cheeks caress and nuzzle--well, you know
the spots. I close my eyes, clearly discern
a gentle moan--but should this be taboo?
Our love is hard, but I can't stay away,
for once my lips touched wood, I had no choice
but to succumb: I'm born to love on the sly.
The world may never sanction our embrace,
our honeyed, deciduous kind of kink.
Let's go further, out on a limb, toward pink.
My Zoo Story
My first thought: the man
on the park bench must be dead.
Head scrunched low into his chest,
shoulders curled into the comma
of his torso . . . but then a quiver,
the body language of deep sorrow.
I think of Jerry in The Zoo Story,
waiting for someone to help him
die. I fear I might be that someone.
A gust of wind scatters
crumpled leaves at his feet.
As if coming out of a trance,
he slowly lifts his head.
I see his face at last--
no pain, no tears.
A crooked grin and a wink.
His pants unzipped, he works
that thing like a knife.
for Mary Bacon, 1940-2011
This is the day the sunflowers awake,
their eager, yellow smiles reminding me
of you. This is the day a sudden trick
of light reveals a simple rosary-
sized cross--no Christ in agony--a plain
non-nonsense goodness. Yes, I think of you.
This is the day I find a sparrow's wing,
a crumpled thing once full of joy, like you.
And when I reach the lake, a hundred star-
shaped water lilies crinkle like Van Gogh's
majestic skies. It's you that I conjure--
that playful look, your eyes. A life outgrows
the living, carries on beyond the day.
This is the day when some will go, some stay.
from the "Audacity" issue!
One Night Hook-up
Afterwards, he couldn't remember why
but he knew there must be a reason for
crash-test dummies in her bedroom,
dressed in oversized sweatshirts sporting
Emerson and Princeton, their fleshy heads
flanked by black and yellow warning signs.
"Go!" they seemed to advise, but he couldn't
head out while she lay there snoring with all the
indifference of a slow-leaking inflatable raft
jackknifed on a naked beach, her left
knuckles grazing his chest, almost sweetly,
like she meant it. He tried to move,
motionlessly, toward the edge of the bed,
noticed jabs of discomfort at his back and near an
orifice that he preferred remain under
quarantine from foreign objects of any sort--
potato chips, crushed but still crunching, still
ridged, though he couldn't recall a late-night
snack--just lots of tequila--but he nonetheless
tasted one (barbecue-flavored), just as she
unburdened a fusty cloud of gas and
vocalized a grunt that sounded like "more."
Weighing his options and spotting the
X-rated array of chips festering on her
yoohoo (her term), he abandoned chivalry,
zipped from the bed, zippered out the door.
In addition to my haibun,
this issue includes my article,
"Walking Poetry," and poems
from my 2011 Alpine students!
Looking for Water
Discarded mattresses slump over an abandoned dryer outside Mitchell's, a former gas station in the heart of a town where everything is formerly something, everything used or antique--farm equipment, buildings, guitars.
Creed Taylor, Texas Ranger, and wife Blanch remain immortalized in brick on a Holland Street sidewalk outside the Rail Road Park. Drought-tolerant fountains of cacti fade in sunlight. Empty and corroded letters prove the Alpine Lumber Company has been long-gone.
A train chugs behind Harry's Tinaja, its ditch as dry as the skulls that decorate it--no water at this watering hole--then a clang-clang-clang and Spriggs Boot & Saddle Shop, selling everything from biker gear to books, whatever it takes to stay in business. A horse trailer ambles by with more occupants than the many houses for sale--reduced.
A peeling red and white sign welcomes visitors to the Bien Venido, and a woman loads Deer Chow into her pick-up at the Exxon. Too early for Twin Peaks Liquor to be open, where no doubt they do have the best selection West of the Pecos. Outside another former gas station, now a woodwork shop--also for sale--a rock fountain with the thinnest dribble of rusty water.
August edges in,
pledges more dust,
desert willows wither
Watching Glee with My Mother
Some things don't change.
The gay student is again
bashed into the lockers.
Slurs are all that's missing--
but this is network television.
I wipe away tears, hearing
the reverberation of bone on metal.
"This," I tell my mother,
"is what high school was like for me."
This is the most I've said
to my mother about that dim period
since she took me
to have my stomach pumped
four decades ago.
She never once asked why.
Murder wasn't in me,
though I thought about it.
There is always
another tormenter in waiting.
I did not want to die.
I wanted flight.
She says, "I thought this
was supposed to be a comedy."
"It gets better," I reply,
and the next musical number begins.
Introduction to Want
What I remember of the bedroom:
planes proliferating in explosive
blockbusters, but mostly the loop
of relentless commercials. We tired
of condoms, Viagra on shelves
just out of reach, fat on the grill,
as the national verb, the latest
popstar bronze as American arms,
big ol' Rams black as burnt toast.
How we compromised, picking
our sacrifices, always testing--
takeout or delivery? paper or
plastic? extra cheese?--
staring at papered walls before
the weekends were through,
my words in orbit around
his giant screen and tiny speakers.
He introduced me to want--
of something . . . I don't remember.
And now, breakfast at two,
nude in my own garage,
I'm lost on Memorial Day.
I see him or someone like him
in fusty towns across Texas.
I seem to remember in circles.
Woman with the Half-Inch Memory
Then erodes like a sand dune
spilling into the abyss of a lake.
Still, what can you do to hold back
the tumbling cascade of grains?
An apple a day won't help.
Plump memories thin to a whistle,
the tinny sound of time's dry breath.
You worry. You used to have
tricks, but now the shell game
turns up empty, empty, empty.
You used to be sharp. Puzzles?
No challenge. New ideas stuck
like fence posts lining a pasture.
The whole fat world awaited--
then left you in its dust, speeding up
while you slowed down, shrinking,
an ice cube in warm water.
You swallow cocktails of pills
to stave off deterioration,
but the grains are slipping faster
than medical progress. Your greens
are transforming into bronze.
You clench the best days deep in your fist,
your irrepressible grip already relaxing.
At Michael Reese
I sit on a slatted hospital bench,
legs so short they stick out like icicles,
body bundled for a long, hard winter.
I am alone in the waiting room,
staring blankly through plate-glass
at a Chicago sky as gray as smoke.
I am three, which makes my brother
one. He is the reason I'm here.
I sit for hours, time like a train
with no stops, yet I barely move.
I am Daddy's perfect little Marine.
I hear crying, not my silent brother,
who's under a thick plastic tent in a room
where I am not allowed to go.
I sit, much later, on a second-hand sofa
in our cold third-floor tenement
as we view the family slides:
Mark in the hospital crib,
before and after the tracheotomy,
as sickly pink as a vinyl doll.
Magnified on a sheet on the wall,
one disconcerting slide after another
appears through cigarette clouds,
projected memories I can't imagine
anyone would want to keep.
Yes, a sestina!
for the eyes of light
to open, the dark to leave
and revisit its home.
Will you then face
the day and the need
to do something, a need
that drags a somber weight?
You slap your face
to snap to the light
easing into the orderly home.
You don't want to leave
shadow the blind need
for movement, like home
movies without sound. Wait
as the room floods with light
and the clock's face
glares, but you'll have to face
it sometime: everyone leaves,
accepts the body's needs
and the long wait
It takes effort to home
in on the forlorn face
in the mirror, the weight
more leaden, refusing to leave.
This hour of need,
this time of light,
when dark and light
are both a way home,
and all you really need
is hidden in lines in your face--
soon, soon you can leave.
But now you must wait,
face the need
for light, for home,
for leaving. Wait.
This is one of nine
of my poems that appears
in this issue of Assaracus
--a personal best.
We went to bed like boars, but now
we wake without the strength to fight.
How we lose our passions, and how
the day shades with echoes of night.
Still we brood from hostile corners,
hold on to thoughts of wrong or right
like burnished martyrs, lost mourners--
the day shades with echoes of night.
Lights are dimmed. Love is kept in tow.
We, as polar as black and white,
speak with silence, watch the hours go.
The day shades with echoes of night.
Also includes my sonnet
"A New Year."
"Drag" is a bouts-rimés.
What a Drag It Is Getting Old
He spent his days in reverie, a June
of climbing trees, exploring creeks, when stress
occurred as frequently as a blue moon.
Then innocence dissolved--he began to obsess.
Adolescence slithered in, the snake
of sexuality. Resistance was moot.
A sparkly tube of lipstick, some gloss, a cake
of foundation--tricks to turn him into a beaut,
those raging dreams of Harlow, Hayworth, Garbo.
A different kind of dress-up, not quite the play
of children--an Indian today, a hobo
tomorrow--Halloween became every day.
With wig on tight, he squeezes into a rhinestone
gown. Presenting Chanel--name, not cologne.
My entire crown of sonnets,
"Days Too Close,"
appears in this issue.
This is the last sonnet in the crown.
Tomorrow bears the weight. A new regime
of exercise? Of vitamins and bran?
Despite the years of shrinks, your self-esteem
is still a broken yolk in life's hot pan.
It's burning, bottom-sticking. Something's got
to change. Return to therapy? Increase
the meds? Or quit the job, the coffee pot?
Your life's consumed in quiet flames, and piece
by piece it peels away. You need new blood.
The phone won't ring, and even mother shuns
her Sunday call. You hear that gasping thud,
the siege of self imploding toward undone?
Another week dissolves like that--a flash.
The days have grown too close, all dun and ash.
Did you know, Dad,
that I still own those dirty
you gave me forty years ago?
They've survived a dozen moves,
numerous workouts, and
several purges, though they've
been relegated to the pauper's
cemetery of a closet floor.
I pulled the boots out today
for the first time in a decade,
dust so thick the paint stains
on the leather can barely be seen.
Soil still cakes their soles.
Their mouths have been on
a subsistence diet of cobwebs;
spider eggs rest on their blistered
tongues. Down the caves
of their throats are darkness
and desiccated things
no one should have to touch.
I know I'll never again
put my feet in those shoes.
Yet I return those crusty old
boots to their provisional plot,
watch the dust settle, wash
my hands. Somehow it's easier,
Dad, than burying the dead.
Also includes my poem,
An egret's at the lower falls, his neck
for flight. When he takes off, those wings outstretch
a long, white vine. His eyes look lazy, blind
to water, sky, and me--but it's a trick,
just like the lotus blossom body and,
the two thin stilts that anchor it. I know
a closer step will set him off: the limbs
will wrinkle into pleats, the neck will yaw
into its hold, the unseen wings will prime
beyond the humble body I observed
and open like a sail to fill a niche
of blue, a bloom unfurled. I've been so starved
for magic that this sleight-of-wing enchants.
He flies away, as I catch one more glance.
for Bob Lindeman
The native morning glories twine their way
through thatch and grass along the traveled trail,
up posts and young bur oaks, up huisache,
'round thorns like razored needles. They prevail,
insistent as gallos, their bugles blue
as dawn, their notes both high and clear. They've half
a day to make the most and bloom into
themselves before they write their epitaph.
We've much to learn from them: the stretch, the climb,
the brief blast of a horn, the feeble hold
to any higher thing. There's never time,
there's never time: how quick from young to old.
With each daybreak, as blue spreads out its rhyme,
remember morning glories' open folds.
A terza rima sonnet!
So startling, the sudden flash of wings
above the water, white and wide--a gasp
unloosed, a husky breath escaped my lungs.
I hadn't seen the egret on the cusp
of flight, but when he flew I felt that time
had stopped, that this would be the perfect way
for any life to end. I followed him,
this holy gift, in search of clarity
as luminous as his great wings--and then
he landed, looked at me: a bird, no more,
no less. The neck, a crooked ess again;
the bill, a yellow stitch. And yet the air
was charged, for I'd been touched as though a god
appeared from high--and I'd been purified.
No one would mistake us for newlyweds.
We stopped honing the blade years ago,
started assuming the other
would whet it when necessary.
It's not that we no longer care;
it's that we stopped caring to work so hard
to keep the edges keen.
There was a time we might have
lanced our palms with significant X's
and smeared our life-lines together.
Have we reached the dagger's edge,
the point of proceeding or severing,
only to find it's not as sharp as it should be?
We settled in the silence of cozy detachment,
but years require we deepen incisions,
scratch and scrape till we hit bone,
grind our hands till the blood cements.
To pull them apart, we'd need to feel pain--
Another ekphrastic poem!
Living Room Scene
based on Eric Fischl's "Krefeld Project, Living Room Scene 1"
The light pouring through the picture window's so bright
that I can't see out, so how the hell . . . ? Yeah, right,
I'm sure they're lining up to see a middle-aged man
in all his naked glory. Oh, wait! Is that the Cohen's van
slowing down? "Howdy, neighbors, good to see
you!" I'll wave if I want to, Irma. Let it be--
there's no one there and no one who cares. What?
I will not step away from the window. My butt
or my gut? Which is my better side? After all
these years, you should know. No? Well, call
the neighbors. I'll turn around we can take a poll.
You used to laugh till you peed, Irma. It is funny--butt
or gut? Butt or--oops!--gut? I will not shut
up! And if they can't see me, then how the hell
would they see a glass in my hand? Don't yell!
I don't care if it's only nine a.m. It's my house
and nobody else's business, including yours. Grouse
all you want--just fill our goddamn glasses, all right?
It's the butt, isn't it? C'mon, step into the light.
The "all-ekphrastic" issue!
Included in my new book, Presence!
Also includes my review of Robert Wynne's Museum of Parallel Art
based on Byron Kim's painting of the same name
Skin is a layer that's ever so slight,
a bounty of pigment, sometimes a dearth,
though never pitch black and never pure white.
Some skin recedes like the sun into night,
its coral horizon pink as a birth,
lit like falling stars, but ever so slight.
Some skin is almost an absence of light,
a deeply dug soil the umbers of earth,
but never pitch black. Nor ever pure white,
but flushed as a flock of cardinals in flight,
or beige as a beach, ashen as a hearth,
the skin's a coating that's ever so slight.
And would we sense if we did not have sight
the differing shades that drive a wide berth
on a scale between pitch black and pure white?
Beneath our facades, where colors unite
in muscle and tissue equal in worth,
skin's just a veneer that's ever so slight.
It's never pitch black and never pure white.
Included in my new book, Presence!
A wonderful "little" journal!
Two White Moths
A single blue star quivers
at an acute distance.
Two white moths batter
the bleak patio light.
I shut the blinds and retire
to a blanketless bed.
Words like tiny caskets lie
on the nightstand, reminders
of what's been started
and what's not finished,
ink already fading
into an obscure universe.
Would faith be less desolate
if the heavens were attainable,
if those moths
could beat the light?
One of a series of poems
based on the human chromosomes!
Chromosome 14: Black History Moment
Henrietta Lacks was 31 in 1951,
the year she died of cervical cancer.
Half a century later, her cells live on.
Even under controlled conditions,
blood cells die within a few weeks,
but not the cells of Henrietta Lacks,
which miraculously multiplied
like Biblical loaves and fishes.
Every day an entire new generation
of Henrietta's cells reproduced.
They flourished, mushroomed,
leapt from test tubes
like carbonated bubbles.
With a new name, HeLa genes
were soon packaged in containers
with instructions for feeding,
like sourdough starters passed
from neighbor to neighbor.
Beyond the confines of Henrietta's world,
they made their way
to England, Russia, Chile, Japan,
to outer space aboard the shuttle.
The unsung hero of the polio vaccine
was not a doctor or scientist,
but an unwitting wife and mother
with cancer cells out of control.
Henrietta Lacks never imagined
the thousands of pounds of cells
she would bear through the years,
her genetic largesse, her legacy.
Also includes my poem,
Lessons to Learn
A hand extends. Another hand, like leaf
to sun, ascends, accepts, and fingers clasp
for warmth against the cold. But like a thief,
one slips away as cars approach, the grasp
dissolved before the yell of faggot wrecks
the walk. A hand, another hand, that's all:
no look, no kiss, no hint of any sex.
The public touch of man to man, though small,
is never innocent to those who feel
a threat of impudence. So curses spew
and fists come out--worse, a glint of steel.
A bloodied couple learns to fear anew,
to stash their hands in pockets deep, to shove
into the dark those signs of outward love.
Playing GI Joes
My GI Joe didn't care for camouflage,
that dreary melange of green and khaki.
He preferred the minimal clothes that I created
with a pair of scissors and poor sewing skills:
hot little loincloths attached with a pin,
paisley ponchos that required only a hole,
a strip of red velvet for a headband or belt.
My GI Joe craved reconnaissance missions.
He would sneak about my sister's room
raiding Barbie's boutique for fashion ideas,
trying on faux fur and elastic-banded skirts,
tube tops and a white-beaded bridal veil--
forays which seldom produced good fits
but occasionally spawned fantastic accessories.
My GI Joe was a gung-ho exhibitionist.
He'd rip off his Army fatigue jacket,
metal snaps rat-a-tatting like an M-1 rifle;
he'd strut that smooth plastic chest
as if his twelve-inch stature controlled the barracks;
then he'd drop his pants around the ankles,
displaying buttocks as solid as rocks--
an audacious tease for one without a penis.
My GI Joe learned to take a lot of pain.
He'd volunteer to cross into enemy terrain,
where he'd be captured without a struggle,
stripped like a go-go boy, and thrown into a cell.
Tied-up, disciplined, tortured into a frenzy,
he was a master of man-to-man endurance,
revealing only name, rank, and serial number
as a sly grin edged toward the scar on his cheek,
a mark that covered so many of our secrets.
The mellow oil spreads
to the edges of your belly,
heating like pistons.
An aroma of olives
charges from your flesh.
Your skin sizzles
with onion and garlic;
their pungent spike
radiates from your navel.
Soon your torso's a bay
of ripe Roma tomatoes,
flecked by boats of basil,
and quays of black pepper.
You simmer to perfection,
and I stir, I stir.
Then I pour you over
the steamy strands of my limbs,
toss you in my arms, my legs,
coat my tongue and neck with you.
We twirl, we slurp, we meld.
flecked by boats of basil,
Together we cook so good,
you saucy thing, so damn good.
The sun rises like an old man's last breath.
David floats over St. Petersburg.
Tourists with bulbous fingers point
at the sky, a soft quilt smelling
of baby powder, so delicate you can
almost taste cotton candy,
endlessly white, horizon to horizon,
a test pattern of whining repetition,
utterly without echoes.
Here the sun sets at midnight,
slow as arthritis, bright as a pigeon.
David tries to sleep, but can't,
the buttery ink of his pen scribbling
across his secret notebook:
Gravity keeps us grounded.
Outside his room, he hears odd languages.
The thin door whispers,
If we become ungrounded, is Russia
or gravity to blame?
Included in my new book, Presence!
He weaves fiber and fur,
acorn-colored sheaves of bark,
feathers retrieved from crooks of trees,
shoots and tendrils, tawny filaments.
He glues together bits of shell
with albumen and tempera's yolk,
constructs an egg-shaped hull,
a mosaic of porous fragments.
Ecru walls rise about him
like petals closing for the night.
He seals the last piece in place.
Almost translucent, his fragile cocoon
is warm, not dark; safe, not lonely.
May I never stop
losing my breath
at the sudden patina
the fresh unfolding
of eager leaves
or prompt appearance
of thirsty tulips,
ivy's precipitous climb
or roses' awkward reach,
billions of green kisses
reviving a landscape
so numb and dull,
today as startling
Beef was the first to be given the boot,
followed in short order by meat of any color.
Birds were then declared off-limits.
Within a year, fish were added to her list.
Dairy was the next to go--no milk or eggs--
nothing stolen from sentient beings.
Vegetables were fine for awhile, but soon
she heard the cry of each beet pulled from the earth,
of each leaf ripped from a bunch of spinach.
So she turned to what nature gave freely:
nuts that trees released to the ground,
berries shaken free by birds, wild grasses.
When winter came and her bounty was buried,
she stuffed snow in her mouth, crunched it
like she once did bacon, the thought of which
made her vomit. Her body was found
deep in the woods, bones licked clean,
rid at last of all excessive fat.
In the belly of the night
words are swallows,
flying from my lips
into fitful darkness.
I watch them line up
on telephone wires,
arrange them like notes,
harmonious on a stave.
To my drowsy ear
they sound flawless.
So I chant their song,
whisper it over, over.
Come morning, the swallows
have flown--never to return.
Included in my new book, Presence!
Also includes my poem,
|A Matter of Size
This hotel bed is a sea,
a wide swath of quiet
where we float
like distant islands,
almost out of sight.
Waves of white
billow between us;
barely reaches my shore.
I long to return home
where we surge,
touch and tumble,
in the brine
of our own small bed.
Included in my new book, Presence!
Berryman’s Last Dream Song
Brusque Henry huffed briskly onward
as though late for an important appointment.
Below the Washington Bridge, the frozen
Mississippi beckoned like a bottomless bar drink,
Henry’s demons everywhere.
Time to clean things up, he said.
Henry hauled himself onto the rail,
sat and listened to the chime of the bells
from the University—nine times,
a countdown to blast-off. The flesh
of the palms, the seat of the pants, stuck
to the icy rails, not quite ready to give up.
The drop was swift, like that fateful bullet,
his father’s maddening legacy.
Some thought he was waving goodbye,
but Henry, his white beard parting like a soul
from its body, was greeting Mr. Bones
and all those acquaintances, pale and old.
Included in my new book, Presence!
I ate dirt yesterday.
Cathy would be proud.
The santuario has stood
for almost two hundred years.
Who knows over that time
how many have made the pilgrimage
to taste of its healing dirt?
If you stop at the wood-carved altar,
fail to wander through two low side-doors,
you might miss the discarded crutches,
the hole in the floor, the dirt,
the scoop perched in it.
I sifted and pinched the dirt
between my fingers,
dropped it in my mouth
like chewing tobacco.
Cathy would have taken a handful,
but she’s a walker of holy pilgrimages,
All I know is that I still
have that pain in my side,
and even after brushing,
I’m biting down on grit
between my teeth.
Included in my new book, Presence!
Also includes my poem,
Reading Atwood at 30,000 Feet
Azure expanses offer no clarity,
only more distance.
I could just as well be over Canada,
Siberia, someplace cold,
as over the American Southwest.
From here, everything is remote:
cities, oceans, failure.
My spine in an upright position,
I removed myself from attendants’ orders
and the hiss of artificial air
even before takeoff.
Strapped in an aisle seat,
I rigidly continue to read.
A glance out the window reveals
what is to be expected
when the world as we know it
has been relinquished:
I take no comfort in knowing
that seats can be used as flotation devices,
as if any body of water
exists between Austin and Albuquerque.
But I do dream of surfacing,
rising out of a ghostly lake;
of gulping air, pungent and pure,
and shimmering like light on water.
Included in my new book, Presence!
Also includes my poem,
"Ways of Leaving"
As the gray waters rose
and the sun disappeared for weeks,
depression descended upon the animals.
Penguins missed the sparkle of ice,
monkeys grew claustrophobic without trees,
groundhogs ached to dig in the earth.
Ants withdrew without busy colonies,
owls couldn't tell when to sleep, when to wake,
Angora goats started losing their hair.
Wolverines fought like schoolyard children,
the female beetle thought menopause hit early,
the male elephant harbored thoughts of suicide.
Sex, too, proved susceptible to boredom.
Soon the cobras claimed headaches;
even the rabbits agreed to separate berths.
Why, they asked in therapy sessions,
were we, of all our species, selected to be saved?
Why were we singled out for this stinking ark?
Fish, on the other hand, flourished
with rain and water everywhere,
their world an aquarium of new adventures.
Cod lost their fear of fishermen's nets;
salmon, their need to run upstream.
Fish multiplied like loaves of Biblical bread,
until the lonely dove returned
with a soggy olive branch,
proof that the waters were abating.
Then the big boat anchored on Ararat
with nary a fanfare or cheer—
depression had turned to apprehension.
Kangaroos were alarmed at sinking into the ooze,
centipedes were unsure of their footing,
turtles feared to leave their homey shells.
The weak and weary animals felt
the terrible burden of procreation
weigh on them like God’s heavy hands.
Knowing their best was all washed up,
each species looked at its mate, warily.
It was time to learn to love all over.
Included in my new book, Presence!
Also includes my poem,
"Fear of Heights"
On Turning Fifty
No longer able to see them,
we talk around our range of dreams.
They float like clouds, we suspect,
among the peaks, up there somewhere,
like that legendary guru divining wisdom.
We long ago surrendered the means
to climb such lofty pinnacles,
ropes and harnesses tossed in the trash
or sold for pennies at garage sales.
Leave scaling mountains to the young,
who continue to believe they’ll be rock stars
or write the Great American novel.
They can fall from great heights—
and still get up. We sympathize,
yet have to laugh at their folly.
While they look up, we look straight ahead,
or down, grounded by bifocals and arthritis.
Dreams are too distant, abstract as math,
so we focus on what we see before us:
no could be’s or could have been’s,
no switchbacks or regrets.
As we start the inevitable downward slope,
our paths have never been clearer.
Let others talk into the face of mountains.
Our crooked bodies curl like cats
in a knot in the center of the bed.
I like that beneath us is a mattress
on which no one but us has slept,
a strong, hard mattress,
made for middle-aged backs,
for stomachs unreigned in the night,
for necks that slope into folds.
Deep creases clothe your nape,
shadows that coil into the pillow.
Neck hairs bristle in scraps of moonlight,
glimpses of glistening silver.
A drudging engine,
your heavy breath fills the room
with fifty-year nasal laments.
I listen till my own lungs
match your respiration,
and I lull toward repose.
Included in my new book, Presence!
In a school full of Marys and Stevens,
Gregorys and Margarets—
everyone named after saints, popes,
or much-touted martyrs—
I stuck out like a Muslim,
the only one without a patron saint.
Even then I suspected it was a sign.
Perhaps it was early defiance
that kept me from being an altar boy.
When the Johns and Michaels
busied themselves in surplices
at the front of the church,
I sat in a pew, waiting for a calling,
with the Lauras and Rachels. None of us
would ever touch a sepulcher.
Friday mornings, we left our themoses
and tuna sandwiches on our desks,
made a pilgrimage to that mysterious black box
imbued with incense and sweat, the confessional.
I waited my turn with the Davids and Dianes,
their fingers wrapped around rosaries.
The tips of my fingers were
bloodied from nail-biting,
as if I had sins as thick as bark to unburden.
Every week it was the same thing,
whether or not I had anything to confess:
I disobeyed my parents,
I missed Mass, etc.
I rejoined the other penitents,
dressed alike in gray and navy blue,
and folded my hands in the steeple position.
Friends’ homes were rife
with crosses, relics, and holy water,
fronds of palms that had been blessed;
the only thing religious in my house,
buried in the hi-fi, was a family Bible,
kept solely for records and tradition.
I secretly gloated, for when the Communists came—
as we’d been assured by nuns they would—
I knew I would be spared,
for my home had no proof of Christianity.
I knew I would deny and renounce,
life more important than faith.
I excelled at Confirmation for I could
memorize pools of appropriate responses,
phrases as sterile as an operating room.
The Catherines and Raymonds
were filled with renewed spirit,
clutching like parachute cords
their scapulars and medals of St. Christopher.
I never wore anything around my neck.
In church I gazed at stained glass,
more interested in luminescent colors
than anything the priest had to say,
even when the Latin switched over to English.
I fainted one day during Mass.
Several parishioners carried me out.
Gasping for air, I awoke to rays of sunlight.
This was my moment of rapture,
the sign that I’d been seeking—
space, air, a God of skies and clarity;
my body outside the doors of Catholicism
as my mind had always been.
Thanks for stopping by! I'd love to hear any comments
you have about these poems!