Learning to Spin

August 24th, 2016

for Tammy

No one who loves her, who enters
a room where she sits, can tell her no.
She will teach you how to spin.
Here is the Turkish drop spindle.
Here is the antique wheel.

“Do not be afraid,” she says, holds out
her daughter’s first skein. “Everyone
hates their first attempts,” she grins,
“but they are the best, so sweetly uneven.”
“Yes,” I say, “Imperfectly perfect—wabi sabi.”

Sitting with her, best friend of my girlhood,
our bond unscathed by years or roads or men,
we are suddenly ancient women, a lineage,
drawing out soft fibers with our fingers,
grieving teenage children living out of reach.

Such wool so easy to pull apart when loose,
so strong when stretched and spun,
unbreakable, the two of us make mother yarn,
spool it onto arms of whorls, one under,
two over, giddy, grateful for the art of plying.


Reclaiming Conversation

August 20th, 2016

For maybe a hundred thousand years or more, grownups have been waving tangles of string in their children’s faces… no wonder kids grow up crazy.
Kurt Vonnegut

Your stories circle her question
before you answer it.
Lean in. Over the café table,
make a cat’s cradle of your life.
With your eyes, ask to pass it.
See if she can fit her fingers
into crisscrossed plots
of who you were before —
Carefully Reasoned Infidelities,
Halted Hungry Ghost Trajectories,
Genuine Anti-Heroine Epiphanies—
and in the passing, make candles,
diamonds of the yarn. She too leans.
Your lover/mother/poet motives
written, stricken, timidly revised,
you hope the tangled page does not
rewrite the you she likes.

with thanks to Barbara

For Honey

August 15th, 2016

Two boys, my thistle blooms
I am searching miles

Belly-ruined by sugar water years
Heart-wrecked memory of nectar

Weakened, I leave the anemic hive
Dip into the radial trail

July 2016

How Could You?

August 4th, 2016

The pot-bellied prairie sky takes off
Its red ball cap, white hair blown awry,
To press its forehead against the window.
Blue eyes squint under cupped hands,
Glare, How could you?

The miscegenists are busy in the kitchen.
I, bro-ho, coalburner, stand at the sink
With a dishwand over a pan.
Hard water encrusts the faucet
With its old song: traitor, traitor.

I don’t hear it. My ears white
As rusted lime scale. Two feet away,
A black man slices blue cheese
On a cutting board. He’s good with a knife.
Figgers, grunts the sky.

We, both quiet at our tasks,
Faces set in peace, mundane attention,
Bare feet bless scuffed linoleum
Of a white farmhouse with a long history
And crumbling foundation.

He lays down the knife.
Perhaps because I glance over
And smile at the symmetric pile of cheese
We bought under fluorescent lights
At the small town local grocery,

Or perhaps because the prairie sky
Is no old man or god peeping, he slips
Behind me, wraps summer-darkened arms
Around my waist. I stop scrubbing
To rest in the blue sky of our miscegenation.


Free Range Bunny Meets Brer Hare

August 3rd, 2016

Trickster tales themselves are tricky; their seriousness is hidden and often overlooked.

~Trudier Harris, “The Trickster in African American Literature,” University of North Carolina

We let her roam about.
Mornings. Afternoons.
She never wandered past the earth.
Dug shady holes in which to rest
From summer heat.
Come dusk, I laughed
As he chased her in a stuttered dance.
Big black man. Fat grey bunny.
Catching her came easier to me.

We fed her pellets, carrots, wilted lettuce.
Thoughtful family economist,
He planned to one day breed her
For cost-effective meat, flavorful and lean.
Resigned, preparing, I once dreamed
He broke a rabbit’s neck, his own neck
Tenderly inclined, while standing in the sea.

Young chickens loved to taunt
And bully her with bobbing beaks,
Lay eggs in the yawning hutch
While she was out. She handled hens
With expert dart and speed.

Once I caught her nose-to-nose
With a wild hare.
Would you like to call him Brer?
We watched them trade full chase
In wide, shifting spirals.
The rancher warned, was right:
Bunny caught Brer’s fleas.
I treated her with powder,
Caged her for over a week.

Finally flea-free, lonely,
On her last release, at dusk
She disappeared.
I searched her usual haunts.
Pile of siding. Propane tank.
Nose twitching, Brer Hare stared at me.
The black man, unsurprised,
Shrugged, his mouth set in sympathy.
Raccoon must’ve carried her off.
We lived a few more weeks.
Sometimes, I thought I caught her
On the breeze.

Yesterday, he found her near the hives
Where weeds are tall as men.
Rich puddle of grey fur
Like cattail down set free,
Vibrating with black crawling beneath.
The only signs of architecture:
One leg bone, bare, pointing at sky.
Spinal column, clean, disembodied
As though hand-laid
By the writhing, silken pelt.
No head to speak of.
I used to kiss her cheek.

(Is it too much to add, to say?):
Today I found Brer Hare
Freshly dead on the edge
Of our drive, hit and thrown
Off the county road
He was bold enough to dare.

Join me, will you, while I try
Not to make a mess, not to cry
Not to make this story mine
Nor metaphorically align
Nor signify.

People are not hares.

July 2016

Spin, Measure, Cut

July 8th, 2016

We sit at screens in grubby kitchens
close to brooms, listen to the hum of houses.

Beets grow in the garden plot. Dill. Tomato leaves
gather heat, billow into fruit to freeze come fall.

Hens wonder where the rabbit went, the one to stalk
and peck when loose. Into weeds, up with wings?

Creatures array around us waiting for food,
New children from whom we garner radial view.

We sit—centers of domestic mandalas—
sit for words, vertigo, attachment to subside.

Sons drive off in our old minivans, eager for life
beyond us. (We once wished for this—a tiny car!)

Emancipated, wordlessness is both
a meditative victory and childless curse.

We never meant to be the kind of woman
whose children usurp her deep sea purpose.

Even forewarned, we worked like men to learn
the mother part, became her—that oar boat, Love.

I’ve lost my crew. Words do not come.
Words that do, my hands contrive and twist—

Spun like cords to tie me to the giant, rolling earth,
or spells to unravel plans for ropes’ other uses.


Off Screen Isocephaly

July 6th, 2016

after Ruth Bavetta’s painting, Chronicle
Ruth Bavetta, Chronicle, oil on linen  48x78 1986
Everyone dressed as passersby,
we wait for the scene, our call,
ignore the orange barricades and cones,
talk of smallish things: Trump, new heat.

The sky is not full of California light
in Iowa, but still we play the polyester parts
assigned to us, squinting, calm as cameras,
relegated to realms of the unseen.

Even the cop whose heavy belt is full
of faux bravado knows: he is but an extra.
The yellow of his close-cropped hair,
his crown of golden bangs, echoes like the sun

across the moment: Charles’ sensible
button-up shirt, Leslie’s too warm
butter golf sweater, Johnny’s thinning part.
In flip flops and short shorts he watches

well-paid leads deliver middleclass malaise
too perfectly. Take after take, how earnestly they
chronicle our pale, hedged lives on tiny screens.
We mutely mouth their plastic lines, practicing.

January 2016

Ample Skin

July 4th, 2016

Searching the closet filled with lycra tank tops
From younger years unplagued by rolls,
I skip them over, perhaps too old at forty-five
To try to look twenty-five or thirty-five.
Too countryfied for a yoga-style, Boulder forty-five.

I’d like not to care about thick arms
Beginning to sag and pucker, hips
That spill over jeans that fit three years ago,
But I hang on to the clothes of my youth
Like a wish, slip into loose summer dresses
I wear only about the house and yard, or jeans
And scoop-neck t-shirts if I’m going out.

My neighbor, wide ranch woman, showed up
In tight tank and shorts today, fully summer-selved.
I reveled in her free flesh, rolling ’round
On riding mower, unafraid to bounce,
Cut down what is overgrown, weed-choked,
Gone to seed, like me and this need to have
Some other body, while this me breathes
And loves the sun and wind without
Permission to bare ample skin.



June 18th, 2016

His teetering tragedy boils her down to salt.
How quickly the pot must fill again—
Water down her need to stay, to save.
Her peeling minerals float, dissolve.
This seems to send him solvent on his way.


In the Sigh

June 18th, 2016

As much as I would like
to claim the cushion as my happy place,
lately, it is rotten with tears.

My nest is in the sigh
that escapes as you touch my locus face,
that, lost, reminds me I am here.


Moving Home

June 5th, 2016

Perhaps my home
Is only one inch away,
A shift by which
I lay my happy self
Upon my unhappy self
Like a silk screen
Just off register,
So my edge blurs,
And my sight blurs,
And my colors breach
Their borders like marks
Of an errant child,
And the place I live
Becomes new
Because I am,
Because I have
Learned a new way
To move home.


The Rise of Sugar

May 10th, 2016

As a child of Illinois
Raised on black pepper,
Unaccustomed to the habaneros
Of adulthood, having not yet
Laughed through tears
With a coughing lover laboring
Over the cast iron pan,

I would pour them in—
Red Hots—to see how long
I could savor the burn
Before spitting them out
Like bloody teeth into my hand,
Before fire gave way
To the rise of sugar.



May 8th, 2016

When Moon ran off with the stars,
Our bodies of water mourned her
By swallowing all the guitars.


The Carpenter

April 24th, 2016

For Lahne

You did not give me life,
But, in choosing her and four of us,
Showed me how love lives
Inside a man when he enfolds
A small girl’s mother in the pause
Of making dinner in a kitchen,
Or calls her My Bride,
A smile in the way he says
Her names, first and middle,
Rocking her to the quiet song
Of the pressure cooker’s
Clicking weight spurting steam.
When we ate, my mother
Served you first.
When she laid down the law,
Your posture—voice calm and firm—
Made us honor her.

A grown woman now, I know:
You did not have to.

You did not have to teach me
How to tie a knot with seven twists,
Hold down fins with a tight grip
To gently pull a hook,
Nor gut, nor skillfully filet a fish.
You did not have to cut a door
For my dog into the shed you built
Nor give her straw for a bed
Nor build a cable run.
You did not have to lend me tools
To make an elephant of a dowel
Nor bet it was impossible
Nor grin and give me a dollar
When I proved you wrong.
You did not have to sing to me
Of pretty bubbles in your pick-up
Nor teach me the joy of ridiculous riddles
Whose answers’ only sense is to laugh.
You did not have to take us—
Take us to the lake to water ski,
Nor thrill us with the roaring outboard,
Sink the stern with speed
To lift us, perched upon the bow,
Children skyward thrown.
You did not have to teach me
Water’s words: port and starboard.
You did not have to wake first
After a night of steady rain
To make us bacon, mush and eggs
While we slept in sagging tents.
You did not have to cry
When my sisters and I sang hymns
Nor hold my hand with your rough one—
Fragrant with Corn Husker’s lotion,
Watching sitcoms on the couch.

You did not have to.

You could not have known
Thirty years later I would see
A carpenter’s pencil—sharpened,
Like yours, into facets with a knife,
Resting flat on my love’s handmade cabinet,
Waiting for his pocket, its lead scent
Praying for the wooden day to begin—
And a deep joy would rise in me
Remembering my true father,
The carpenter who built
A home in me for this.



March 28th, 2016

She was always shifting matter
around herself for maximum happiness.

If enough fat melted off her face
without stealing from her breasts,

if her children would visit long enough
for a day to feel mundane, to the point

that made her long to write
instead of watch their painful shows,

if she could move enough compost,
plant seeds, avoid the biting gnats of June,

she could dial in. She knew the channel
would always slip. Still she tried.

When her hearing started to go and then
her eyes, and no amount of prednisone,

yawning, blinking lids or layers of lenses
brought full sound or focus,

her inner focus sharpened first on anger’s grit,
then the leather of impermanence.

Her body quit to show her where she lived.
No amount of training in that space

prepared her for her not/happiness.
She chased and then refused the place.