4 AM Finances

January 10th, 2019

Turning and turning
on the dark morning spit

vigilant sleepless
I sizzle and drip

for a thousand licking
mouths of the widening pit.

2019

Sage’s Puja

January 2nd, 2019

Having wandered the Lakshmi gift shop
With my daughter Sage, we end
Our ashram tour in the circular temple.
I stop at guru photos and bow, drop a dollar
In a plate, not personally knowing
The special gift or allure of these holy men,
Only their serious, black eyed gaze.
Sage, a newly hired Tacoma firefighter,
Pauses before photos and paintings, too,
Asks, Who is this? The Divine Mother.
And this? Babaji. And here’s Shiva, I say,
Knowing she knows only his Nataraja form,
Brass dancer engulfed by a ring of fire
Who roamed the bookshelves
And windowsills of her childhood home.
Having walked the solemn perimeter,
This woman who nearly burned down
Her bedroom twice before fully grown
Comes to the fire extinguisher
Near the door, taking its modern place
On a wall of ancient gods and saints.
In slow reverence, she lifts her hand
To touch the words Cold Fire.
Sighing, ignited, she throws a glance
At her firefighter fiancé,
Her smiling mouth beatific, aflame.

2019

The Closest Ones the Brightest

December 26th, 2018

On a day of domestic nouns, undecorated,
This Christmas refuses to go retrograde
Or snooze through the moment by resurrecting
High-buzzing toy trains or the forsythia bush
I planted when my sister died. My nostrils
Did not flare in sorrow over chemo anecdotes.
Sunlight yellowed only the mountain range.
Wrapped in a blanket, feet propped on the porch,
I slipped into a micro nap and woke to coyotes
Broadcasting the new minutes of evening.
Juncos flitted behind me in the pines.
Later, walking piñon trails of moon-lost night,
Strange flashlight throwing sight forward
And back at once to warn our single-filed feet
Of stones, I thought of red clay, the joyful skill
I find my fingers still possess, of gently pinching,
Smoothing shoulders, clavicles, muscled necks,
Of fashioning tiny human forms for company,
Of Nü Wa, Chinese goddess, who carefully molded
The noble from yellow earth and, tiring,
Gave up to make the poor by dipping a rope
In mud and flicking it about, dropping dollops
Of common folk, elbows bent to serve.
Thank gods the thick Milky Way sparkled me
Out of my head and cold thighs itched me
Out of Marxist bitterness because my dog was
Out of town, not stitching me with dog bliss
To the night, the sandy mountain trail all his.
Only my man was by my side, quiet, digesting
Chili and cinnamon rolls, both of us making
Walking sounds, his boots clicking, my jacket
Swishing, both of us squinting at headlights
Crawling up Road T, heading our way, gaining
Elevation, the closest ones the brightest.

2018

Laceleaf

December 26th, 2018

Anthurium leaves are poisonous. They contain calcium oxalate crystals that cause severe burning in the mouth. Guide to Houseplants

Five shredded leaf tips
Glossy red bloom ragged too.
Still the cat returns.

2018

Atlas

December 25th, 2018

miles by miles grey cloud
blanket balanced just atop
Challenger’s flat peak

Dec. 25th, 2018

Outside My Classroom Window

December 13th, 2018

Wind-whipped black trash bags—
Dumpster flags flap above sill.
No, two ravens shine.

2018

The Guitar

December 7th, 2018

A guitar watches a blue boy
play video games all day.
Its blind eye does not blink.
He cannot think of school.
Strings vibrate when he
laughs in vanished victory,
groans in bloodless defeat.
Xs shine in his eyes, ask
Why do anything?
The guitar has no reply.

2018

Welfare State

December 3rd, 2018

You Tom Buchanans
You Ayn Rands
You million- billionaires
Who hold out soft hands
You forgetful heirs
Who suck
On birth-earned generations
Of well-invested
Family-sponsored welfare:

Spare us—
The teaching poor
The working class
Paying off
Our bloated master’s
Who never wake
From nightmares
Of looming financial
Or bodily disaster—
Your judgment

For begging more pay
Or worse, to suck
Your hoarded
Christian taxes
While we pinch
Days and months
To fund your profits
Your endless battles
Where you send kids
Who trade the bodies
We made them
For promises
Of health care, travel
Education
To die protecting
Your subsidized
Hand me down
Speculations.

2018

This Day,
Minus Love and Cold Potatoes

November 22nd, 2018

Put off cooking. Pour Horizon low fat eggnog into Solar Roast coffee. Sit on the couch where you slept last night with two dogs. Leo yours, Lucy a travelling friend’s rescued rez dog known for fearing men.

Her barking calls you out of sleep. Dimly take it in: your lover rising in warm bare skin, silhouette calling out the door, down the hall, voice high and kind, unlike the one he gives your cat: “Lucy, Lucy, shhhh….” She does not stop. Thirty-two toenails tap the bamboo floor, pace in a state of high alert.

At first, you are proud of Leo’s vocal restraint, then concerned. Not much of a protector, his specialty is fending off grazing deer. Touched by your man’s tenderness toward the animal wrecking his sleep and feeling responsible for taking on dog-sitting without his consent, when Lucy starts her ruckus yet again at ten till one to warn you of your son’s peanut butter and jelly driven post-party intrusion, you rise, slip into a t-shirt, backwards, inside out, lie down on the second-hand sectional couch, call the dogs to join you. The fire he made still ablaze, without a blanket, you doze in its orange window, dogs quiet now, and dream.

You wander a land of Mormons, testing sanitized realms, re-reading pre-internet tracts, artfully dodging earnest, clean-cut men and skirted wives. Certain you could never return, you wake relieved and fall asleep again. Twice you dream of going back to bed, to him, only to wake in two separate dreams of Lucy’s barking, after which you really wake, drooling on the couch in moonlight, fire licking lowly, dogs snoring or nervously skittering. You let them out to pee. Lucy barks at night in general, laughing coyotes north of here, cousins of her friends at home a mile uphill. Leo smiles at her audacity. They settle in a final time. You leave the couch, return to bed’s oblivion. It might be half past three.

Kitchen sounds pull you partly out of sleep, imagining your love making cinnamon rolls, the KitchenAid churning, flour sifting snow on countertops while coffee drips its promises. You think this life is good, arise, vaguely plan to write, even though, entering the kitchen, you see he is only doing dishes, tall in thick cotton navy robe, the king of morning. You bury your face between shoulder blades, steam pressing against your clasped hands. He thaws.

Then begins the gathering of packages and cans of your mother’s Thanksgivings: King’s Hawaiian Sweet Rolls, Great Value French-fried onions, French-sliced green beans, Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup, Pepperidge Farm stuffing, Full Circle boxed chicken broth. The month’s belt too tight for most organics, you shake it off, decide there is no hurry, abandon cans for the couch and coffee and him, where this poem begins.

When his little girl wakes, she goes for the iPad first thing, begins her Roblox binge. Soon, you coax her from the screen, together start the pies with Libby’s can of pumpkin, three fist-sized Granny Smiths. Rolling your actual granny’s butter-flavored Crisco-burdened piecrust, you feel blissfully, not quite ignorantly, thankful, take your place in American history, happy despite your interrupted middle class night and economic iniquities, pray the destitute in Crestone’s nearby mountain caves can forgive you the way you forgave the rich for selling you this day, minus love and cold potatoes you dug up yourself: purple and golden knots of hard hope you found beneath the freeze.

2018

The Andersons’ Thanksgiving Turkey

November 14th, 2018

They feed me like a queen.
Ahk! I’m too fat to stand on my own feet!
Please give me more of that fancy seed.
Why does this red water make me so serene?

2018
I wrote this riddle poem as an example for my middle school students who are learning how to liven up their writing by using all four sentence types: declarative, exclamatory, imperative, and interrogative. Their riddles were sometimes hilarious, sometimes cryptic, and they learned something about the power of sentence variety to boot! Woo hoo! Who knew I’d love teaching middle schoolers this much?

Dissolving the Body

November 10th, 2018

Brown curls fade like meteors
Across an inner sky.
My head, a solid thought of starlings,
Parts and spreads.
Fingers fizzle out like sparklers in July.
Arms swirl like sand bars
Stolen by midnight prairie flood.
There goes my heart, a shattered
Glass in slow motion rainbow.
Blood, what becomes of blood? Mist?
Lungs disperse like a careless cough.
My lunch is carried off in my guts
By invisible vultures.
Hips loosen their grip on motherhood’s
Lingering ache and break into light.
My legs explode and lift
Like two burst pillows in a gust of wind.
These feet go walking as dust into dust
In a million glinting rays.
My stories move and move through
Edgeless space like radio waves
Transmitting all the tongues and songs
And breaking news and silly sitcoms
Of humankind. I laugh a laughless
Laugh track, completely uncanned.

2018

On Chickens: A Pastiche

October 21st, 2018

Small town Illinois girl, once London-lost,
now Colorado-, I feed chickens
plastic-packaged crumble. Crumbled what?
It’s non-organic. Half the cost.
It worries me I can’t afford to do the right thing.[1]
It’s winter. Foraging is over. Grasshoppers live
in my omelet even when I forget every bone
and bird and worm has spirit in it.[2]
What spirit lives in crumble?

Other times, excruciatingly alive, [3] I flinch.
Once, a white local rancher/landlord told my man
(must you know he’s black?)
The previous tenant—white trash—
nigger-rigged the bathroom plumbing.
We didn’t say a thing, just blinked.
Later, chewing chicken fajitas, he laughed,
Maybe I’ll just Digger-rig* it. He didn’t say,
Cast down your bucket where you are,[4]
though this is what he has to do. Unruffled,
Nebraska born, he perfectly plumbed
that bathroom. He didn’t say, We wear the mask. [5]
Unemployed, last night he dreamed his legs
were white like mine when he removed his pants
to give them to the homeless San Francisco man.

What does his skin have to do
with mine? Middle aged, I have cried
that we will bear no blackish child [6]
nor have to hide my father’s
cherished 19th century will
in which a slave was passed down to a son.
I won’t forget my father’s gleeful, childhood
march to Beethoven. Kill the Jews! Kill!
he dreamed they must have sung.
Or ever hear him say,
Let those I love try to forgive
What I have made. [7]

Instead of eat[ing him] like air, [8]
I [ache] as if he were already gone. [9]
Unlike my solid daughter, I crumble,
feed myself to flightless chickens
I’ve never had to steal
nor slaughter.

April 2014

 _______________________________

*A small town high school football team is called the Beetdiggers. Fans refer to themselves as “Diggers.”

All excerpts are from The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Concise, 1st Edition, edited by Paul Lauter:

[1] Sherman Alexie, “What you Pawn I Will Redeem,” p. 1603
[2] Gloria Anzaldua, Borderlands/La Frontera, p. 1457
[3] Gloria Anzaldua, Borderlands/La Frontera, p. 1458
[4] Booker T. Washington, “Up from Slavery,” p. 517
[5] Paul Laurence Dunbar, “We Wear the Mask,” p. 465
[6] Gwendolyn Brooks, “A Bronzeville Mother Loiters in Mississippi,” p. 1052
[7]  Ezra Pound, “CXX,” p. 637.
[8] Sylvia Plath, “Lady Lazarus,” p. 1175
[9] Alison Bechdel, “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic,” p. 1637

Still Life

September 21st, 2018

Hiking trails of the greenbelt between Crestone and the Baca for almost a year now, I can’t help but notice the random piles of old junk left by squatters and wanderers of bygone eras—hippies, or even further back, miners—under the pinion pines. Stripped trucks, ancient refrigerators, gorgeous mounds of rusty old tin cans whose lids still hang on by a thread decades after feeding someone who didn’t mind cold beans.

Last night one smallish can caught my eye so I picked it up, thinking I might draw it. The inside was full of dirt, powdered rust and bleached grasses caught in abandoned spider webs. When I shook the dark red powder out, the can coughed and spoke in a voice old and gruff, like a slurring drunk bachelor with chew in his mouth.

“Whaddaya want?” the old can said. “I can give it’ya.”

“I want this,” I said, surprised at my spontaneous conviction, and even more startled by my lack of embarrassment or personal concern to be talking to an ancient can.

“This?” the can hissed. “You want this?”

“Yes, this. This sandy, cactus straddled trail. This dog smiling, tongue flopping, as he zigzags back and forth, peeing on every rabbit brush he passes. My house with dishes crusted with Cream of Wheat in the sink. My husband piling wood. My job corralling restless kids into words and paint. My loving, befuddled, Fortnite-comforted sons struggling to become men in the outrage of Trump. My aging face. My ratty hair threaded with wiry white. All this.”

“Your wish is granted,” he said with a force that spit out a piece of grass that picked up a small draft and floated away.

I studied his fragile edges as dusk fell. I placed him on a shelf. He hasn’t spoken since.

Music of the Spheres

September 15th, 2018

We’re all here, and we’re watching a concert
that will never be replicated exactly the same.

Ólafur Arnalds

A soft voiced man from Iceland
samples mute pianos, feeds the songs
to lovely code that sends the notes
again to ivory. Euclidean algorithm,
the disembodied spirit plays the keys.
Did he say code arranges songs
more human than hands can fashion?

Unimagined tinkling patterns grow,
play one time and ever gone. Inimitable.
Choked, we scroll. We scroll. Commenters
weep without knowing why, string together,
post, well-timed slide shows of nature photos
matched with Arnalds’ almost-sorrow sounds.

Marry wood and spring machines to new
machines to snow, to ice to ears to hearts,
to eyes fixed on handheld windows. Kitchens,
beds, desks and couches glow with solitude.
Outside, choirs of crickets mix the stars.

2018

A Fall Poem

September 5th, 2018

White fuzz on the potted rosemary might kill it
if I don’t do something. Lazy or too busy.
I don’t make the nontoxic spray.
I place the pot in the rain, hope its spores
don’t drift to other plants. Accept its days
are limited. Late summer. Three volunteer
larkspur in fake terracotta, ferny mysteries
that came with the house, are dead, the basil dwarfed,
petunias barely blooming one per scanty stalk.
High altitude abundance pulls back into a paler self.
I rip open papery tripartite pods, cast black seeds
like pepper over the deck. Don’t hope.

Just weeks ago larkspur were cornflower blue,
my childhood’s favorite waxen color.
But I am writing to forget the smell of crayons.
I am writing because my words are scabs
doing work on the cheap while Poetry shouts
and jabs its signs at air, wanting something
more than tired father woe. The scabs
have nothing else to say but this: My dad is dead,
my dad is dead, and I don’t dream or even sense him
in his favorite songs. I can’t project my grief
to make him seem alive in Jacob’s ladders.

What did I expect? I dropped his church
in a canyon south of Lehi. Red rock. So what
if I fed him ice cream in a busy parking lot, drove him
restless up to witness Mount Timpanogos
one more time while listening to LDS radio broadcast
hushed tones of patriarchs and tender wives
in interview selling the dream
of eternal benevolent fathers. It almost felt true.
I’ve no pendant of his thumbprint on my throat.
I only have his hands. And feet. Huge chin. Square cheeks.
I passed them on to children, as will they. Eternally.

It doesn’t matter. Everything you have,
he proudly told me once, you’ve done on your own.
Or something like that. A backwards compliment.
Another way to leave me nothing but myself.
Another way to slap the back of his own painful honesty,
polish this facet of his charming self-lashing:
how great I turned out without him. His absence:
the great hand that rolled, coiled, fired and filled me.
This cracked pot can’t hold him anymore.

2018