Blue Daughters

January 25th, 2016

There are blue daughters
my daughter cannot save.
Hanging from hand knit scarf
and pink bunk bed,
Found by little sister
after Pokemon and macaroni;
Or carried in on Saturday
by a running father
Damning Monday when
his daughter’s flu turns
Hot pneumonia,
limping sepsis. Pulseless.

Fast, I see her humming
over small bodies,
Measuring every nuance:
pupil, grimace, shade
Of skin, curl of leg.
At once a warm machine
Pumping, hands I have held
become small hearts.
Her voice hopeful, urging
sweeties, honeys, kiddos
To breathe, open eyes,
cry in confusion
At the sterile room,
the crowded bedroom
Full of stuffed bears,
Barbies, strangers,
Parents in the corner
of the nightmare.

When thirty minutes pass,
drops form
On her upper lip,
inside her dark blue shirt.
She cycles in and out
with her best friends
Who’ve learned
to massage death in turns,
With cheers and sighs
for fragile victories,
Knowing eyes for the dark
unmooring dawning.

Hours of engine hands
and pulsing drugs,
Electric volts of science,
And existential prayer
may be not enough.
Personnel wipe
their lowered faces, pause;
Stiffly leave the room
where plastic tubes,
Blood-stained gauze,
tiny clothes litter the floor.

My daughter, ever tidy as a girl,
knows the simple
Magic of mundane order:
cleans the mess,
Lifts the child from floor
to lower bunk, arranges
Silken hair around a bruised neck,
brushes wisps
From the blue girl’s
precious forehead.
The crush-faced mother
crawls in bed
With her still daughter,
and my daughter goes, must
Go. Tall. Departs the room,
the house, the hospital.
Calls me, bright voice cracking,
on the drive home.


Christmas Soup

December 26th, 2015

A bag of fifteen kinds of dried beans hid beneath
the box of lasagna noodles all year, maybe two.
Christmas came without kids. Month-old steaks
of ham, for which no one could make room
thanks to turkey, had begun bearding with frost
in the freezer. Why not use them? Dorell suggested
we also throw the ham hock in. I did.

After two and a half hours simmering, the soup
blushed a shade richer than the anemic tan
of Campbell’s Bean with Bacon—the solitary soup
of my youth, my once secret pleasure, slurping alone
over the kitchen table when Mom wasn’t home to cook.
This new color, a quiet victory. The texture, sigh worthy.
Scent of independence. No can opener dripping by the sink.
Handfuls of carrots and onions, two cloves of garlic
and thirty minutes later, the ham fell apart in our mouths.

No salt or pepper required. No special herbs in the broth.
Just water, a forgotten bag of beans and a remembered
gilt pig named Shirley who walked the ramp alone
into the trailer with no human prodding, silent, while I sat
meditating in the house across the field, listening for her,
praying, shedding salt, softening my flesh for some future
feast in which I surely will be no longer guest but course.


Three Bodies in Six Realms
Collage, 2013

December 16th, 2015

Three Bodies in Six Realms, Collage, 2013

Some friends once gave me 30 years worth of National Geographic magazines. A couple years ago, I finally put a few of them to use. This is my first attempt at old fashioned collage using an Exacto knife and glue.

On Screen

November 27th, 2015

While a six- and thirteen-year-old discuss the ethics
of killing each other on screen, make promises,
apologies, and qualify accidental violences
that do occur in the making and mining
of worlds, I sit with my own little dyings,
have the same conversation in my body—
proud publisher of love and self-loathing,
only remotely committed to saving the girl—
dodge my own darts and flames, leap oil
barrels and blind panic snakes, share the battle
with a blank screen where it becomes more real,
becomes words that never heal me completely
but itch and stretch like my three favorite scars,
softened, shrunken, and often forgotten.


Beauty and You, My Son

November 16th, 2015

for Grey

I wish always to be
In some dark theatre

Where the orchestra swells
To carry your voice on its shoulders,

Raising up the love of a Beast
Turned boy-faced man.


The Myth of Singing Legs

November 3rd, 2015

On this day of the dead we found a cricket in a classroom on its back, hind legs spread impossibly perpendicular to its body, the transept of its personal cruciform cathedral. Smaller legs wriggled like Gregor Samsa’s that famous morning in bed, helpless, thinking only of duty, not the dreadful exoskeleton. Sleeping through our alarm, unrecognizable to ourselves, we find ways to roll out, open double doors to our lives with our mouths if we must. Again. Again. But not this cricket. I collected it on a scrap of newspaper print, tossed it under a cottonwood where it was buried by November wind. Brittle leaves the shape of hearts or spades scraped serrated edges on the sidewalk, an homage to the myth of singing legs.


Song of the Longhorn Cowfish

October 30th, 2015

Mysterious calcified fish,
Morbid object of the curious,
Your horned brow
Furrowed in halted effort,
Never more a forward swimmer,
Your mouth is a hole of song:

O! It comes to this!
From skiff of a watery reef
To slick of a faux wood table.
Poets, kiss my hexagonal skin.
Gaze into the sockets of my skull.
Swim into your own indignity.


Questions for the Bell

October 29th, 2015

Who forged you in the slaving time?
Who caught the wax of memory when it fell?
How many have you woken with your clang?
Were you ever full of desperation’s wine?
What battles did your death toll pound?
Whose oily hands have traced your madeleine?
In your calm, did dying soldiers hear the owl?
Did Whitman sob relief upon your final knell?



October 28th, 2015

I know nothing,
Concentric burgeoning rock.
You could be a frozen galaxy,
A halted thought,
Brain of an ancient ape,
Cross section of a tooth
Of a dark French cave.



October 27th, 2015

Behold the shifting
mandala of your wooden thoughts.
Don’t be fooled
by craftsmanship, the glinting shards.
Arrange yourself
as radiating stars upon each turn.
Press your hands
upon your own eyes. Hard!
Watch the lights
of your blooded mind explode.


October Elegy

October 13th, 2015

For my student, Nate Osburn

When fall fell, so did you.
We were not ready for the drop,
The sudden parallel.
The leaves of all your papers, crisp,
Cling still to autumn limbs
Like dreams of your green mind.
Yellow-tinged I gather them
From deep inside the screens.
From wind and loss,
Rake gorgeous piles of words
That were and weren’t you,
But, ever after, worlds.
Your pages now the only places
Left to pause and play
In thought with you—
Brave you who flat refused
Personified paradox,
You for whom the human mind
Was always god enough
Yet never god.
And wasn’t yours a brilliant,
Kindly, honest one.


Annual Work Plan

October 11th, 2015

The year is not a hill.
Push the annual work plan
Aside. Due Friday.

Fill in blanks of travel forms.
Attach receipts with paper clips.
Think meals in terms of per diem.
Not sushi, sake, miso, friends.
Forget the empty gestures
Of distant conferences.
Count miles. Cash in.

Circle words and numbers
On sixteen rubrics.
Learning must be proven
To students
And bottom-line feeders
For whom it is not enough
To assess light in one’s own
Or others’ eyes.

Out here in the dark,
Everything measured,
Ferried for a price.
Your ____________.

Fill in the blank.

Scribble conversations
In margins and hope
Against arms.

Time ticks. More work.
More work. More work.
The to-do list self-goading.
The state mule self-loading.
Note how time erodes.

Note how quickly, how often
It rings: the digital singing bowl
Of Thich Nhat Hahn.
The app you, overloaded,
Downloaded for fun, for free,
A precious boat,
Set to chime about every hour
(Programmed unpredictability)
To wake you out of mire.

When it sounds you pause
One moment to own
Your skin, your silence,
Vast mother holding the stream
Of your moving mind hands.

One second, maybe two,
You close your eyes.
No desk, no screen,
No mechanical pencil.
No end to desk, to screen,
To mechanical pencil.

Ease back in. Submerge.
Open-eyed. Swim.
Breathe beneath surfaces.
Newly gilled. Remember.
Work inside you
Without space is a stone.



September 26th, 2015

You’re parakeet.
I’m hummingbird.
This means nothing to nectar.

I’m milk thistle.
You’re tomato bloom.
Let’s build boxes for bees.

You’re cast iron.
I’m stainless steel.
Who knew the earth could cook?

I’m Russian olive.
You’re cottonwood.
Don’t believe in trash trees.

You’re snare crescendo.
I’m cello smoke.
Song is sung by silence.

I’m camera.
You’re handheld mirror.
Bedtime burns our selfies.

You’re lost button.
I’m tarnished dime.
Whose deep pocket is this?


Or plumes.

September 13th, 2015

Cucumbers too large
For Mason jars or the heart
Dream of being juice


Things to do in Morgan County

September 6th, 2015

Without aversion, sugar beet lime
And dust laden steam

Facing east, lightning—the blood shot eye
Of someone else’s bruised socket

Potatoes growing silent and large,
Red and sightless promising roots

September’s velvet palms; lambsquarters
Make December’s brittle lawn

Through crickets sawing love
In the kitchen, the closet, your head

Wake up
On the rolling prairie
Trying to mimic the firmament