October 25th, 2016
“They All Slept Here” by Ilenia Pezzaniti

“They All Slept Here” by Ilenia Pezzaniti

Our bed is not stained with droplets
of old blood. There is no chair on which
to prop an Impressionist print
of two ladies walking away with parasols,
nor antique TV pixels jealous of their stillness.
We have no faux wood headboard.
Our room is no hotel or photo.

A blue, white and green
painting hangs over our heads,
large with trying to be water and air
and the space between,
as though three elements could be
simple color and their memory enough
to soothe me in the dark on clean sheets.

Startled awake, my pulse believes
you are the man on screen
stranded in the middle of a road
walking away from death,
helicopter hovering overhead,
disembodied voice seeing just enough
of size and skin to summarize you.

Any move you make to reach for phone,
I.D., risks your body’s claim
to blue, white and green.
No last pixilated text I’m on my way.
From above, at dusk, we don’t know
if the bloom on your shirt
is black or red.

I blink in the dark.
I can’t see you.
You breathe, refuse screens.
Pressed against your heat,
I let you sleep.


Renku with Plums

October 24th, 2016

Five plums on three tables,
Six poets hunch over pens
To start their renku

My pen shakes with fear
The silence calms these thorns

My voice echoes in harmony
But the words are garbled
And confusion reigns

A storm blows in from the west
Thunder and wind shake us

Shatter of tree trunk
Now even the breath is old
The end comes too soon

But the middle blooms hyacinth and rose
Aspen embrace and feed each other

Their roots hold hands deep in the earth
Send up new-barked bodies
That bears mark with claws

That laces eyes with scars
Steadily willing to see

Seeing is overrated
Sometimes it is good
To close eyes and be

Ears bring in the news
Delicate and slender or wide and wild

If good news, beware,
As bad news is hiding somewhere
If bad news, cheer, good news is near

Your dear hide and tan
Hide beneath life’s skin

The skin of this plum
Is already dreaming of teeth
It wants to know its inner color


(Made at Ziggies Poetry Festival, July 2016, with Jimi Bernath, Valerie Szarek, James Steele, Cathy Casper, and a woman whose name escapes me, my apologies. Learn more about the Renku form here.)

Poem for Wilma Mankiller

October 10th, 2016

A found poem from her biography,
Mankiller: A Chief and Her People, pages 226-229

The entire family rolled chaos
To have a pure prayer.

I tried death, felt its gift
As the woman who lived before,
The woman who lives afterward.


To the mailbox, onto the ground,
Grapefruit, pencil, hairbrush,
Toothbrush, vision of fingers,
Hands, arms, throat, water,
Forty pounds, nose, eyes.

Closed, my existence.

I broke, breathing death,
Absolutely still.

My God! That is what I have!
A good mind.


Renku with Puncture Vine

October 10th, 2016

Goat-heads stick in my rubber soles.
The feral cat follows me too close.
I trip, lose a shoe, foot a pin cushion

Of porcupine quills
Screaming rock lyrics to the stars.

Can you hear me?
Can you feel me?
Shall I poke you harder?

I wipe my soles on the mat outside.
Later, in the mudroom, my lover groans, “Ouch!”

Rachel Kellum
Timmy Fritzler
Dorell Drake

Learn more about the Renku form here.

Stay Put

September 23rd, 2016

The prairie has stolen
nothing from you
you didn’t bury yourself.

Winds continue to blow
tumbleweeds and red cushions
off two wicker chairs.

You replace them again, again—
stack broken concrete blocks
on your lap to stay put.


Someday I Will Love Rachel Kellum

September 23rd, 2016

When your father no longer remembers you,
you will leap from his forgiven salty head—
idea he never had—and try on that small body,
one he didn’t make. You will come too soon.

You will gather your own new nakedness.
You will stare into your own huge eyes
and take a milkless milk from yourself, two
suns will rise over the earth of your own breast.

You will laugh at your perfect toes, such tiny peas,
pretend to gobble them before you stand,
try them out, take your first wobbled step,
catch yourself, straighten up, release.


Cold Storage

August 30th, 2016

Store your hearts in the cellar
Packed in cool, damp sand. Don’t worry.
They’ll last. Grow dozens with an ancient sun.
You can’t eat your hearts out all at once.

Let frost kiss their shoulders every fall
Before you pull them. Leave the clinging dirt.
Eat the nicked and bruised ones first
Lest they spoil the rest with rot.

Work your way through the toughened stash
Smallest to largest by each winter’s end,
Compost whatever withered ones are left,
Except for the hearts you’ve saved, still firm,

For cancer’s next off-season call,
Small lungs drowned in meconium tar,
Beloved lost in plots of self–harvest,
Your father’s final disregard: death.


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.
My love, 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 ravel 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.