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.

2016

Moonless

May 8th, 2016

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

2016

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.

2016

Matterless

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.

2016

After the Blizzard,

March 25th, 2016

she said, Let’s go outside.
The hen house was warm enough.
Their water was water, not ice.
She gathered eight eggs in her hands,
steadied them against her breast.

To spare the kitchen floor her boots,
she perched the pretty eggs upon his pants
crumpled on the mudroom bench.
She stepped again into the chill,
scanned the yard. He called.

Crunching through the driveway snow
she saw him at the mouth of the garage
behind the guest house—red, the one
he built from an ancient shed
and named, to her delight, The Cottage.

He smelled of smoke.
He smiled and spoke of plans for walls.
Do you smell smoke? he asked.
She laughed, Why hide it?
and mostly meant it. He laughed too.

I’m going to check the chicks,
she said, and stepped into his footprints
to the cottage where a heat lamp
was their winter sun for weeks.
Snow filled the doorway.

She kicked it free, pushed in.
The house exhaled a cloud.
The black tub smoked and glowed.
She didn’t want to look, but did.
The rush of air had set a fire free.

Pressed against the tub’s black wall,
five chicks were hunched together
inches from the little fire rising
from a blackened disc of pine chips
reaching up to crack the sagging lamp.

She pulled the lamp, dropped the tub
upon a drift and quickly snuffed the fire.
Chicks pecked at their tiny mound of snow.
The house stood red. The man looked on.
I thought I smelled smoke, he said.

Neither let the other take the blame.
What could have been was not.
The weightless joy of unearned luck
followed them like hungry chicks,
like fire’s love of oxygen, all day to bed.

2016

Cartography

March 14th, 2016

No longer a stop
On her father’s route,
A woman reads
His 19th century maps.
They cannot lead
Her home or past him.

2015

Off Paper

March 4th, 2016

No official
game
for a man and woman
grown
to live on eggs,
night
reachings, baby
Babelings,
having thrown the given
names
to love off paper.

2016

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
quiet 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.

2015

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.

2015

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.

2015

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.

2015

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.

2015

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?

2015

Geode

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.

2015