Final Grief

January 29th, 2018

The edgeless hole
you left in my childhood
chest awaits.

I beg life. I beg you.
Let me lower
your body into that grave.

Let me shovel dirt
over every lost and never-made
memory of you.

Let me tuck you into earth
with my story,
hide you like a bone.

I’ll lean on my shovel and sob.
Roll out a rectangle of sod.
Lie over you like a dog.

I’ll sit up. Stand like sky.
Walk back into my life,
your living tombstone.


This Kind of Night

January 19th, 2018

Live among people who revel in quiet.
Let night be fully night.
Exit the dim house with Leo on leash.
House lights homely earth stars—
Sky has swallowed the neighbors.
Leo pulls me into darkness with his nose.
Roads wait black and silent minutes.
The giant empty sound gets inside.
Let’s sit on the winter porch and listen
Past midnight, see if quiet minutes
Churn to hours.

Leo gets nervous. A pack
Of valley coyotes howl. Their yipping
Such a tonal range of clownishness.
Think their laughter human.
Listen close for people chiming in,
As I would like to. Join the coyote din.
A second mountain pack
Starts up its echo ruckus in duet.
House dogs cough a husky bark or two
Of distant memory, genetic mourning
For a tongue now lost to them.
Leo squeals a whimpered beg to walk,
Not stop to listen to the night.

From middle of the road, we shuffle
To the shoulder, then a neighbor’s dark drive
When headlights beam their distant crawl
Toward us, throwing light through stands
Of piñon pine like flashlights cutting up
A wild colonnade. And our six legs. Like prey,
Long shadows scramble mad for cover.
Once the car has passed, its path a thinning hiss
Of asphalt kissing wheels, I hold my breath,
Look up at Taurus, almost disappear.

No wonder now—that cosmic gleam
In longtime locals’ eyes. This kind of night,
Given time, will have its way with everyone.
Make us not quite right for well-lit city life. There,
In debt, I shred my heart to pass through nets.
Swim in schools for coins and loans. Self-turncoat.
Jealous, uncomfortable, I’ve feigned fun shrugging off
The Crestone gaze, a bit too wild and bright
To live for bills alone. It dawns, this place
Will night my face, star my eyes. By then I doubt
I’ll even care if colleagues look surprised.


Walking the Green Belt

January 12th, 2018

Piñon desert paths remember
All our feet until the wind.

Post office bound, his dog ahead sniffing the way,
I swear I see my son’s size ten Converse tread

Of yesterday, homeward bound from school,
Slightly off the choppy sea of dog paws

And mule deer hooves, the scattered
Patterns of factory made soles in sand.

Imagining his solitary walk, I grin: his cheeks
Rosy with winter, blue eyes scanning

For prickly pear, then, the sudden upward glance
At sky, his left foot stepping just there.


Zen and the Art of Moving
Back into the Middle Class

December 26th, 2017

The new house starts out pure space.
We imagine living in it this way, empty,
Like monks or motes, needing nothing
But to float on light, to wake from a dream.

The trucks roll in with couches and beds,
Boxes of clothes we forgot we owned,
Too many dressers, four decades of Nat Geo,
Easels, two hand-me-down wheels and a kiln.

We break our backs on the chance
There will be time to paint, throw clay, collage.
(Where to store old paintings without a garage?)
Pans! Spices! Bowls! Books! Zafus! We’re home!

Space fills and fills like a mind. We settle in.
The couch is comfortable. Most of the clothes fit.
Enlightenment comes: we are not monks, but parents.
A teacher. A carpenter. A commute. A mortgage.

Left Pointer Finger Relearns her Place in the Scheme of Poetry

December 16th, 2017

Can she type now? Having lost her outer corner to a paper cutter, not unlike a jaunty, tilted beret lifted off by sharp wind, she donned flesh colored bandages a month, forgot how to work unencumbered by pain, accustomed now to pointing up like a tea pinky, up and out of the way.

(Her beret: a bit of faded pink me-jerky topped by white feather of nail. Grotesque little hat! I can’t throw you away! The day we parted, I dreamed of tossing you into roadkill in hopes a Sangre de Cristo raven would take you in and up like a Tibetan vulture’s prayer. But still you sit on a bedside shrine! Abject object of attachment! )

This poem, the first since then, is practice to get her moving again. Her fingerprintless tip, in pins and needles of severed nerve sleep, tries to remember an old dream. She doesn’t hurt anymore.

(Middle finger–still protecting her little sister–strains to hold back on the keyboard, slowly learns to step aside and let her walk again.)

Despite dried tension—the clear-scabbed, tick-sized fact clinging still to the middle of what is raw, she insists: Let me do it! I can type! Right thumbnail bumps her on her way to B. The little cringe passes quickly, whispers: best to keep a honeyed bandage on her one more day till all is finally thin, pink baby skin. What a miracle! Our edges crawl to close around a deep rose center.

December 15, 2017, exactly one month later

Our Range

October 29th, 2017

Even in two beds mountains apart—
An hour drive, two thousand plus feet of sky
Between—I whisper the usual to him, to night.

His name a sigh breathed against memory
Of his shoulder rising up a peak that falls to face & thigh.
Window streetlight sun glows wide behind.

To whom can I pray: spare this silken range of man.
Let us rise & rise. Warm with kiss & palm I climb,
My own eroding peaks in slow collide.


The Mississippi of Motherhood

October 17th, 2017

In the midst of rhapsodizing endless lost days spent at home with my children as babes, toddlers, kids—their faces terrifying lights of innocence looking up, trusting I’d give everything, which I mostly willingly did—those days before a black hole swallowed my resolve, my bed, my home, and finding myself now sitting with my 15 year old son, the baby, who’s lived with his father for years, watching the movie he chose, Colossal—not one I would choose, but touched, nonetheless, he wanted to watch it with me, knowing I’d like the fight sequences, which I mostly did—I am reminded of the Romantic sublime inside the silence of mothering, those eternal minutes, swept up in children rivers, not drowning, no resting, no branches, no bottom, just treading in place yet moving by giant steadfast current, no white water thrill, just slow and brown, the Mississippi of motherhood, water in my ears, shore out of sight, I could never fully surrender to the pull, nor to the brown depth, and yet, with only three years left in my last child’s childhood, I can think of no other timelessness I’d fancy more than the terrifying boredom of slow witness: the mystery of my boy’s voice cracking into man, his whiskers, his leg and armpit hairs thickening by the minute. Please, life, I beg: take my regret, mundane me to bliss, trade me my every regret for this.


The Deep Sleeper’s Scheme

October 14th, 2017

Our bed, a shallow tin—
I am the turning key.
Our blanket is the lid.
You are the cold sardine.
Come morning, snuggle in.


Reading your Copy of Garrison Keillor’s Good Poems

September 29th, 2017

I love to read your dog-eared book:
“No Tool or Rope or Pail,”
page one-fifty-nine.
“After the Argument,”
page one-thirty-one.
Of course, “since feeling is first,”
page one-twenty-seven,
and “The Middle Years,”
Ninety seven’s “Sonnet”
made me rush below.
Finding poems whose pure pages
you have innocently creased,
defaced for your own sake,
is like walking into a private sanctum,
reading in secret the stains,
the dapple of your mystery.

S Mountain

September 29th, 2017

Salidans love S Mountain, and so do I.
It reigns above the Arkansas,
Over little streets like a weathered ziggurat,
One road spiraling off its peak.
Though I’ve always clucked my tongue
At the sight of crosses carved or hearts
Or letters drawn on hills or mountain tops,
Somehow the giant S is a quiet marvel,
Especially when it peers above low clouds
Like Olympus watching over the town,
A place for bicycles, rafts and tiny gods.
A girl named Shea says the S stands for her.
A local preschool teacher/bartender
Says it actually is the number 5,
An oracle warning naïve nomads
How many jobs they’ll need to survive
Here in paradise.


Outside the Path of Totality

September 29th, 2017

I never knew my hands were cameras,
Their tiny spaces human
Pinholes of Renaissance technology and dreams,
Projecting what is upside down
To trace the world’s lines.

Unable to look up,
I filter bitten sun through fingers.

How did we get here? This point
Where men no longer fear
Gods will steal the day forever for our hate,
Marching through streets with torches,
Effigies of burning crosses, effigies
Of black bodies flaming in leaves.

Even the leaves of lynch trees
Become apertures.
How dare you strive to turn the oak
Against the sun?

Countless crescent suns
Shimmer in astonishing shadows at our feet.

Black feet of the man I love—
Warped with work and callouses,
Black feet I have rubbed with oil,
Touched with lips, toenails like moons,
Their clippings, eclipsed suns—
Walk this earth.

That day in a pause at work,
He took a photo of tree shadows
To give me all the smiling suns,
Sent it through air to me
Taking the same picture to send to him
In the pause of my own day,
Nudging students to care, to see,
To say something.

How dare you strive to turn the trees
Against this love?
We cannot be obscured.
Our eyes are moons and suns at once.
Arms wrap around each other’s sore backs,
Black hands warm on white skin,
White hands warm on black,
Who is eclipsing whom? No one.

We are love, unstoppable phenomena.

One student called it awesome and awful.
We have no control of it. Heatless light.
Another called it midday dusk and dawn.

Take off your cardboard glasses.
Drop your eyes to earth.
Bless light filtering trees.
Look through your own hands
And weep.


Two Eclipse Haiku

September 24th, 2017

Moon, a black finger,
Slides through a bright diamond ring.
Midday marries night.

The moon was a coin
Eating the sun, dark money
Eating light from us.

21 August 2017

River Rich

September 7th, 2017

One would think there’d be nothing hard
to say once you’ve arrived
at the river that haunted you for years,
now the front yard of your employment.
You engage in weeding thistle
from its rocky banks, leave lanky mullein
though someone’s been breaking off the seedy head.
Inside the old steam plant, new with community,
you enact newfound ineptitudes,
no longer resident expert of an arcane field
of words and rules that never helped you
better tally night’s profit, fairly divvy tips,
sell concert tickets, juggle small town/
small office alliances.
The art of being novice is not simple.
How many times must you ask, must they repeat,
the proper string of clicks, the ratios of coffee
or powdered lemonade to water?
Undrunk, the river rolls by.
The forgotten pitcher of a hot July wedding
handed over with grace for you to refill
must be received with gratitude, humility,
with memory of every well-tipped waitress
of your short stint in middle class life
in which bills were not your 3 am,
your sunrise thought. (The old game:
you don’t know what you’ve got.)
To live in the land of the river rich
you learn to serve them, entertain.
Later, on a whim, on a day so cool
and bright that you feel rich despite
the pre-order checkbook glance—
you sit on a patio by the river. You write,
foolishly order fish, sip one martini full of honey
to celebrate the fact there are beekeepers
you will meet in the morning
for their annual gathering, their water goblets
and vats of lemonade already waiting
in the kitchen and conference rooms next door.
In black dress, near black dressed tables
you smoothed with your own palms,
you will greet them with a smile.
Eager to improve your single backyard hive,
in doorways, you will take notes
on their lovely, troubled lives.


I’m From

September 3rd, 2017

after George Ella Lyon, with my students

I’m from TVs the size of fridges,
Atari squeals, Simon, Merlin, Intellivision.
The lazy dust cloth, the working mother’s hiss:
“Hit and miss, Rachel. Hit and miss.”
I’m from vacuum trails in plush red carpet,
A mustard house on a frontage road
And truckers’ begged highway horns—
Wah Waaaaaaaaaaah!
We kids would jump in triumph.

I’m from floral couches, floral papered walls.
It felt like home until a college peer up north
Noted, “20 years out of vogue.” Huh. It was.
Still, I am from my mother’s red geraniums,
Acrid marigolds along our walk, the peeling iron rail,
The 3-inch heels on which she perched while pulling weeds.
I’m from low sky wet on hair frizz and clean skin.
From Pepsi and popcorn family nights.
From pizza without parents and thrown-phone sister fights.

I’m from “The man sits at the head of the table”
And “Serve him first” and Troy, Rebecca and Kim,
From my mother’s pride in goulash
And hamburger cottage cheese lasagna.
I’m from ten cents per her plucked grey hair.
I’m from Granny’s hidden grudge—her flaky piecrust
Made me know a different kind of love,
Her lips turned from my kiss.
I’m from “As I have loved you, love one another”
And the rumble-belly of Fast and Testimony meetings.
From “I know this church is true” and “Cool beans! Warm corn!”

I’m from the muddy Mississippi, the cardinal of Carpenter Park,
The Sangamon and baptisms for the dead.
I’m from the buttered cob and lumpy cream of wheat,
The smell of my step-dad’s Sanka coffee.
From the father who left us on a black Kawasaki,
The mother who curled up into a claw.
I’m from her desperate call: “Go to H-E double toothpicks!”
And Dad’s lonely basement cot.

I’m from Pine Drive, the tangled woods and Tammy,
From jerky-dead pigs in the yard of an abandoned farm,
From canned goods still shelved in the half burnt house,
From straw that caught me once I dropped the rope,
From Illinois lightning risked in wet grass
And Orion blinking on a hungry dog’s pen.
I’m from the snowman I was never meant to build,
Pneumonia outrun by my dare.

I’m from back roads that throw kids from cars
Into Heavenly Father’s arms. From long prayers.
Driving fast, I’m from ever-receding rows
Of green tongued corn, horizon swallowed in the throat
And in the heart of fields. But it’s been years.
I’m from God and corn no more, but still I yield.


To my little sister, dying

July 17th, 2017

When it all started to slip,
you crumbled on the overstuffed sofa and cried,
My hands look so old. Saliva stretched across
the quiet chasm of your mouth. Sobs stormed through.
I reached for you, crumbling too, trying to shake
the feeling you believed your life
was not what it was supposed to be,
that your husbands and your church didn’t deliver
what you were promised if you were good
(which you were not, you wearily presumed).
And so you took what you got
from doctors and priests in dark suits
and it was not enough to heal you.

Blazing, I desperately willed my muscled love Enough
to shine on all your night secrets and patriarchal shame
with such brilliant unflinching beams
that tumors would turn
from your flesh toward my light and evaporate
like water in a stagnant desert puddle. I, too, am naïve,
to think I could reach into such rock sheltered shadow,
undo or improve the gorgeous geology of your being.

How could I move the craggy Utah bulges,
shift the polished slots of sky above your callused years
of fear of not attaining celestial glory, salve
the endless pinpricks of husbandly, venereal betrayals,
ease the guilty infidelities of your throbbing
wanting more than disease or dependency from
the men for whom you saved your lust and mud.

Can any sister do this for her sister? I wanted to.
My blood cried for it, but I am not light or even wind!
Our curving walls are too bent to bend light around,
and the wind just carves us deeper. So I am lost
in endless slot canyons, crouching here,
in the shade, in your hand. I won’t budge.
When you leave these rocks behind
and your cloudy eyes suddenly soften into shine,
may the innocence of your stubborn love finally
rise from the pores of your hands like vapor,
prismatic through the sky, casting paths of wet light.

First published in Barnwood International Poetry Magazine, 2008