When Institution Hijacks a Life

October 22nd, 2014

When institution hijacks a life,
The body is ruled by a new gravity.

Organs fall. And fat. Leaner
For the daily front on bed’s edge
Of a windowless dream.

Are you one of the lipsticked ones,
Lilting? Yesterday, pleasant faced,
Did you say something you didn’t mean?

From which pocket do you pay?

Today, we beg the sky
For something unspecific.
We know when it comes.

In the long hallway, a cricket sings
From a crack in the drywall.
It sends us walking.

It doesn’t know
It is lucky.


Cardinal Song

October 19th, 2014

Crushed leaves give me the year he gave me Illinois anew. Not then a walker of woods—except for girlhood dashes to the red barn with fallen hogs long dead in the abandoned yard where we laughed and swung on rope into old straw, I had given up the woods for straight A’s, makeup, church and books. All the while the Sangamon River crept past my life in its slow brown way. Cardinals watched like feathered blood. At fifteen—so late!—my own had finally come. The quiet boy from Florida I loved, who without shame once bought me Kotex tampons, held my hand through Carpenter’s Park. Red birds always a photo before were the thread we pulled to the yellow tree where the boy lay on his back and looked up the trunk. I, a follower, followed strangely. Our four legs splayed like spokes. Beside him, above us, the tree’s black arms were bathed in leaves so much like sun my words split wide, a radial silence, and while I knew the whole earth spun, my heart was a still red hub.

with thanks to c.c.

Who am I Now that I have Forgiven You

October 11th, 2014

For not forgiving me, you who danced
My soiled clothes before my face, the terror
Of sheets shattered by machine gun fire.
I have never tattered so thoroughly, my child.
In shreds, my fingers gripped the wheel
And breath threaded out in gasps.
You shot point blank from the back, your face
In the rear view crushed and wet with rage.
Your brother bowed his head and crumbled
On his lap, his mother stripped before him
Like a stained mattress. There was nothing
I could do but lie there, cold. Curled up like you
Asleep once in my body, I could hardly move.
Only a fly could prod me out of bed. I thought
I had forgiven myself. You raised my dead.
I didn’t want to forgive you. The afternoon
You called, broken, your voice a brick apology,
I cried for every confession I ever laid
Folded like sad stories in your wiry arms,
You who were too young to know when,
Where or how to put them away.

with thanks to Sharon Olds for the title

Your Words

September 27th, 2014

Your words,
Like your children,
Are trying to leave you.

You are misspelling publicly,
Hands covered
In erasing’s word dust.
Wipe them on your pants.

Walk down narrow hallways,
To your fauxwood desk.
Try to read fluorescently.

Take words to another room.
Watch them swim.
Misread with enthusiasm
To strangers.

Dream the back roads home
That fields are mowed of cornwords.
Tractors pile them up for milk to eat.

The book on disk
Hangs sound in the air.
Your mind creates a page for font.
One word at a time disappears.

At home, chickens hear
Their namey names and run to you,
In love with singy songs promising seed.
They bite your fingers.

Step over paths of the melon patch
Into crispened hands
Holding cantaloupes, ignored.

Embittered after sweetness,
They fall off vines, a homeless alphabet
You cannot eat
So feed to feathered things.


After the Roast, Advice to an Angry Son

September 22nd, 2014

If your children ever ask you,
Have you ever…
They don’t want the truth, but do.
Honesty is not the same as love.

But should you feel compelled
To someday tell them how you’ve flown,
Where you roost, be sure to choose
Today’s mistakes like eggs.

The night may come your son
Will feed them to you rapid-fire,
One by one, just to watch you
Gorge and puke up feathers.

Choked sobs and combed excuses
Will not be enough to redeem you
Or him, or your parents’ parents’ parents.
In the beginning, the nest got robbed.

Furious, beautiful boy, I know.
This is how we try to straighten up
And fly right, broken and young,
Before our chickens come home.



September 15th, 2014

Crickets call to crickets
And toads to toads
But not to me
Through locked doors
And farm house windows
With broken latches.

You slip in like hot wind,
Like junebugs through light cracks—
You, as in Lonely Old Me—
To lie down in this new bed
Having been lost for two springs.
Where have you been?

I know you by your hands,
The way they wrap my arms
To clutch my back, touch shadows
In my face, test new found fat
And thrill that love is feeding
Me past ache and pretty bones.

Like poetry you chant
My lover’s name in Denver
Searching for his daughter
The way you always did the year
You held me through blue winter
And a bluer spring.

I love. I love. You sing it still.
Your singing more than once
Has made me crazed, has made me.
Now I sing the same two sounds to you.
Who began this song? No matter.
We come home when called.

Moved by your easy return,
Your latent tenderness, I hold you
In this dark house. We wait.
The prairie sings itself to sleep.
Love comes home to us like morning,
Close and cool, even in August.


This is Not a Test

September 7th, 2014

after A.E. Stallings

1. Stepping out of the car at the Comfort Inn,
We watched my Mormon father
Cross the parking lot.
a. Each man grew a comb in the closing distance.
b. Palm to palm with a black man, Dad looked up.
c. Suspicions about my partner’s name: confirmed.
d. One neck throbbed harder.
e. All or none of the above.

2. In Maverick’s Country Grill
Over roast and mashed potatoes,
Dad called Dorell a big boy.
a. Boy, of course, meant youth, and “Welcome, son.”
b. His mother’s grandfather’s will bequeathed a man to a man.
c. His wife didn’t kick him under the table.
d. Dorell held my father’s eyes and smiled outside of time.
e. All or none of the above.

3. When we sat in the dim hotel room
Lit by the screen of perpetual John Wayne westerns,
My father and I, surprised, choked up in patriotic pride.
a. Which America made him cry?
b. Did he notice our fingers laced with Dorell’s like keys?
c. “America the Beautiful” rang from our palms.
d. He didn’t know he would stop his monthly phone call.
e. All or none of the above.


If I Should Die Today

September 7th, 2014

If I should die today, shave my head
And save the tangled nest for spring.
Place it under nettle’s stinging leaves—
Watch phoebes weave a head for eggs.

If I should die today, help me sit
On any solid spot with folded hands.
Legs crossed. Spine straight. Chin tucked.
If you must, tie me to a stake.
Even dead I work on waking up.

If I should die today, whisper in my ear
I never was my body though it tried. Help me sing
The sacred tones I know without a voice.
Call Geshe-la, he’ll know the way to walk me
Through brilliant walls of sound, light and rays.

If I should die today, don’t mourn
Each place my body doesn’t fill.
Baby, lay your face on my red pillow.
Know the salted scent will live but hours.
Children, dance a night in my old clothes.
Next month, bravely feed them to a flame.
Dear friends, keep on writing poems.

Live in sounds that pray.


Why He Works

September 1st, 2014

Not for money, though it drips in.
But for the fact that bathroom pipes
Need not freeze in winter
Nor tile stink of mold and urine
Nor laundries think of dungeons.

Further, our food is nearly free
If this bit of turned and seeded earth sips
Like clockwork from porous black hoses in shifts
So every motherwort and yarrow, nettle,
Watermelon and hidden toad has her turn.

And generous, compassionate weeds—
Full of their own wisdom and stealth
Which even the best of us overlook or poison—
Mulch-stopped, need not choke heirloom tomatoes,
So red can vine on heat and cool our tongues.

And what of chickens? They, like us, he knows,
Love four walls around their evenings
And roosts for sleeping, and run of earth
Safe from swooping hawks and clever foxes
Where they can dream of worms and eggs.

Finally, an ancient shack, ripe with every kind of cat
And rodent excrement, in his mind and hands transforms,
Becomes a careful plan to keep our friends warm
While western sky shines through two windows
He framed above our heads so we might look up.


Here in the Barn

August 8th, 2014

Here in the barn
In the bardo
Of my body
Roosters learn
To rest with
Gentle hens.