Moving to Salida

April 9th, 2017

In the twenty-three years that it took
To return to the valley to live for good,
I pushed three children into likelihood,

Or they pushed me into spiral books,
and twenty-three rings grew in cottonwoods
Storing the river where they stood.


Intellectual Property

April 8th, 2017

SAMO’s copyright
did not protect Basquiat.
ART bought what he stole.

His streetborn soul.


Jean Michel Basquiat, Untitled (Cadmium), 1984, MCA, Denver

Jean Michel Basquiat, Untitled (Cadmium), 1984,
MCA, Denver

Fine Audience

April 7th, 2017

The shabby roof of the earth
Is just southwest of my house.

You think I’m being metaphorical.

(Show photo of severed shed roof
in the tall grass prairie, something
we never got around to burning.)

Thomas said you know a place
For the first time by returning.
I say, just before leaving.

We are both right.

A martini in a mason jar
With anchovy stuffed olives
Helps render the insight.

I’ll always wish meditation
Were so quick to tender
This lingering off-pillow presence.

Habit is hard to make.

In the red guest house
Where artists and poets have slept,
I have laid out their books
And hung lithic broadsides.

Covers curl
For moist air, for fingers,
For fly leaves and title pages.

I read aloud Jack’s poem on the wall
To no one but myself.
Twice taught.

I am a fine audience.


Baby Mama

April 6th, 2017

Belly too big for such a small animal, spring nights warmer,
We nudged the gentle feral cat out of the laundry room
To give birth in some hidden place, to add her progeny
To the lineage of striped cats who’ve roamed prairie for decades.
But days later, her paw. She limped, licked it furless.
Two tiny wounds. Snakebite? Damn it. We let her back in.

The day before April Fools’, on his way out, I heard him
Make a perplexed sound, turn around, announce to his daughter,
To me, “Come see the kittens.” She gave birth to the first two
In the litter box. Repulsed, I arranged a dirty towel on a pillow,
Moved them all there, where, two hours later, two more appeared.
Two sand and black stripeys, two black with half calico faces.

She earned her name last summer when she showed up
Pregnant, too sweet to be believed wild, but wild nonetheless.
Enthralled with processed cat food and human touch,
She slinked around our door, tripped us walking too close,
Disappeared a couple days, came back thin. The kids
Searched the farm, a day later found a weak kitten in the corner
Of a close-doored, open-windowed barn room filled with milk jugs,
Boxes, crushed beer cans and scraps of dusty pink wall insulation.

The kids probably touched the kitten too much, put it back
In the barn. Baby Mama, nearly a kitten herself,
More interested in us than nursing, gave up on it. Next morning,
I found it smothered in the insulation, stiff. Surprised
To find myself judging a cat for derelict mothering,
I buried her kitten in the grassy field, forgave her, so young,

So newly loved. Last night, after six days of non-stop nursing,
She slipped out the laundry door into the dark. Kittens snuggled
Like warm monkey bread all night without her. Surely,
I thought, with a healed paw, her body craved mice. Or freedom.
We called for her this morning, like parents of an addict,
Not expecting much, but hoping. Kittens slept, still breathing.
Finally, stepping out to start the car: there she sat, elegant,
Behind the rear wheel. I opened the door, praised her return.
In she ran, hot with milk, and lay down with her fat, blind ones.


Refrigerator haiku (magnetic poem)

April 5th, 2017

Wanton world puddle
Ricochet cloud runs dark wild
Heart galoshes thrill


Forgetting Air

April 4th, 2017

Some spring mornings in Fort Morgan,
stepping into the parking lot,
crossing the mowed lawn of campus,
it is easy to forget about air.

The breeze is strong and clean and sweet,
oddly lacking our factories’ famous scent:
cheesy beef beet poop soup. Relief!
The smell of money went walking somewhere.

But then, entering the building,
we are greeted with night’s awful breath,
inhaled and held by brick and mortar
long before morning wind kicked in.

A building cannot exhale through a new day’s
shortly opened doors. We enter the stench,
take our usual breaths, filter, forget:
like inevitable death, it fills us.


Questions for a Pumpkin

April 3rd, 2017

Do your seeds sing a slick song?

Are you aware you are
both food and lantern?

And home?

Do you dream of hundreds of tongues
searching the cheeks of a huge mouth?

Or of wingless albino bats trembling
in a wet cave, upside down?

If a woman entered you at will, a kept woman,
would he carve windows of ears, nose and eyes,
a doorway of a crooked-toothed smile?

Would she become a candle in your belly,
throw herself in a flickering dance
to light his way home?

Can you accommodate two?

Or love?

Would it hurt, would you mind,
if she bakes and scrapes
the innards of your entrances,
blends in eggs, sugar, milk, cinnamon,
rolls a crust, pours you in,
eats you, her home, with him?



April 2nd, 2017

At thirteen, the stubborn plastic tube
of childhood ear infections had to be removed.

In its wake, the healed hole did not close,
stole bird wind and breath hymns. Instead,

he learned to drum blast beats, buzz rolls,
crash and snare. He learned the muted world,

to turn without fanfare or shame
his better ear toward a quiet voice.

If we had known how easy healing could be
without major surgery, we’d have done it sooner.

With simple tool, a doctor roughed the edges
of the perforation, made a bleeding wound

of tympanum, and with a common hole punch,
cut a dot of paper thin as cigarette skin.

When she placed it on the ragged hole,
it became a bridge for blood, for hope,

for cells to build themselves a road
over the small chasm. Sound began to cross

at once. Driving home, the radio rushed him.
Overcome, he dialed down brass and bass,

like a solitary monk who hasn’t seen a friend
in years first bows from the neck, the waist,

then holds him at arms’ length
before the caught breath, the full embrace.


Toward You

April 1st, 2017

A Christmas cactus burns
seven fuchsia blossoms
toward a northern window.
On the other side,
the dim room inspires
only one bud, still tight,
the last to let go.

Here I am, blue out of season.
How many blooms do you see, love?
On the dark side, a tense fist.
You, my light, my southern exposure
know me better than this.
I can’t help myself. I turn.
Open all my hands.


It’s National Poetry Month!

April 1st, 2017

Please join me in trying to write a poem a day through the month of April! Find all the support you need here:


The Dead One

March 26th, 2017

Find the dead one within.
If you are lost enough, you can revive her.
She soon will be your boat
off the island, your dodgy water.
Drink rain from her rotten mouth.
Teach her to talk, to sing
your mother’s favorite songs.
The dead one’s desire: your compass.
Carry her on your back
until she finds your legs.
Teach her how to flirt with love
by playing the unsuspecting girl.
Dress up to make it real.
She will chop your wood,
dance you ‘round and through the fire,
drop you in the river tied together.
Breathe air into the mutual drowning.
Dream her lost history.
Give up your plans.
Begin flowering.


Anatomy of a Mason Jar

February 25th, 2017

First you were for cucumbers,
Bread and butter pickles I taught
Him to love, their yellow
Stain brightening egg salad.

Or was it beets, the obscene
Lolling eyeballs of earth. Red.
Your glass a lantern full
Of cloved, impossible sight.

It doesn’t matter. Rusted ring, lid lost,
You have outlasted better glasses
In the cabinet, crystal goblets,
Cheap tumblers, stately beer pints.

Our finest, my pride,
For serving guests wine despite
Hard water marks on your shoulders,
Mineral threads along your neck.

Humble belly of water, tattooed
Name in raised script, you are the vessel
At my bedside, the three a.m.
Wide mouth kiss against parched lips.

Settling back into the down,
When he hands you to me
In the prairie dark of dawn,
You are his clear promise.


Burning Books with Jack

February 20th, 2017

When he threw Amor Fati
into flames, friends and poets gasped.

White book! Heads shook.

I ran to find mine bubble wrapped
in a briefcase, amateur sky
with all the colors in it.

ah jumped in after Jack like a sigh,
and Danny’s script, wanting nothing more
than for words to say nothing,

burn, be nothing with his.
Glowing gold pages turned with the stick

of an acolyte. Spent light!

Unreadable ash
made of us and especially
Jack gibbering joy-scat

to the earless moon, hands
grasping at the halo like a drowning man,
fingers coming up empty and fool.


Three and a Half Years after the Death of a Guerita

February 3rd, 2017

There is no time
to spend with you today,
lover of all things Latin
(especialmente the men),
except in songs that we once
heard together and sang.
Remember how our sister-sound
would mesh, two voices
from our mother’s throat?
We made one sound
of her parted flesh, a boat
with two sails blown full.

On this Day of the Dead I wear
your black peacoat, its pockets
finally emptied of your things:
old tissues, El Salvador keychain,
plastic packet of gum with foil
burst open over two empty wells.

There are many ways to hold lost hands.
Hold the things they held.

For two years, I touched the tissues,
the ones you worried chemo fear into.
They finally fell apart. I chewed stale gum.
I can’t recall—are these gloves yours?
I forget what you wore even as I wear it.
Your hands are cold.

Do you remember how
the grave digger surfed the water
in your Illinois grave? Oh, the March rain!
You—in walnut casket and concrete vault,
your faux gold name plate crushed
under his boot—were the board.
He rode you. Wow, look at the buoyancy,
he said in wonder, arms out for balance.
I was glad Mom had left; thought
Shakespeare would have loved this script.
I grinned. That lovable fool,

I shoveled along with him. Good worker,
he said, while I tucked you in from the edge
of the hole, slid and fell and stood and threw in
a foot of dirt. Aguas, aguas, I heard you say,
Careful, careful. Water gurgled and
sucked at clumps with thirsty slurps.
I couldn’t bring myself to stand
on your body, twice-boxed.
It would have made the work easier.

I didn’t clean my black boots a year,
whacked the clay-rich clods into a plastic pail
now lost somewhere in the basement.
I had meant to wet and sculpt of them
a headless goddess like the ones
you made in college, recuerdes?

Why do I save these odd mementos?
What good is it to clutch what enclosed you?
It only makes me sad, and, shhhh, relevado,
when I forget their context, when I forget
the way you filled your clothes, when I lose
the mud that holds you, waterproofed.

Saving and losing you, over and over:
such strange ointment, mi manita.



Translations, for my mother:

guerita: a white girl beloved of Latinos
especialmente: especially
aguas, aguas: literally waters, waters, but figuratively, move easy like water, be careful. Becca’s husband said this as she wheeled around her IV rack at her first chemo. She translated the words for me at the time so I would understand he didn’t literally mean waters, waters
recuerdes: remember?
relevado: relieved
mi manita: short for hermanita, little sister, it is especially a term of endearment for a sister for whom one’s love goes deeper than blood.


Middle School Football

January 24th, 2017

Our sons, their plastic shoulders dream
Of manhood. Each time a body falls
And a groan rises up like a man,
And the body is rolled or limps off field,
Holding a stomach, a wobbled leg,
There is a mother somewhere.
Maybe her eyes water, too.