Poetry Archives – Reader Favorites

These are pieces that, over the years, have been particularly well-received by people who are not my mother*. Most of them are also pieces that I count among my favorites. That may be entirely coincidental, or it may be the things I write that I most enjoy writing tend to turn out better. You are, of course, under no obligation to not dislike them or question how they found their way to this page.

(*for the record, my mother does like some of these)
 
 
The Ballroom

Cobwebbed chandeliers
and rotting floors
the music only
a memory
faint as our footsteps
in the dust
moonlight comes through
a broken window
falls across your face
and I am reminded
this room
is not what it was
but take my hand
in the darkness
in the quiet
in the dust
to celebrate what is left
when the surface
falls to ruin
dance with me
 
 
Drunken Love Notes 2

You called me “loyal” once
and I thought of all sorts of
poetically bullshittified replies
like
“would you call a moth
loyal to your porch light?”
and
something about a drop of sweat
being loyal to your skin
and
blah blah the air
in the tires of your car
and
a bunch of other things
that all had in common
things that need
other things
are drawn to them
and don’t function well
in their absence

Which is a kind of loyalty
but not the kind
where you really have a choice
 
 
Have You Stopped This One Before?

I stared glassy-eyed
at your stoned housing
never said never
once again
and let everything happen
to my reason
swiftly beholden to the beauty
of a third wrong
in the company
that so loved my misery
for the time it took
to wound all healing

I let beauty skin me
too deeply
truth is
you had me at hell

But for all my wishful caring
the medicine remains
your best laughter
and the warmth
that keeps me loved
to blindness
keeps me from seeing a word
that could be louder
than your actions
a way just once to get to you
earlier than the worms

Watching you fix yourself
to broken
hoping it isn’t long before
this one who is lost will wander
 
 
In the Court of the Songbirds

Atropos in the court of the songbirds
her shears sentence without judgment
leaving a blue green broken blur
neck snapped and wings denying
futile motion etched an imperfect circle
last desperate effort at my feet
to lift itself from where it would die
as its kin sang overhead

Dictate of Lachesis crossing time
that was the day it would be drawn
to the shining tempt of its own reflection
and on that day I would be there
witness in the court of the songbirds
to a thing I could comfort but not save
would never know but to pass
gently to death’s hand from my own

In sunlight and sorrow I fought against
the thing I wished to not understand
that Clotho could not be renounced as careless
her work not shoddy or distracted
her single thread binding soul to flesh
would never be broken before its time
and if at its end its kin still sing
its measure will be honored well

Drawn back to another time
another day in the court of the songbirds
where seemingly reasonless justice was done
where another thing would not be saved
where another thread had found its end
passed to death’s hand from beneath my own
and though he was not of their kind
they sang for him when I could not

Reflected in the now glassy eyes
of the tiny feathered thing in my hand
were all the moments I could not hold
all the things that would fly beyond my sight
as I wished to still sense the wrongness of it
wished to believe the Fates had lied
but knowing deeper than my voice could carry
what simply must and would be done

A witness then to scroll and shears
to single threads that would entwine
would weave and coil and feel as one
I moved beyond the shadow of Atropos
back into the light where I still belonged
that single step feeling a thousand miles
from the place I had kept myself too long
back to the call of the songbirds

(in loving memory of Alan
July 23, 1945 ~ May 19, 2001)
 
 
In Your Pocket

Carry me with you
a coin in your pocket
tender of a forgotten realm
warm against your leg
I would curl
devalued and unseen
occasional brush of your hand
wiping away tears and blood
from the teeth of my company
in this darkened place
cuts from the keys
you throw in beside me
for doors you choose to open
 
 
Lies the Neighbors Told Yesterday

From outside my window
yesterday

Don’t kick that ball over the fence
I won’t go get it

I flip through my mental catalog
find the face
to match the voice
and smile at the lie
knowing that woman
as little as I do
and still knowing
she would go
over that fence
under it
through it
tear it down with her bare hands
burn the pieces
bury the ashes
then stand unflinching
unblinking
unafraid
before any judge in the world
and deny there had ever
been a fence at all
if that fence stood
between
her little boy
and what would make him happy

I smile again
at the instant of silence
outside my window
that is a little boy
deciding he should at least try
to not kick the ball over the fence
 
 
Other Things that Hitler Did

Paris the mottled canvas
trembling beneath
a rabid brush
your mother painted there
in a corner
amidst the red and black
bodies and blood and resistance
holding her outline
as her center faded
was washed with gray and green
and you a sketchy presence
in her arms
a scarred scared thing
holding a scarred scared thing
until you stood alone
walked away
bearing her scars and your own
I still smell the turpentine
on my skin
when I think of us
what you used
to try and wash clean
the very things that made you
to create something blank
over a twisted masterpiece
you wanted to go by the numbers
red green gray blue
sections outlined in black
as though
the portrait of your occupation
wasn’t already
on display
hermetically sealed
in your museum
the artist’s name
carved deep in a corner
never to be forgotten
 
 
The Perils of Adulting

My dog saw a lizard the other day
barely caught a glimpse before it ran
under a shrub and disappeared
and she froze
ears at full alert and eyes unmoving
from the spot where she had seen it last
shoulders tensed and tail high
and haunches twitching ever so slightly
ready to spring the instant that lizard
dared show itself again
and she waited

And I just held her leash and waited too
trying to remember the last time
I let myself want something that badly
 
 
Poetic Failure

I sit up straight
in a comfortable chair
my clean arms
healthy liver
clear head
and well-mended heart
neatly arranged

I sit up straight
dismayed by the empty space
around my feet
where should be a tangle
of grudge and venomous despair
that has all
just washed away

I sit up straight
somehow
bearing the shame of contentment
a pretty face
the knowledge
that I am not my tragedies
that they are not me

And from where I sit
the view from
my washed and unbroken window
is mostly beauty
not all
not all at all
but mostly

And I can see my life
as a sunrise
and I can see my life
as a sunset
and in between
I guess I might as well
go smell another rose
 
 
The Power of Bundt Cake

I stood in a discount store
mesmerized by
a six dollar time machine
as it brought forward
fragments of images
of things that all
smelled like childhood
smiled as I thought
about bringing it home
and when we talked later
I told you
I bought a Bundt cake pan today
and you knew exactly
what that meant

We sat in a thing
between nostalgia and awe
as we reached back
reliving on the tongues of our minds
Bundt cakes from
our mother’s kitchens
and when you said
you liked the cinnamon best
how freeing it was to say
I like it too
but the lemon is my favorite

all the while knowing
the first Bundt cake I made
in our home in my new pan
would be cinnamon
but for the first time
not because
three older louder sisters
liked the cinnamon best

I will serve you
cinnamon Bundt cake
at three-thirty in the afternoon
just like our mothers did
in the years before we ever knew
there would be us
and when I set
the round white plate before you
it will be every snowball
I never got to throw
at your laughingly retreating back
as you ducked into
the fort where I wasn’t allowed
because as you never tired
of reminding me
I was just a girl

Our fingertips will brush
as we reach for our forks
to make up for every time
we never got to hold hands
rollerskating down the hill
that our parents warned us about
or maybe
we won’t use forks at all
but will instead hide in a blanket fort
built with living room furniture
and imagination
and eat Bundt cake
with our fingers
maybe it will start to rain
and we will pretend our fort
is a pirate ship
a deserted island
a dungeon in the castle
of an evil king

And then maybe years from now
when one is gone
and the other is looking back
it will seem
like we had more time
 
 
Purple Things

One sparkled
on my hand
the other bloomed
where yours
landed
where you tried
to convince me
one
was as much what I was born into
as
the other

I got thirty bucks
on eBay
for the first

The second
has been
much harder to unload
 
 
Rescue

I first met my dog
in a small room at a shelter
when she was led in
at the end of a disposable leash
attached to a paper collar
in the hand of
a complete stranger to both of us
and the second thing she did
was find a corner to crouch in
after the first thing she did
which was pee on the floor
and the third thing she did
was look at all of us
as if to say “I don’t understand
anything my life is right now”

And when I cry
for no reason I can understand
she jumps in my lap
and licks my face
and stays
because she gets it
 
 
Saturday Morning

Movies in Japanese
protagonist utters a simple phrase
a fight ensues and
half the room is dead
before those
who don’t speak the language
can finish reading the subtitles
the endless translation
of six syllables
into something that makes sense
I change the channel
Wile E. Coyote
heavy block over his head
clearly marked ‘Acme Anvil’
he sits amid a nest
of sticks labeled ‘dynamite’
‘hand grenade’ stenciled boxes
they spell out
all the things that can hurt
and when the Road Runner
streaks across the canyon
you know without a doubt
that he is running away
 
 
Secondary Jungle

You will pass easily
through the uncut
things that have been
allowed to grow
unhindered
thickened and sturdy
with time
the places that seemed
undesirable
or simply
too hard to reach
there you can walk
unaided and sure
until
you get close
to what was once settled
cultivated and abandoned
and need
all you have
to fight through
the tangled remains
of what others before
had cleared
for their own use
then left
to be reclaimed
 
 
Things I took from you

I took what you called love
and gave you what I thought it was
(it had a lot to do
with the pretty parts of me
and that was my first mistake)

I took your forgiveness
for things I never did wrong
then from behind the locked door
I took the last tissue
from the box on your bathroom counter
wanting to believe
at least you owed me that
(even though somehow I never really believed
you owed me that)

I took your advice
on how I could be a better person
(which is all I ever really wanted)

I took and took and took
until beneath my greed
I couldn’t hold any more or less
(and somehow still didn’t feel like a better person)

Until I took your right to make me cry
(and someday I’ll take your power)
 
 
Tina Tries to Help

Tina tries, she really does,
with her umbrellas in August
and tales of when
that exact same thing
(plus or minus)
happened to her
(or was it her cousin)
her bedside clock is always
12 minutes fast
(or is it slow)
and the sewing kit in her purse
is missing all the needles

But Tina is the one
who will run out of gas
on her way to where
you are and no one else
is willing to go
at that hour
and when she finally arrives
she will always have
a safety pin and a tissue
 
 
Visionary

I’d scratch her eyes out
if only I could
replace them
with my own
so maybe then there would be
something in her that knew
how to cry for you
knew what it was
to feel
something crack
at the thought
of seeing you walk away
I’d like to gift her these
pale blue bloody things of mine
twist them into her
one by one
until she knew the pain
that watching you leave can bring
reduce her to a thing
that can only look at her feet
and wonder where you’ve gone
look at the walls
that couldn’t contain you
look until she’s all but blinded
by the glare
off the vacant space
that is so much larger
than it would seem
you could have ever filled
leave her to see
all the places you aren’t
let her take it all in
until she could only
press her empty hands
to those eyes
and try
to block out all
that should be there and isn’t
to create a darkness
big enough to hide your absence
to stem a bleeding
that never seems to stop
but
of course
if I gave her mine
I’d have hers in return
and I probably
wouldn’t much care
 
 
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