THE JUly, 2024 30/30 PROJECT PAGE

Welcome to the 30/30 Project, an extraordinary challenge and fundraiser for Tupelo Press, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) literary press. Each month, volunteer poets run the equivalent of a “poetry marathon,” writing 30 poems in 30 days, while the rest of us “sponsor” and encourage them every step of the way.

The volunteer poets for July are: Shuchi Agrawal, Moriah Cohen, Rj Ingram, Jessica Rigney, Erin Robertson, Thomas Thomas, Heather White, And Kelly Wilbanks.

Day 12 / Poem 12

                              strands
of satin stained islands
mirrored tor

                            the ice
                greets us with caprice
a consistent sort of color:

the confident ease
of brazen masts: blasé

as horizons are lost 
              the host

awakens, a star of anise
the fishermen from         chastise

for good measure
 trove obscure

the quickest path between two points is paved with inadequacy

I shave the legs of my inadequacy with a handsaw

strike glitter and ignite the altar of my inadequacy

inadequacy is best chased with whiskey

inadequacy teases off my panties with its teeth

my love is a cell in the honeycomb of inadequacy

three grapefruits and inadequacy molders the third

inadequacy is free with the cost of admission

if soiled rinse inadequacy in milk

inadequacy may cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea

you skip stones on the broth of my inadequacy

the displacement of inadequacy makes the difference between a man being killed by an avalanche a year later or escaping

inadequacy may impair one’s ability to drive

The-Shark-from-Jaws-is-a-Dandy-With-His-Own-Theme-Song

for Steve who asked me to write about
“How terribly strange to be 70.”—Paul Simon

Twenty sides to ten coins and you
you draw the coin with the flower
all abloom at the center yet remember

it was another year and other coins
when the spiral of the sun expanded
and its rays tickled the face of the one

you could see with only love that summer
when butterflies like kaleidoscopes divided
and multiplied before your eyes.

How astonished you were and are still
by a face and either side of the mouth—
those parenthesis that make whatever

is said a kind of aside to what is really
being said. Can we be serious now?
Or perhaps the better question is

can we be silly now? Finally
at the other end of the shelf where there
existed no bookend before you arrived

to place it. Or perhaps you have simply
circled round to the beginning
of the empty shelf and are ready to place

that first bookend down to begin what is
to be the long reading of your life across
great gatherings of your heart in the hands

of each one you will be fortunate to greet
with your heart’s kindness and a smile. The rays
of the sun still tickle the face of the one before you.

And the fields are all abloom with terribly
strange flowers which were blooming
when you first looked upon it all those years ago.


Year by year
I still learn
there is nothing
I know I’ll get to keep.

My child –
unresponsive on the floor
lips in a grimace
hands like claws –
mercy of mercies,
he was returned to me.

My child –
unseeing eyes blank
fumbling his way 
through the word ok
in the ambulance’s sterile terror –
glory of glories,
he was returned to me.

My child –
lost from the campground
wandering in the junipers
on the edge of wilderness
found two hours later 
and three miles distant –
miracle of miracles,
he was returned to me.

My husband –
spared by polar bears and lightning,
avalanche and rockslide –
wonder of wonders,
he has always returned to me.

Each of these restorations
so stunningly benevolent
there’s nothing I might ever do
to merit the shuddering relief
of getting to keep
these breathing bodies beside me 
for yet another day.

Sometime our luck must end
and one of us will go.
Oh, magnanimous universe,
let me be the first.
I fear I’m too weak to bear the stillness
any of these blood-filled hearts 
I call mine might leave.

This is hard I thought, because I’m one of those
try-anything-once kind of guys, although yes
I think it’s safe to say I won’t be climbing Everest
this time around, or getting to the bottom of the
Marianas Trench, or skiing avalanche chutes
in the Andes or taking a stroll on the moon.

Not to say I haven’t pulled some crazy stunts
and done things that really could’ve got me killed,
that’ll make great stories to tell in the nursing home
or lavish upon friends gathered ‘round my deathbed.

So I just started writing to start writing and it came out

Once upon a long time ago, when our dreams piled upon
more dreams and projects and goals stretched out
beyond all the old horizons, my beloved and I would
imagine our fire turning to embers in the fireplace
while we sat close on the couch and took turns reading
poems to one another, each until our eyes tired in the
evening’s dying light…

But that was in the years when our brothers, and parents,
were alive and her son was not murdered, and her body
and mind not stolen by disease, and the whereabouts of
all the grandchildren were known and the unalterable
fact is, we will not in this life be reading poems by the fire
before walking together back to our bed.

A Wednesday summer night,the heat hanging, 
a hazy veil over the concrete of the sidewalk.
It tries not to slide into the cool cracks of the sturdy stone, 
but it is drawn in, in spite of itself.
 
The weekly band concert is in session.
Parents and children lounge
on blankets or recline in lawn chairs. 
Dusk settles as the gazebo illuminates the tiny park.
 
The director, a serious, self-important maestro, 
eyes an angry shade of brown, presides 
over the execution of Souza and Gershwin.  
 
Two streets over, by the convenience store, a truck engine revs
as thumping bass lines carry through the humid air. Raucous
laughter drowns the swelling of the band. 
The maestro’s face burns like a hot jalapeno.
 
In the waning summer breeze, two worlds collide.

Treading water 
Sink or swim 
Hold my breath 
Don’t give in 
 
One more stroke 
One more kick
Close your eyes 
Another inch 
 
Can I pause? 
Can I flip 
the script 
 
and 
 
just 
 
float
 
 
bit?

Day 11 / Poem 11

at the edge of a cliff jutting 
out of the earth, dawn seeps in her air-
brushed eyes, golden, locks shorn

unlike her husband’s; tail between his
legs, unable to get it up, passed out drunk 
while she surveys her kingdom. 

lifts her head in search of wickedness, spying 
on the cursed and the cruel crawling
in her dominion. “i know just

how i am going to use finish you”, she whispers,
steeling her own nerves, her grip, 
roaring to keep the others at bay, especially wounded.

she is the maker of her world, and the ruler of it.
like a bible, the laws of nature are hers to interpret,
turning god’s gift, this savannah, into her own hell pit.

ON MY FRIEND TELLING ME SHE NO LONGER FEELS LIKE THE MAIN CHARACTER IN HER STORY / Moriah Cohen

We measure ourselves in lowballs of Jameson,
Reds squashed into ashtrays like half-heeded
Sunday School prayers, in sunflowers we pick
from the neighbor’s field, then peacock on straw hats.

The race is quicker in furlongs.
We hot glue enough ribbon to cocoon the heavy,
spring air, so what brawls its way out is flinty, unforgiving.

We wear our bodies like extra-large Walmart
tee-shirts, like storm clouds threatening the party.
We bring paper plates, raffle the purse.

We’ve gone leek the day we wake at forty, waterlogged
in sleeping bags beside the lake, and your daughter calls you
from her boyfriend’s house 300 miles away to say she knows
you’ll never leave her.

It’s not supposed to, but it feels insulting
how imperceptibly the world stopped churning
in our cheap, milky wombs, how the body
betrays once then again and again, how the girls
we still see in the mirror wear hats as large as the sun.

Where-does-the-soul-go-with-its-little-blue-suitcase_


Without Want of Fruit or Love Story of a Young Woman in the 1500’s  / Jessica Rigney

After Pieter Bruegel’s The Hay Harvest

’Tis the Prussian sky, the gold
fields heaping, how her fist clenches
tight ‘round her rake, tender feet
inmost toes in shoes dusty hot

on a red road out. Her body
damp-drowsed next to mine early
so early before sun reached the curl
her neck escaped, sleeping bonnet

loosed ‘neath our loving afore.
She is everything to me and I
can bear all. Can bear my hard hands
stiff back, a hole worn through my sole

of leather. Hardship is not
a thing I can see nor feel with her
sweet breath at my cheek. Her sighs
take each heavy thrust of my rake

out into the hay as though they were
loft and ache—both lifted by
all heaven’s promises skyward for
the bounty. What we harvest keeps me

sated without want of fruit—save for
her bright mouth and its upturn aside me
at start of our walk out. I look to her
my sweet lady strong and sullen. Still

a wettish lust between our thighs
rises in the heat. ’Tis her quiet ivory
profile framed azure blue which makes me
lose myself! Each morning she is

gaining ground, gaining me—me and my
blissful-hidden, gold-tipped sound!

carmine:
color of kings, nobles, clergy
the stuff that made redcoats red
hue of cardinals
            feathered and rosaried
70,000 exoskeletons sacrificed
for a single pound of dye
a fugitive color unfit for paint
            but binding well to wool
& the New World’s fate
until crushed insect bodies
            traded like silver

today
green cactus pads
studded with white webs she didn’t yet know
stained her mind exactly carmine red
the way John the Baptist’s blood
bruise-purple
still marks where St. John’s Wort petals
            crossed her open palm

she jumps one golden hurdle then the next
binding the people around her like cordage strands:
may the fierce joy of these small suns
drive all evil from the day

reading love poems wherein he answers
questions asked by his wife about the length
and breadth and depth of his love for her
who could I think of but my own beloved?

There was that moment that distant blue
that shone through centuries and more,
blue even older in your eyes blue reflected
millennia ago off the Euphrates the
Blue Nile the whole blue Pacific Ocean

when I knew I had loved you before there were
Octobers and Augusts, before monuments
made to the moon and the stars, which were
ours even before calendars were marked on
stones or bones those thousands of years

before anyone had left Africa for Asia before
anyone knew the blue of the Aegean Sea
and its blueness and stars were etched
on stone and painted on walls. I loved you
sacred before temple, synagogue, or church

when love was blue water in a green cathedral
under a new blue sky and the water fell from
cliff stone into sun-sparkled air became the
dazzled light of water falling as I am still so
dazzled as earth draws me falling incandescent

for you now as through all those centuries
now as then as always I love you as the blue
water bends to touch the shore as we touched
our shores under moons and stars as we loved
again and again all this time since touch began. 

Digital life runs
in a spastic news cycle.
Pieces of platforms
splinter into the
souls of the tech connoisseurs
and digitize life.
 
You hear a buzzing,
even walking the forest,
but bees are silent.
Programs never quit,
background processing is done
when we humans sleep.
 
To unplug, turn off
the humming busy-making machines 
of working.
Pry them from the wall,
these serpentine sinews of
binary enslavement!
Bind whispering widgets of content.
Delete!
 
Choke this chaos cacophony. 
All hexadecimals, be gone!
 
 

White and gold flowers
by a pond, a mirror of
a man lost in his reflection. 
So, overcome by his beauty, 
he fell under a spell
of his own making. 
A self-obsession ending 
in tragedy, blooming eternally.

But how does this explain
the word as it is known now?
As we feel it, brace
for it and are crushed by its
frozen force. 

A person, a mother,
a friend, a pastor, an ex-husband,
lost, not bound by their beauty, 
but by another form of self-obsession.
Of fear, 
of being found out,
of being seen as they are.

Day 10 / Poem 10

enter straight into the living room

upside down table
newly assembled
of finest swedish design
suitcase open-face sandwiched in a corner 
on the floor; 
quilt used by one guest that one time
cosmetics overflowing from every possible container.
air conditioning unit, howling like a cat.
candles flickering across the apartment, at various points in time

the living room is also the bedroom

damaged curtain: permanent peepshow
view of the bridge, teeming with cars like ants
two 10-feet tall ivory masks gazing in 
from an exhibition space across the quay
aloe vera products interspersed between the orchids 
on the window sill, 
defying death each day
unused vibrator gathering dust 
on the right side of a queen-sized bed
digital camera from 2012 that will surely die 
of old age on the next trip
stray whole foods bags where your cat can live

“walk-in” closet

hangers pitched at various heights, featuring
various clothing traditions, fabrics, prints —
if you drop enough acid, a lovely pattern starts to emerge.
standing room for a toddler or a cat,
or a modest plant

the bedroom doubles as a home office

a swivel chair rescued from a sidewalk, damaged on its way:

once, purest Macintosh white
deconstructed armchair, leaning against the wall
glass containers packed with books, postcards, and bills
unmounted whiteboard with tiny colored notes scribbled upon it
a modem using the router as headrest

return to the “foyer”

shopping bags, overturned, with matching gift paper.
a pair of the most uncomfortable heels known 
to man, but at least they look posh.
stray piece that was never attached to the vacuum cleaner.
categorized and uncategorized refuse, waiting to be escorted out.

into the pantry

an oven tray guarding the stovetop from prying eyes
loose notes and cards drying on the counter
the faint whiff of chicken soup
lush cherries inundated with leaded water, 
in crystal bowls, for feasting.
produce that goes months without 
revealing signs of neglect the way you do.
little heaps of pits scattered in bowls, the sink, 
like headstones made of piles of stone.

the restroom, at last

bath bombs, and water filters on every faucet; 
lush accessories, scrubs, luxe products no longer made.
all the cleaning supplies even a germaphobe could hope for.
numerous weighing scales beneath the sink,
so you never have to fiddle with batteries again.
porcelain tub that can hold 
the length of your body:
final resting place.

If my first memory is a black seed opening in an amber iris,
then in the second, a doctor sponges a gash in my eyebrow,
removes the embedded fang, stitching the dog’s need
inside the wound, while my mother rocks me.

The dog is half-wolf, which means after I am half wolf,
knocking down garbage cans, ravaging the neighbor’s chickens.

Years later, you find feathers in the tomato garden;
I scratch at your doorstep.

Teens skateboard past boutiques gilded in linen, chiffon,
and as you guide me to the surf, laughter breaks
out of me as a white light, my body more breath and seam
than flesh, more pool, chokecherry, moss, indigo. 

Good-Charlottes-Web

Describe it to me he says
                          the way it seems to be that you are

falling
         away
                  from yourself when you speak. Yes

she says  this little loss
                                  of
                                  breath is a problem—

The quiver within is a signal of sorts and I

I won’t                make sense of it this lifetime
I don’t think                but you

You
      are 
               there
                          genuine as a vast sea—

container of
                  all                 rough waters—

                  Undisturbed.
                  Substantial.
                  Constant.

Bless me, Father, 
for I have sinned
It’s been more than thirty years since 
I’ve been inside one.
But you should know, 
I still confess
to everyone every day.
St. Jude raised me –
Patron Saint of Hopeless Causes –
anyone might be redeemed,
any day might yield a miracle.
A modern, angular church
without the distraction of aesthetics,
we had two boxes to choose between,
both inside the chapel,
set apart from the nave:
face-to-face, or screened.
A fundamental split –
do you wish to look your confessor in the eye,
human to human?
Or remain hidden
while you reveal your vices,
seek counsel from a disembodied voice?
I was a face-to-face Catholic,
always more interested in the animal/anima
than the divine.
Seventeen at my last visit,
what was there to confess?
Mostly invoking G_d,
calling on him/her/it
as if we were friends,
saying that one syllable
in all kinds of tones.
I’d be sprung soon enough,
my transgressions too tame for much discussion,
then sent to kneel
and appeal separately to Our Father
and His Mother,
to apologize
and begin again.
That was the best part –
the slate wiped clean,
the unburdened breast.
Now I wonder whether I’ll ever say
those words again:
Bless me, Father,
(my own dead five years this week)
for I have sinned
(true always).
No, I don’t think
I’ll lock myself in that room again.
I’d rather whisper to sky.

Things were dark and gray and it rained often,
          snowed once in the dead looking trees.
                   The children moved further away.

Then the sun came out more often, clouds grew sparse
          and things got bright green for some days.
                   Some of those days, my wife seemed less sick.

When the grass went from green to gold to brown
          some of the trees bore fruit, and some bore fire
                   and the fire bore smoke.

Then the earth was burning even as the days shortened
          and some of the people wept, some shouted.
                   In the darkness some of us prayed, some sang.

The palm tree is squat and rather angry looking, sitting out on my lawn. 
Next to it, a smaller upstart cranes its small neck.
“Me too, me too!” it cries.
The taller palm, begrudging its moxie, leans to the south.

The small shrubs below the palms dislike both green, waving idiots.
Browning fronds brush the top of their small canopies.
“Talk about no space!” they grumble, bristling. 
“Someone should really cut them back.”

The mulch is not a fan of the shrubbery, dripping its leaves like sap,
sticking to the in-betweens of the mulch pellets.
Finally, the dear dirt, below it all, quiet and firm.
It does not know what goes on above, or below.

It is holy firmament and fine.
This peace of dirt, meaning is nothing.

We placed flowers
and rocks and words
over your life 
I watched you mark
your sister’s births
with flowers and give
a large rock to piano
you gave flowers and rocks
to Covid and hybrid classes 
and to your fifth-grade year
when your teacher got sick
your first rock was for
Max’s funeral. Many 
flowers, only a few
singular rocks. This makes 
me proud, though it is 
not about me, it is about you
and how you view your 
world and your life
and how your anxiety
has brought you here,
something I couldn’t 
help or fix for you
But, I can bring you
here and give you space
to draw your own 
conclusions about the
good the bad, and
what it means to you. 

Day 9 / Poem 9

through a screen our voices
shrunk          white light of winter

behind them          a closing door: 
our past selves languish          piecemeal

parts out there          while in here           strapped in
swivel chairs          portals narrowing

tiny flats watched us shrink          easier
to resent your disappearance          to

bitch and moan          at the window to your soul
obfuscated          failed to notice          my own

the voices sang          in unison          once          upon 
a time          greyed out          i didn’t light          these corners

all the loneliness in these rooms          neglect brewing
more of it          outside, waiting          in the aftermath

  Later, when M and I see a man with a sweat band
strapped to his forehead on our way to my parents’,
              the man’s socks rolled up to his knees, hips
striding out of their sockets akimbo, we joke about the imitation
              of human behavior by saying to each other, “Hello
I’m wearing my human skin.” Which is also what I say
              of my baby nephew, his head bobbing on his wrinkled
toothpick neck as he tries to mouth sounds I enunciate at him.
              He pokes his tongue out, sucking his cheeks,
his chest shaking, because the soul is very old and wanders
              a long corridor finding the body as he wakes.
And if I’m honest, today, I feel less human and more like ivy
              swallowing electrical wire, the last brick before the city’s
closet piles scrap iron, broken concrete, all of the graffitied
              shipping containers lined in their pretty row. 

Dorian-Gray-Wraps-His-Famous-Portrait-in-Funny-Papers

Would we? He would never ask, would we still?
Be who we are if we were not us? This he would never.

For it is her domain to stare off across a landscape and wonder. It is
Her mind which moves and is moved by the subtleties of a world

He inhabits and makes go ‘round for her pleasure. Yes she says
Without tempting a question. Yes we would have found our way

To one another’s side somehow in the scheme of an utterly
Unfathomable world. And it calms him she sees how he relaxes

A little and this is what he does too for her in his way of holding
Her steady and squeezing her frame back into itself so she knows

She is still here no matter the strangeness of time and her unsteady
Heart. Oh the love—the love she thinks has been a gift

To both of them though pained as they have been from time
To time. And what of the future? This they do not venture

To say—cannot make one another look too far ahead now.
It is not ours to know she says and he wishes he could

Agree. Wishes he could let go and somehow trust as she does
But it is not his manner. She is his to find and follow and send and

Wait to receive. He will be here she knows he will continue
Looking to her to know what is next and how and with what force.

My sons ask
whose side I’m on:
Drake or Kendrick Lamar?

How do you even know about this?
I ask.
It’s in the culture
they say
It’s everywhere
and I see again
the parallel lives we lead,
my algorithms distinct from theirs.

They try to explain
the soup they’re swimming in,
try to put it in terms I’d understand:
How did you learn that Elvis was alive?
Elvis is dead!
I sing Living Colour to them.
Ok, how did you learn Elvis had died?
they probe.
Elvis was always dead to me!
They fact-check that 
and are infuriatingly correct –
I was four, have no memory of it.

They think my generation is older than it is,
try other tests:
Nixon resigning?
I was one.
Kennedy getting shot?
Come on.
A man walking on the moon?
Sigh.  Now they’re just pushing my buttons.

I help them out:
the Challenger explosion,
Reagan getting shot,
the Pope getting shot –
these things I know firsthand
(well, secondhand from the media).

I try to explain How Things Used to Be:
We had three radio stations 
and four TV channels
and two daily newspapers
and everyone knew the same thing
at the same time.
Now my feed serves up
totally different scraps than theirs.

We circle back:
I must choose a side.
I at least know the hook
to Started from the Bottom, so Drake.

Do you think they could be in on it together
I ask
to build both brands?
Maybe I still know something
they haven’t yet learned.

But then they quote me some of the barbs
too damaging for good business,
and they are right as usual –
I have so much more to learn.

Now is a nebulous time,
sliding between yesterday and tomorrow.

I borrow this moment, stealing from
Peter to pay Paul, not knowing

I could pay them both, many times over,
with one breath in, then out.

Sharply, it comes into relief – the past.
Lava bubbling up from the earth,

or pins in the fabric, stabbing your ankle
when Mother was hemming your pants,

because you were always too short.

Locales in sepia, or fluorescent hue
make up the highway of my memories.

A car in the night, traveling to unknown destinations. 

God’s first words on record,
“Let there be light,” and
with these first words 
He also created sight. 

Did he want a lamp
to see his handiwork
creating oceans, fauna, 
jungles and deserts. 

Then, man in his image
Love and Lover
incarnate, whole
Eyes, for each other

And for assessing,
surveying, deciding, 
weighing, conveying
and vital aligning 

Every thought, expression
worn like a canvas
of the soul, Spirit
alive, bold innocence 

Before they grew hard
with knowledge and fear
Eyes, a perfect reflection,
A revelation, a mirror

So, many ways of seeing 
in this world of lambs and lions
Of deep-sea dwellers and flyers,
prey, and predators, and Shepherds

How did they see the world?
From light to frightening darkness 
From heights to ocean depths
Varied vantages transgress

How would my viewpoint change
If I had the poor vision of a kiwi
or the glowing eyes of a squid?
To know all this and yet see me? 

How does seeing all illuminate, 
inform and inspire an Intelligence
A spinning spider, a salmon upstream
A butterfly wing, elephants

Yet, He sees the motivations of my heart.
The upsets of governments and kingdoms
He sees me as this tapestry
Each step, as valued as His own 

When hopelessness leaves me blind
And silences my joy, and I forget
to look for anchor points displayed
A Douglas Fir, a frog, loves formed objects

God created a world reflecting, revealing
His heart, His hope, and the healing
He built into His earth—all—this 
—light, to share all—this—beauty. 

 
 

Day 8 / Poem 8

the cigarette burns through, i don’t 
put out the red light.

like a car from a bridge, the ash falls. i can hear it
stain the surface. steep drop. making waves 

in the tub, i watch the bruise move, 
the ripples, undisturbed. half asleep, fading.

hold my hair, my eyes
don’t let me sink

i once loved
a boy who loved
if love is a word
people love to kiss wounds open

he loved 
the only way he knew:
as if my body is his body,

the body was 
a canvas for pain.
between pinched fingers and molting,

he showed me how he’d close the loop.
he made my body into his body.

fishes paint my lips with their tongues.
chars and nicks must hide from view.

how dare you disrespect me and walk away, i fumed.
you never looked back.

                                                    flashlights bounce along a ridge
                                                                                                               an orchard of light combs the body’s cubicles

                                                                                       time wavers
                                                                                                               every episode is the same mystery to unbox

        sure the answer to her question is dirt beneath her nails
                                                                                                               sure the square-jawed man she follows into a bar can  tease
                                                                                                               a moth from his mouth

           she gauges rational explanations by rings in old growth
                                                                                                               she measures fragments of shard and swarm

                                                  so much of this world is above us
                                                                                                               so much of this world is inside us
the lacuna between life and death rests in the chest’s stiffness
an indigo hue engulfing the abdomen
                                                                                                               the lacuna between life and death trembles like honey locust

                        at night she folds her past in books and old pots
                                                                                                               at night she sprouts a beak and talons

she swallows an hour, her gullet distended on clumps of grass
                                                                                                               a sapling for every truth she wants to believe

The-Witch-of-the-Wastes-Warning

for Jonathan who asked me to write about LEGO

Through mirrored goggles
the mother and the son scan the reef.
Surf crashes against breakers and bubbles
hit their skin and evanesce. Below their bellies
a humuhumunukunukuapua’a with his fat lips
and tiny pectoral fins helicopters around
makes the mother and the son laugh and release
huge bubbles while their bodies bob and sink—
waves and their aftermath.

The lagoon is manmade.
The ancient caldera where their house lies
is not.

She wonders what it takes to read
lay of the land
and make a lagoon out of shoreline

what it takes to build a man
out of a boy.

Over their backyard trampoline
the mother and the son drape sun-soaked
bodies with their heads tilted back.
The moon is upside down
and all the LEGO is scattered on the ceiling.
The boy had been building a toad
a fish or the reef or toad robot.

The boy’s face is sweaty
his tan cheeks pinked.
The mother runs her hand
through his upside-down curls
her fingers touch shoreline
all stuck to the boys sandy scalp.
His mouth is open his eyes stare past
the sky past the moon past
the LEGO past her eyes past a future
that doesn’t stare back.

Yesterday the pond was still.
Today silver flashes among inert rock.

We are both more awake, alive
for having taken this chance at life.

Every day we make a litany of choices,
some affecting another’s fate.

We blunder our way through
trying to trace an arc closer to love than want.

It is possible to do so many things wrong,
some in ways that can’t be righted

(perhaps the chemistry is off
or the chlorine will kill

or the algae will prove inedible
or the crayfish will attack 

or the fish will eat each other
or the pump will suck them in

or drought will make the pond run dry –
all good reasons to freeze into inaction).

I cannot be perfectly confident
about the rightness of anything I attempt,

and if they do not thrive,
their suffering will be added to my sins.

But we brought them from a small, dark pool
on its way to shrinking smaller,

where death already waited, patient,

under the seemingly sheltering rocks –

hard to say whether they’ll see us as saviors
or demons who’ve condemned them to their fate.

Nothing we do is without risk
(even running from uncertainty)

and sometimes our movements turn gears
that bring more vitality, more joy on scene.

Fish, forgive me, if I have trespassed by playing god.
God, forgive me, if I’ve transgressed by moving your fish.

And now we must wait a good long while
to learn, what was skillful action here?

Is this stone pond meant to harbor souls?
Or will it prove their end?

Once I thought I’d always know
what was best to do.

But as I age, I begin to see
yes morph into no and back.

Less certainty, more observation.
Less calculation, more experimentation.

Less righteousness, 
more surrender.

Big fire, says the highway patrolman.
And smoke has closed the freeway,
so you can’t get on here. Just watch
for signs heading east, wait to be
shown where to turn again; follow
the traffic into the horizonless gray.

Smoke, and painted road, and once in
awhile shape of a tree, a grain silo,
but no horizon in any direction. I try
turning south again and again but
am turned back by orange cones,
striped barriers flashing yellow lights

and the traffic thins as the dark
afternoon wears on without a sign
except the orange sun appearing
and disappearing in smoke curtains
and the road going up and down hills,
bending into turns, and finally the last

car to follow turns back the way we came,
but I keep on, looking for left turns south
riding them until there’s only another
right turn back to the east and more smoke
and less to see, and I think the world may
have ended without my knowing, or any

of us knowing. So this is it I think, no ice
no fire, just blinding smoke and everyone
lost but driving or walking or flying
maybe until the fuel runs out and I think
there’s a certain freedom here at the end
because no matter what we do now,

whether we were righteous or humble,
cruel or kind, whether we loved the earth
and every being on it, or we consumed
and destroyed and burned and poisoned,
the consequences are the same, smoke
suffocating the just, and the unjust, all.

On the high street, the
sidewalk was only laid 

on the north side.
Mothers told them
to be careful walking home, 
as cars pummeled by

the uneven
slabs of concrete, 
heaved after
years of spring thaws 
and winter frosts.

Chalk outlines of hopscotch
in front of
a white house where 
the toys cluttered 
the door yard. 

Shrill voices sang,
“Step on a crack, break your mother’s back!”
So many cracks,
it was a miracle
any mothers in the town 
had straight spines.

Every child, in anger, had jumped 
and hoped that
it would work.

As if avoiding the imperfection 
on the sidewalk,
they were responsible for mother’s 
well being.

The woman who 
gave them life.

How much did they
owe her?

So much they could never 
pay it back. 

Infinite payday loan. 

And still owed
when she is laid to rest.
There is never enough
to make it up to her. 
The least they can do:
miss the cracks in the sidewalk.

 

My father’s graveside sits
among blueberry fields, his
tombstone, a prescription pad
A final diagnosis for man,
no, a doctor, neurologically bent
on deducing, determining, 
delivering prognosis after prognosis. 

He valued medicine and memory,
his mind working like a Google
search bar. A human-computer
with life experience. His early years 
learning Spanish and medicine 
in Guadalajara. Running free clinics 
VW breakdowns in desolate
spaces. Double residencies and 
a private practice all fed
this personal database. 

He could not stop—even
as he took his last breath
he repeated, “If I just, if I just…”
But he’d lived on borrowed time, 
like a vehicle with high miles
despite its age. He was ready
to go, but he’d never be done 
figuring out why. 

He said he could remember 
every day of his life, 
but I often felt forgotten.
I suppose it is fitting 
he’s buried amongst blueberries, 
a star fruit, a superfood 
improving memory,
my memories of him.

Day 7 / Poem 7

InRegentsPark-Tupelo

I have been a storm
and he a dark wing within
the wings of the storm

Mary-Poppins-Swipes-Right-for-Pennywise

At five I imagined a flyway like a runway
monarchs could see from the clouds

their flight path lit up with pink umbels
atop thousands of milkweeds laddered up to sky.

They were everywhere I looked field after field
fluttering past the window of my mother’s Buick.

Country roads and cornfields framed
with roadside gardens of the stuff

tangled in wild carrot chicory dandelion burdock.
The wings of mama monarchs were a slow mesmerize

open                    close                     open                     close

in noonday sun as they flopped egg-heavy from air
onto leaves thick, ovate, run through rugged midveins I thought

would weather anything and had seen them do so when bent
after thunderous rain of an Illinois storm they’d risen

once more, stretched broadly back and lifted stems thick
plump with wet, and harboring hundreds

of eggs nestled snug against undersides slack.
I imagined the monarch’s wings were a rust-stained map

for the countryside I tromped across, ditches and fields drawn
over either shoulder lined up in its black veins and white spots.

Found folded at my feet like envelopes tucked full
of secrets, the monarchs who’d lived out their season

I imagined could be opened and rubbed
for their wing backs’ hidden maps. Like my mother

rubbed a hot iron across waxy transfers
to patch and mend my torn pants.

Water destroys fire.
            I splash it on my cheeks – meltwater vs. blush.  Snow snuffs blazes.
Fire destroys metal.
            Rings melt to puddles.  Only twisted chassis remain.
Metal destroys wood.
            Rip/roar of chainsaw.  Thick thwack of axe.
Wood destroys earth.
            Houses appear like fungi.  Roots fault sidewalk.
Earth destroys water.
            The West – thirstier than the Colorado can serve.  Greedy ground absorbs all.
Water produces wood.
            Riparian galleries trace earth’s arteries.  Water almost anything, and it will grow.
Wood produces fire.
            Cells convert to energy.  Dull solid brown becomes wavy blue yellow red.
Fire produces earth.
            Sea floor buckles and spreads.  Islands hover over hot spots.
Earth produces metal.
            Silver, gold sleep below us here.  Tungsten draws men into the mines.
Metal produces water.
            Pickaxe probes for well.  Pipes shunt water where it’s wanted.
Water controls fire.
            Hydrants stud most corners.  Helitankers scoop buckets to stifle blazes.
Fire controls metal.
            Glowing blades are hammered sharp.   Hot silver and gold snake into molds.
Metal controls wood.
            Rasps and chisels shape bough into bowl.  Spikes save massive trees.
Wood controls earth.
            Digging stick makes space for seed.  Walnuts deter other roots.
Earth controls water.
            Banks dictate flow.  Grade locates rapids.
Water dissolves metal.
            Sheen succumbs to rust.  Pipes corrode.
Metal dissolves earth.
            Lead poisons land.  Traps clamp on carnivores, leaving land haunted.
Earth dissolves fire.
            Sometimes.  Or it smolders for decades.  Fire breaks sever what could be from what will.
Fire dissolves wood.
            Leaves crumble to ash.  Forest becomes knoll.
Wood dissolves water.
            Trees breathe water into air.  Moisture enters rootlets, becomes arboreal.

All of us are cycling,
becoming in sometimes unbecoming ways,
alternately welcoming and rejecting
the opposites within,
trying to stay grounded
but also transcend.

Text in italics from The Oriental Elements in Bardic Companion by Susan Henssler.

When dawn is a door opening in the sky,
and cool air enters through the window
outside which sings the nesting thrush,
I turn to your warmth, press my need
to your want, and we become a door too,
opening in our own sweet, urgent eternity.

Your love, like molten lava, lies in rest.
You smolder, simmer, bubble in your core.
Volcano, leave the innermost, that’s best.
 
Inside, your feelings – anything but blessed.
You cry to him, one man you could adore,
Your love, like molten lava, lies in rest.
 
But love to him comes difficult, if pressed.
You turn to liquid pleasure, this your shore.
Volcano, leave the innermost that’s best.
 
But who am I to judge you in your breast?
There is a man who wishes for much more.
Your love, like molten lava, lies in rest.
 
I know you, this a burden you will test.
Strength lives inside you, fighting not a chore.
Volcano, leave the innermost, that’s best.
 
Give life your love, pray much and live well, lest
you fall on knees, on stones in path of war.
Your love like molten lava lies in rest,
Volcano, leave the innermost that’s best. 

We married on luck
with triple sevens
in the air. Independence
flags still waving. 
Nearly Forty thousand 
shared our day. 
Seven- a perfect number,
biblical.
I wanted, no I needed 
luck and fate and 
Jesus on our side.
I’d walked this aisle
once before. I’d loved 
and been left broken-
hearted. Lives bled 
together, uncoupled, 
untethered, dissolved.
I knew risk, 
each step ushered 
and yet taking 
my father’s hand, walked
 toward this new  promise,
 a life we’d knit
together, with jobs and job loss, 
fixer-uppers and babies, 
baptisms, backyard BBQs,
burials and birthdays…
no luck, just one foot
and then the other.

Day 6 / Poem 6

in dreams: a goldfish, 
tv ads flicker in mirrored 
tank, bounce off my eyes

Left on the counter to spoil.
Tote bag in the Jeep’s trunk vanished behind umbrellas.
How many days untended to sulfur?

I round the knife longways,
halve, then twist alligator skin.
What is inside is threaded with carob, wizened.

Where your palm parts my sternum,
four toothpicks,
single seed without remorse.

It’s maniacal the way we tie a quick catchy rhythm to the fast talking elbow padded thrift store junky sleaze ball handing out loans on steep interest to anyone foolishly tempted by the only song in the show worth a damn / Sure villains aren’t the only ones who sing patter songs but you can’t tell me Mary Poppins was completely angelic as she descended from the heavens riding a green tropical bird she goddamn skillfully transfigured into an umbrella sprinkling her sharply supercalifragilisticexpialidocious onto the Banks who were the unexpected model example of a dysfunctional family / But usually it’s the bad guy who’s really three queer coded thembos stacked in a trench coat who gets the slippery song to spit often directly to the audience by way of too many asides / Heroes who are on a redemption journey can rattle about in the form as well like Harold Hill or the lot that got lost Into The Woods but they have to be the salt of the earth type or untrustworthy or one bad decision away from smithereens / Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to the villains & their sad monologues bc in a way I’ve always been told I’m a deviant on a mission to harm children & the precious status quo / 

Now that you’ve grown steel barbs all across your skin
sent electrical shocks out from their tips and your father
can no longer push you up against a wall
or grab fistfuls of hair at the nape of your neck

Now that your throat is broken open
your head tipped back like a Pez dispenser
and clamshells have erupted from the cutaway of your neck
to land all around your feet and chitter chatter away at your sister
all the truths you held back

Now that your saddle shoes kick gently
into your mother’s thighs as she carries you away
from the home of the man who waited to molest you

Now that you’ve disappeared the wood-slatted crib
and the frightening clown with the pointy red-tipped nose
and are held against your mother’s body in her arms
on the front stoop where you breathe
into the damp of her neck and hear her

voice say
once

                                                       and for all
It’s okay. Mama’s here. You’re going to be
alright. Now how
will you live

                                                       your life?

My torn muscle
wrenches thoughts toward healing.

What is it they say
knits things anew?

Time ice heat
rest elevation compression

herbs medicine stretching
massage needles tape…

But she shakes her head slowly.
It’s all not enough.

              Love.
She says to tell my leg

how fond of it I am,
what a faithful companion it’s been,

to remind it all the heartache we’ve walked off,
all the places I still want to go together.

So I take you in my arms like a baby.
Massage sweet nothings into your long fibers.

Try to take away your ache
so you can lead the way deep into leaf glow.

Oh, little leg,
I’m gonna sing you a lullaby and put you to bed,

and hopefully everything will feel
a little more whole tomorrow.

You did a fine job today
of bringing me from A to B,

(including 36 holes of mini golf).
Now just lie back

and dream light-filled dreams
while one damaged cell after another

chooses to embrace its neighbor’s edges
so we might dance again.

The Caribbean water was clear even at the shallow shore
where I was snorkeling in 1966, on Saint Thomas Island, where
the sand was white below the Bacardi Distillery and the sea floor
was dotted with rocks completely covered in corals and varieties
of algae and tunicate worms, so every millimeter of every surface
was alive with things this Illinois boy had never seen or imagined,
and I became so absorbed in deep exploration, astonishment,
profound pleasure, that joy dissolved my boundaries from fish,
anemones, so many things I had no name for, but thought beautiful.

And then between two small coral rocks in about a foot of
water an odd stone appeared no more than six inches in front of my
facemask, its edges strangely smooth despite their rough appearance
against white sand. And as I reached to gently touch it with my
index finger, the rock seemed to swirl, became tentacles in motion,
and an eye opened!

          In that moment I understood it was sizing me up, whether
I was a threat or predator, whether it should jet off to safety. But it
was fairly cornered and comfortable, and it knew that though I
had touched, I hadn’t poked or grabbed. I was floating and bobbing
the tiniest bit in the water above. And what is there to say? I knew
I was being seen by this creature from another world, and she was
being seen by me, a creature of the airy spaces, sharing the same
world. And we just looked at one another in a moment of vast peace
and quiet… and another moment… and another…

When the mundane world burst in with a “you okay kid? whatcha
doing” from above, and as a human shadow moved over the octopus
she was gone in a puff and swirl of white sand. And I was changed.

In summertime, a damp, cool refuge.
In wintertime, a frigid dirt box.
 
Here, with spiders larger than any that should live in this climate,
and dusty jars of something left by the woman who died
in the house before my Grandma bought it, 
I ventured down there only out of necessity.
 
Even if it was broad daylight in July, and the rusted 
hatch that opened to the back yard, flaked 
with forest green paint, was flung wide…
even then, I was careful.
 
October nights were the worst, and the best.
The veil so thin, that every spirit and entity 
that had ever crept close to our home,
was just around the corner.
 
January, frost-bound snow caking the cobwebbed
windows was death on earth.
Fetching something for Grandma, I ran so fast back up those stairs,
I almost tripped and broke my nose.
 
Yet…those first fertile days of summer break, when it was so
hot that we sat on the porch drinking 
powdered lemonade and wishing for a breeze,
the deep, dark, dank cellar called. 

My anger feels like steel,
a stone, an agate, layered,
a biliary calcification 
hardening in my ductwork. 

Flow is stopped up,
ease and grace, 
and second chances 
taste like rancid milk
and ruined cereal.

I look anywhere but
in your eyes. I refuse
to acknowledge your
humanity, not yet.
Not ready for repair.

This fire is hot. 

Why
so 
hot? 

Where has all
this fuel, this kindling,
this white, hot, seething,
been breathing all this time?

Peripheral hearing—is
that a thing? I am taking
in the danger, and my body

remembers. 

Screaming matches, 
mockery, sarcasm, creating 
or perhaps revealing the chasm, 
growing wider between 
parents who saw no way 
across the divide. 
Runaway tempers, reducing 
my childhood,
my home to rubble.

My body learned to fight
in a war zone. Sulfur-like
struck matches tickle 
my nose. I know
I can rise to match 
the ire, but can

I step back? 

The catharsis, this release
I seek has boiled to the surface, unrepressed
needing to be expressed
as rage, intense, enflamed.

Can passion co-exist 
with temperance? 

I’ve seen chasms grow
and I’ve known 
the bitter taste 
of a home 
burnt to ash.

Forbearance feels foreign
when I am fighting to
survive. 

But am I?

Is this survival—or bruised
part of me I’m reckless
to defend? 

Will I burn, or will we mend?

Day 5 / Poem 5

Не уделяй мне много времени…

Не уделяй мне много времени,
Вопросов мне не задавай.
Глазами добрыми и верными
Руки моей не задевай.
Не проходи весной по лужицам,
По следу следа моего.
Я знаю — снова не получится
Из этой встречи ничего.
Ты думаешь, что я из гордости
Хожу, с тобою не дружу?
Я не из гордости — из горести
Так прямо голову держу.
1957 г.

Don’t spend all this time on me…

Don’t spend all this time on me,
stop asking me these questions.
Don’t reach for my hand
with kind conviction in your eyes.
Stop stepping through puddles in the spring,
just to trace my footsteps.
I know nothing will come of us
meeting like this again.
You think it is with pride
that I’m walking out of our friendship?
I hold my head high, unwavering,
not out of pride but out of sorrow.

This is the last poem you’ll ever need,
but you can’t ride it into the apocalypse, pumpkin.

No parking after midnight.
No passing on the right.

Reader, I want what you have, your
illusions, the wind to taste

the song in me.
More often than not, I’m confident

I’m being lulled into an ambitious
sleep: commas rules pace the classroom;

later, I allan wrench bedpost to frame,
a rabbit fat rendering its own tallow.

My boyfriend and I fuck behind the shed,
my legs pinned back.

I’m quick to tussle, quick to beg
for what I want but don’t want to work for.

The empty well churns my stomach. I’m better
than even the fox cares to admit.

When I used to carry change, I’d plunk
quarters into expired meters of rust-eaten cars.

I’d never felt so honorable
cheating, the meter swallowing everything

I presented—even origamied frogs
if I’m honest.

Dead ass, some days, I loitered hours,
clucking down to red flashing, for a hairs-

breadth more time.
Before my grandfather died,

my grandma wouldn’t let me see him,
unless I admitted she was right about every decision

she made in her life. I wanted to ask him
about being a radio operator on a Hess tanker during Vietnam,

what it was like to be inspected by enemy soldiers,
a bomb sleeping just below deck.

And about spoons he tried to curl
with his mind every morning.

After drowning eggs, potatoes in ketchup,
he placed a three-minute injunction against

talking, while he stared at the distorted
reflection in the spoon’s bowl.

It never worked. Once though, my aunt
kidnapped my grandfather, took him to a diner to see me.

It was like watching a man sail through the mist
of his past, apprehensive, anxious,

like he recognized me from the other side
of a keeling boat.

Say what you feel, my boyfriend would have said
had he been there.

But he wasn’t, and I didn’t.
I paid the bill, tried not to stare at the man

in loose suspenders, the way he stirred his soup,
forgetting to hope the spoon would bend.

RJ-5-Dessert-at-the-Church-Barbecue-Abecedarian

THIS-WANT

After the town fireworks,
on the yellow school bus shuttle
back to the Ace Hardware parking lot,
we are packed in tight,
standing swaying holding on to the 
incongruous luggage racks
students should have no need of,
and a beautiful Black woman two rows ahead,
notable for her beauty
and her Blackness in our white bread town
says to her companion, 
              As of today, anyone in Louisiana over age 18
              can carry a gun anywhere.
She lets that sink in then says,
I’m so glad I’m not home.

It’s not our first talk of guns today.
Earlier this afternoon, 
our son’s new friend’s mom texted me their address
and finished
no guns in the house etc.
– important Mom shorthand meaning
your son should not be slain here.

Now our dog hides in the bathroom downstairs
as illegal fireworks explode all around our home
despite the Stage 1 fire ban
brought on by the less than an inch of rain
the last two months have brought.

We bought fireworks once,
toward the end of Covid isolation; 
a little tank and a frog
to light on the dirt driveway where we’d sought refuge
up in the mountains at the end of the road.
But they soon got out of hand –
the tank driving itself haphazardly 
straight toward pine needle duff,
then shooting flames from its little turret,
the frog leaping unpredictably,
fire streaming from its head.
We were all a little horrified
and a whole lot relieved
when they both went out
leaving our forest intact.
We should have known what
playing with fire brings.

At bedtime our son asks
Do you think we use fireworks
to reenact war,
to celebrate winning?
And as he asks, we both feel under fire,
as the neighborhood’s rockets burst in all directions.
I explain the Chinese made fireworks before bullets
and he likes this idea –
being captivated and entertained
by beauty and surprise,
the percussive explosion felt in the chest
a mere byproduct,
not the goal.

At our house we are ambivalent patriots.
We’ve seen other places doing many things better.
What keeps us here is not pride or fear or opportunity,
but family.
If we could put them all in a suitcase tomorrow,
would we leave for somewhere less likely to ignite?
As hard as we’ve worked to wed ourselves
to the stones and waters and sky here,
I don’t feel it twined into my bones.
The rational mind has its way
and says
we don’t need to live like this.

I could say it is
something of an astonishment
that I exist

And it is also so, that
I can take myself paddling
a kayak out on the

new surface of saltwater,
tides permitting, on
any day I am given.

It is also so amazing
how many things
await me on the surface

that I first thought were
flukes, oddities, little miracles
of chance and physics

where moon, sun, water, wind
or no wind, and a lifting tide
conspire to make boats

and bowls and lanterns
from sticks, shells, leaves,
feathers, seeds, fir cones,

not to mention today’s bright
orange spiders above me,
riding gossamer, like meteors

trailing tails of blue
as evening darkens sky
above the blue I glide upon.

Though it may, ostensibly, be right,
reading between the lines, the mere
utterance of the word “truth”
tries the very patience of 
humankind. Truth-seekers cannot believe

lessons other than their own
illicit a reaction of certitude.
Even questioning these beliefs makes one
susceptible to scrutiny and derision.

Mocking the truth, are you? 
Utterances of conspiracies and autocrats,
delusions and denials.

Caring for truth, there is passion,
leaning on structures, questionably sound.
Ever changing is the landscape.
And what is true today, may not be tomorrow.
Revisiting yesterday’s reality.

Going forward, there must be a higher way,
ostensibly. Something beyond time and space.
Don’t you agree?

Loki, Dog of Mis—
Chief, doe-eyed, empath, lamb-like
paw’s up, ready, sit

Day 4 / Poem 4

in running free, 
eyes closed through empty stretches, 
let the ambient sun hone in. feel this path 
you’ve been down a million times, recalling now
only with feet. this is sight 
in the absence of sight. from 
the soft marrow of the earth, instinct whispers: 

i know the shape of these woods, 
where the river curves and bends.

every part of you comes alive
lifting weight off the eyes, 
listening to brooks smoothe over stones,
arms carving space by your sides
as the sun shoots a sweaty arrow down your face.

reaffirmed 
with this feeling of armor,
your mind is clear: there is such a long stretch of going, just going.

midday lull
tremors against rail
the slow down and throttle
friction dug in along the shrug
of a curve

travelled but not yet
lingered in

I brace my knees
lines pumping
like capillaries

in the breath
that releases—

parking garage, gas station, dead mall

thank god
for hinge and bolt
the inexhaustible
thorax
for the destination
between stops
the delayed approach

The-Chamberlains-Lover


You may choose
to close your eyes

here in the breaking
waves of what hits. Yes

you don’t have to
watch

what is happening as it happens
for yes it is

too much don’t you think
it is too much has always

been too much. So then
what does it matter

if instead you choose to watch
the doe and her fawn

far off along the river
noses in water soon lifted

to scent of you
upwind is what’s coming

and you may choose
to turn and close your eyes or be

witness for what winds bud
and build upon a horizon

however horrific
however human.

I am learning
how to break life
into bite-sized lines
that show you
how to breathe with me

to snap them soundly enough
to provoke a                  inhale
                      surprised
             ooh

to outline
my life’s breaking points
when everything was on the line
or where my linear path
               took a major
                                           t
                                            w
                                           i
                                            s
                                           t

in case this helps you find your way:
conception –birth–sister–stuck in the railing–move to suburbs–change in friend
group–divorce–move back to city–high school–change in friend group–grandfather
dies–college–boyfriend–Ireland–move to Colorado–working–move into our own place–grad
school–dog–marriage–honeymoon–second dog–biologist job–mom moves to town–car
accident–son–part-time work–bff-grandmother dies–dog dies–second son–staying
home–grandfather dies–sister moves to town–Dad dies–travel–pandemic–bird-third
dog–cabin–now

but now I see I haven’t broken them at all
but rather strung them out,
             beads on my life’s mala
                          clacking them between thumb and forefinger
                                       counting blessings as I go.

but how much of me
do you really need here in this poem?
you can do it yourself:
             how would you
                      carve yourself into chunks?
             what’s your
                      30-second elevator speech explaining you?
                      your one paragraph bio?
                      your full-page spiel?

but now I’ve slipped back into
breaking parsed lines = meh
because seeing you arrive in the poem here
surprised me so thoroughly
I inhaled
            ooh
forgot I was trying
to split sentences like wood
to bring the axe down true
to make clean cuts
            leaving some logs dainty, for kindling
            others hefty, to burn steady all night
                      to keep my fingers warm enough to write

to use your time judiciously
so at the full-stop end of this last line
you ask yourself
            where are my own fault lines
            and what weaves me back whole?

Yesterday at lunch, the
Septuagenarian Sisters
were talking loudly and
laughingly about rafting
in Hell’s Canyon and how
the one’s son is a guide
now, but it was his first
time on a raft instead
of a kayak, and how tall
the rapids were and how
on the very first rapid
they flipped squealing
into the cold white water

and I thought of you and
our canoe and Green River
out of Moab and the ravens
dancing Labyrinth Canyon
air, and the egg of our tent
and the stars above that
and the desert candles and
the surprise whirlpools and
the underwater dragon
twisting deep in the flood. 

Apathy, a black wave, flows over me.
My brain fizzles, flashes. 
 
A processor dumped in water.
Sparks fly and I 
 
collapse, my will to compute
squashed,
 
sliding around inside my 
shell.
 
Error, can not read file, 
I say as I order the values
 
Of war and peace. On. Off.
Binary collides and corrodes. 
 
Big data, big money, small minds, 
and I am but a 
 
widget filled with code.  
Processing what I know,
 
unable to execute new commands.
000100010001000.

Ruby red lipstick-lined Pall Malls,
she stood tall and lean.
Starched and pressed, at attention
he stood hard and mean.
Yet, somehow gaining 
the attention of this 
starlit Scarlet O’Hara.
Her eyes, full of field hands, 
and romance and miles
of her someday plantation.
A bride of war swept,
off her feet long enough 
to be anchored down,
to a daughter, a son
and an inescapable marriage. 
Cows mourned in the distance,
milk spilled, trucks backfired,
and her failed escape only
reminds that liberty is not 
the same as freedom. 

Day 3 / Poem 3

after all these years, nothing has changed, you’d say.
as if time marched on, and i stayed right here
caught around a lacuna where you used to be.

all the unsaid words are howling within me

but there is no audience —
what became of the audience?

time doesn’t march like an arrow, you say. 
it bends its tail, revisiting its folds, like an auroborous.

if i lose your idealism, i lose you forever.
they’ve always told me i don’t have much time.

your favorite elm overlooks
a sunset. on a hill, you tell me
how disease speeds through the pack.

yours is an isolated illness.
you consider gently how you might leave things.
you deep sea dive for pearls in the pacific.

outside a blue vintage store, you are swimming 
beneath the surface of reality. a stranger
is mooring your body here with his words. 

i envy anyone who falls into your eyes. 

without you, i feel like a lost witness
waiting for the past to re-arrive.

Four deaths this year, but even at ninety, my aunt
loves a wedding, boasted four in long
ornamented dresses at Nantucket altars.
One man she married twice, and the first husband
she groomed horses with thirty years
after she kicked him out and he sobered up.
The crow squawking on the gable should have been a sign.
Life is recursive, she’d say, waiting tables,
snipping hair in her living room.
The first husband was one of four
deaths this year.
She’s stopped asking her daughters where their father
learned to quiet the horse of himself
or how he sobered up.
Instead, she calls for the daughters her daughters
were thirty years ago, doesn’t recognize
the olive skin, the hook nose.
My aunt drops quarters and mints in the washing machine,
calls for daughters who are afraid
if they clutch the straw of her wrists
they’ll fracture bone.
I should have been a crow,
my aunt confesses.
She is sometimes adrift, her speech pattern
slowed as she tries to find words
she’s hidden beneath stone.

Harry-The-Hat-Walks-In-Uninvited

Minuscule legs of a honeybee walked soft from a sidewalk
to his small forefinger, and so he carried and placed it gentle
at a zinnia’s center to collect what it collects and he thought I am
keeping the honey-making going flowing forevermore.

He lay his little head upon the soil and set plumbago leaves
before a very fat slug, stilling his breath listening listening for
the maceration of a leaf amongst tiny teeth and he thought I am
ensuring a path of slime to cover this earth turning turning forevermore.

He stood upright in waves, his feet sunk in soaked sand of the ocean floor
his hand resting upon a sea turtle’s slick shell back sending it
towards tender seaweed in the wider ocean of larger creatures and he thought
I am providing a meal for a meal in a circle widening widening forevermore.

He lifted broken cottonwood limbs heavy with snow
his arms longer now stronger and his broad back recorded water weight
and surrender and he thought I would like to be there where it all
comes around to an end which I cannot yet see ending forevermore.

For forever he’d thought his body pushed outward and outward
erasing what would be erased in hand on wing over land
throughout the sea and he now thought how pleasing so pleasing
to begin at the beginning of the ending of things ending forevermore.

immunity (n.)
               Today at the zoo
late 14c., 
               my son asks:
“exemption from service or obligation,” 
                                         Is it true
from Old French immunité 
                                         that now he can kill people
“privilege;
                                         if he wants?
immunity from attack, 
                                         That there are no laws
inviolability” 
                                         that apply to him?
(14c.) 
               but I spent yesterday
and directly from Latin immunitatem (nominative immunitas) 
               unplugged at our cabin
“exemption from performing public service or charge, 
               wasn’t home long enough to see the paper today
privilege,” 
               listened to my audiobook driving down the canyon
from immunis 
               hadn’t had need of news (I thought)
“exempt,
               so I don’t know what he means.
free, 
               Once again
not paying a share” 
               he educates me
(see immune (adj.))
               then I corroborate
mid-15c., 
               and we sit there incredulous
“free, 
               between the reptile house and the tigers
exempt”
               while busy machines working
(from taxes, 
               on the new seal habitat
tithes, 
               fill in the silence made by our unspoken helplessness.
sin, 
                                         Well, there’ll be an appeal
etc.), 
               I start to say then stop,
from Latin immunis 
               realizing we’re beyond all appeals now
“exempt from public service, 
               and there’s no way to explain
untaxed; 
               a public servant exempt from serving the public,
unburdened, 
               exempt from taxes and sin, etc.,
not tributary,” 
               the inviolability and privilege
literally “not paying a share,” 
               some souls wrest from others.
from assimilated form of in- 
               And the most damning part is
“not, opposite of” (see in- (1)) 
               millions of hands will sign
+ munis 
               our democracy’s forthcoming divorce decree
“performing services” 
               one small black oval at a time.
(compare municipal)

Italicized text from https://www.etymonline.com/word/immunity.

and that’s okay for now, this
monochrome memory

at the top of the stairs inside
a hot summer night

smell of bird cages not cleaned,
salt sweat and tears

sounds of a young man’s hurt
screaming at his mother

some say he’s got a cruel streak
speaking truth so loudly, but

what if it were a song? What
instrument could accompany?

Or maybe it’s the sound cicadas
and katydids shout in the dark,

the rattle & roar of rain heavy
and beating on oak leaves & maple

noise outside choking out the
wailing inside, inchoate feeling

that there is no tomorrow only
hard harsh agonizing now

and its late enough the only house
lights are in this only house

on the far side of a triangle
of overgrown lawn encroached

upon by black oaks, pin oaks,
shagbark hickory dripping dark

wetness, and the station wagon
is still cooling and the cicadas

are still screaming and air pumps
are boiling water in the aquariums

and the 12 year old boy yells how
she’s always late and he always cooks

for his little brother and all she does
is bring home the loveless money

and suddenly it’s silent inside while
the awful night roars on outside

and inside his tears he tastes
something; he thinks, a far off ocean.  

Being from a small town, I know
how quickly the game of telephone
goes awry.

My grandmother sits in her chair by the window,
plastic cord of the phone swaying from the table. 
She says to Mabel, 

“I swear I saw
the man across the street leave
his home at 1 a.m.”

And I say,
“Grandma, what were you doing up
at that unGodly hour?”

“UnGodly,” she scoffs,” that’s right.  That
man being up so late!

And the next week, I read in her church bulletin
now used as a coaster on the battered 
dining room table, 

that Pauline is asking for 
prayers for a man that Mabel knows who is
suffering from terrible insomnia.

Pray, the bulletin warns, for those
awake at 1 a.m.

I see you, 
my smallest one, 
yet taller than all 
the tumblers encircling you.
You stretch and show
how you can do the splits
so ready to be off 
to the vault, 
to the bars to swing, 
and balance on beams 
to feel the strength 
of your body match
your thrumming heart.
Your freckles and 
new toothy smile flipping
as you attempt backbends
and cartwheels and 
summersaults. 
And I see you,
pause in your play 
to help others reach
the bar and I pray 
you always offer 
such kindness, 
even as you’re told
not to lift her 
off the ground
even as you’re told 
your help isn’t welcome,
even as you’re told, 
you are too little.
I am proud of my girl, who sees 
the playground of her dreams,
yet stops to make sure
everybody gets to play.
Those are my “Olympic-size”
dreams for her. 

Day 2 / Poem 2

try to uncage the mouth,
return to the voice without the accent

when did you acquire this tongue?
it flails wildly
like an untamed wave
not knowing how to operate 
in this syllabic space

try to sound raw.
what comes easy sounds like a past life:
not a language you
or anyone knows, some sort of hybrid —

in the early years
you are rewired
you cannot unwire into something they can work with.

it is in this moment, you realize it is true what they have always said:
born in the wrong time and place
flung into a present, our present (meaning their — 
how you long to be part of an our or a we)

What did I know before the first pulp
              slithered down my esophagus?

I could spell the ouroboros
              of my name eating its tail,

and slice twenty-two varieties of tomato,
              back cold against marble.

Beetled in small clusters or swollen
              purple, their insides betrayed

a dendritic teeming, cores splayed
              like a salamander lodged in a womb.

A woman whose name means “before”
              deserves an after

party, bass thumping the line snaking the alley.
              Leaning in, I smelled tomorrow’s

hangover burning off almond coffee,
              cherry blossoms in full leaf.

Did understanding blare it’s horn outside
              my parent’s house, ashamed to greet

my father at the door?
              Did it return in waves’ heaving

call and response, come hither, come
              hither? I did at night follow the plunk

of vowels soft against the bedroom window.
              Barefoot, dislodged burrs from my ankles.

Jade leaf, hunter leaf, winged seed.
              A woman whose name means “before”

deserves an after.  What I thought
              I wanted was too much to hold inside me.

And then it wasn’t, and I woke vomiting
              facts into a garbage beside the bed.

Shelly-Duvalls-Wendy-Torrance-Refusing-to-Ash

Knit amongst roots of ricegrass
are conversations—

whispers of how be you in this
our sandy dry crumble of

waterless ground. Just as you
at three uttered quiet under

your breath a murmuring
to the smooth stone in your hand. Hushed

circle of a child’s breath born
from the shortest distance between

your heart home and the air—
inflorescence of a wish.

Each unwed branch of the ricegrass
ends itself in a solitary fruit and

sole seed suspended. Above
a body hovers the thirst. No matter

the age nor heedlessness of how
roots will reach for what is required.

You thought nothing of
what it meant to wish for water

from a stone. Damp of your upper lip
you breathed all you could

into the weight of it in your hand—gave
the whole of your life which was still

singularly yours
to give.

after fire
so many small acts of resignation

I face the welcome mat
peppered with cinders

hold my thoughts away
from what those once were

keep my mind carefully still
the way I walk a ropes course

disallowing the thought
that might unbalance me

I take up the mat by corners
till it becomes a bowl

cradling the remains
of a normal December day

but what place is fitting
to inter this damage?

not knowing what these ashes
are really made of

who they belonged to
or what they might yet do

the alley trash seems the safest option
disrespectful yet contained

afterward I tuck the mat in the washer
to spin in there alone

and for a little time
our door stands naked, unwelcome

nothing to greet the weary
but also turning no visitors away

each neighbor engrossed in their own
acts of getting by

After so much smoke
for so long, I marvel
at a patch of blue sky,
a cloud made of water.

Waking under canvas,
taste smoke on tongue.
Nostrils tell me not
to sleep with fire near.

3am out in the wind,
patch of black sky, a
sprinkle of stars, smoky
orange Jupiter, sky ember.

There is a ravine
just inside the border 
of a small, northeastern American town, 
which is not far from anywhere, 
but close to 
nowhere.  

Each season brings life and death to this minimal chasm.  

A ravine 
unremarkable in size, 
barely able 
to be classified as such.
Trees shed their brown paper leaves, regrowing the next season.

A ravine,
where the soil is rich, 
and a large rivulet of water 
trickles 
through after a hard rain.

Follow the rivulet 
deeper 
into the trees, 
and in the swell of the ground, 
a black, gaping hole 
opens

in the mound of rocks and earth.  

Apricots falling,
Ripe, unripe, overripe,
bruised, squished, squashed
A meal for a worm,
an ant, a potato bug,
a nursery for an earwig,
a treat for a sneaky skunk
slinking out of his den
before sunset for a taste.
A nibble from a robin
nimble enough to escape
our twin tomcats. 
Small hands tearing 
the two halves apart,
juice trickling down
sticky and stickier cheeks.
Apricots, warmed from the sun,
soft to the touch, 
the scent of sunshine, 
and summer and a
hundred windfalls.

Day 1 / Poem 1

plants peel paint in the sun, revealing
plaster. cheeks fill out with too much
filler — some of it gone, while tiny pieces
find a home in there forever <3

Your cosmetics don’t layer well, you cry. 
I too know how to cake, unporous and shiny,
to lose beauty and grace, feeling the absence 
of friction: slipping all over.

We aren’t building cities above
older cities out here. In this Empire State,
there is nowhere to go except
contend with your neighbor. Digging deeper 
and deeper, can we turn back time? 
(She asmrs in your ear. Detox;
exhale only.)

I miss the 90s:
the age of self-help. No one can tell me
what to do now, except a magazine,
a New Age healer, or someone who speaks
with confidence and authority. & yet 
there are prescriptions 
for everything. 

I could never catch
your lies. That’s what I loved most about you —
even though we were floating, far apart
in our own unrealities, like the Czar’s wife
exiled to her own bedroom 
or monastery, we’d share our love
of evading love with each other.

EVE-stumbles-upon-the-tree-of-knowledge Piranha-Plants-Patter-Song

Make the high noon hot
and trail overlong

the work bone hard
and strides broad.

Make grit of my steps
a sun-seared dust

saliva thick in my throat
wild grasses bent.

Make crops curl
blackbirds stake-stunned

clouds iron out
into starched nothingness.

Make shade flecks sparse
and my voice a choke

for the phrase as it burns
beneath scorched sweat.

Make thistledown explode 
over split raw earth.

Make the long dead bleed
into hot wind song.

flying into the heat of night
after the focus of following a single throughline
I restring my heart to sound all its chords:

               mother         wife              daughter
                           chef           maid                    chauffeur
               artist           teacher           student
                            friend       neighbor             sister
               activist          citizen           businesswoman
                           body         mind                      spirit

the notes stack up
               some harmonious triads
               others jangling, discordant
               each saying something true

every day I arrive
changed and change-less
after the latest vision
has pried my heart open a little more

today the doe who brought her newborn twins
exactly at breakfast
then circumambulated the house
so we might appreciate every angle

just another gift
I’d never think to ask for

And what’s at stake there?
Nothing more or less than
what drove the doe
or Hank’s offer of planter boxes
or the mysterious soul who put me on this plane
or the hands who picked rock into whale
or those who carried fisher cats deep into the quietest grove
or Charlie who offered rest
or his chosen who accepted it?

What’s always at stake is
missing the magic
sparkling around the edges
of even dark days.
What’s at stake is
not being worthy 
of all the universe has set in motion
(it’s watching to see 
how much of it I’ll catch).
What’s at stake is
not being equal to the challenge
of doing anything (or -one) justice,
of wasting even a moment
of this privilege of presence.

                                      after David Whyte

As the fourteenth year of her disability and 22nd
year of our marriage come to their ends, there
are some words I say to my bedridden wife each
visit, though I cannot say she knows their meaning:

Perhaps what we call death is actually more
an abrupt waking, I whisper, for which we must all
prepare, near comatose or not. I hope that even
eyes-closed and mouth speechless, you are doing this.

After all the years, and all the struggle, I want
to know that when you are finally tired enough
of dying, you will discover that you want to live
on the other side of death, that you may find

love on the other side of death, and you shall
willingly walk across death’s dark territory, no
matter how fluid and dangerous it may seem,
to at last find that one light that belongs to you.

Atlas. What I used
to find my way in the world.
Paper and ink, 
tracing dotted state lines.

Now, digital maps with 
zoom features allow
me to find a house,a box on the street.
Scroll in,switch to street view.

Study the yellow 
hydrangeas at 450 Pine.
A peak into a moment in time
before pavement, rocks trickle

up the driveway and end
at a red shed not visible from the street, 
where an old Ford hunches, 
an atlas in its trunk.

So many firsts go 
unnoticed, unseen, 
misremembered, 
pseudo-ordinary
Embodied in time
A spark, cells divide
Squirrels forget
and Oak trees climb
What makes a moment
a milestone, a first?
A first breath, a first step, 
a first word, a wave
to a kindergartner,
a graduate, to a bride.
I tell my daughters 
I want to be there 
for all their firsts 
and some
of their lasts. 
I want to see what
the forgotten seeds, 
scattered onto the 
landscape of their lives
become when all
is said and done.