Waiting for my Body to Catch Up

I seize. A car engine driven
too long in the hot sun, steam
escaping from under the hood,
radiator a dark-throated beast
seethes and leaks. I stand

stricken. Words blown
from me by the sharp air
of your death. I crouch in
the bushes, wait for the worst
to pass, for muscles to

remember. Here, in the current
of life called Maine, here in
the vertex of all my choices,
I expect the world to stop,
the leaves still, the black calls

of the birds to fall like ashes
on the split curtain of June. This hard
packed bough, my mother’s death.
I climb the hill, feet meeting road,
tar a hot slap on my soles.

Published in:
The Comstock Review
Fall/Winter 2015

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In the ghost room

we talk about the past,
the first time we took off our shoes
whispered in the cobwebbed corners.

For me it was that day on tenth street
the old house standing like a man
with missing teeth, disheveled

among all the clean suburban lines.
Of course it called to us and we stood
with scabbed brown knees

and one of the boys – I don’t remember
which one – Freddie, most likely,
with his skewed freckles and dirty

fingernails – said there was a dead
body in the room upstairs, the closet.
A dare to enter this house

with black air in the windows
instead of glass, unkempt trees
rubbing the dust, fear and longing

sharp splinters inside my feet.
My hand pushes through into
this emptiness, disappears the way

things do when time swallows them.
What is it you hold in your mouth when
you’ve chewed up all the words and can’t

go on? That’s what my lips held then,
climbing the steps, reaching for the doorknob,
hand cupped, ready to turn.

Published in:
The Comstock Review
Fall/Winter 2015

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Litany

That first morning after her divorce
she burns her floral apron, the lilac shoes
with stiletto heels, the kumquat blouse, a cape

of steel blue. She rummages through a box marked Summer,
pulls free the orange bikini, sands of Newport Beach glitter

on her fingers. She adds huaraches to the pile, caresses
the slit neck of the caftan, the bell sleeves imprinted

with patterns that once filled her with desire. She combs the drawers,
thick with night silks, grabs the grey necks of cashmere turtles,

the hems of sequined peasants, scoops bandeaux, tanks, halters.
She nearly misses contentment, tossed forgotten over the back of the chair,

tired from excessive wear. She plucks grace from the wardrobe, bitter
with pearls of denial, tosses in the worn out boots, soles walked through,

skin of remittance clinging to the inside. The cropped denim imaginings
and early pea coat silences try to hide their folds in dark closet,

but she rips them free. That morning after her divorce, she strikes
the match against her naked iron thigh, licks the flame across her lips,

makes promises, tattoos a glowing coal with her new name.
The smoke rises, a ball gown stretching its satin arms to the sky.

Published in:
The Comstock Review
Fall/Winter 2015

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Where I Find Belief

In the arms of a spruce, a black-capped chickadee,
gray wings flat against its body.

Among twigs in the thin crown of the birch moving against
distant clouds like the fingers of the blind reading the coming storm,

through a white oak leaf flattened on the trailer’s top,
still and perfect. Under the overturned hull of the kayak

lying on leaf-littered ground, abandoned like the thick days
of summer. Tracing the dark brown

water of Wescott Stream, moving again after the dry spell.
In the turtle that crawls towards comfort

on its muddy bottom.

Published in:
Poetry Breakfast
Jan. 2017

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Another Morning

The past lies in her hand like a dead bird, feathers spread,
feet covered in dust. It frightens her, but still she holds it.

Into the sadly turned nape, she reads her own failings,
in the steely blue-black wings, her own stiff desire, the need

she has to be held. This is ridiculous! she tells herself. Mad
flies circle her hand. I’ll change this, find something better—

a coin, a forsaken toy, a wildflower. Yet this dead bird becomes
so much a part of her—her lips now a beak, the turn of her head

a bob. Her mother a woman nesting on a couch. Her father
with eyes of sharp obsidian, blustering amidst a crowd

of strangers. A trill, whirs, a sharp chirp. There’s so much
grit in the years. This morning she looked at old photos,

starchy shots, her mother with a hand on her shoulder.
The day beckons. A car passes. The present squirms

like a deer mouse, pushing its nose on her palm,
deeper in color, insistent, perhaps kinder. Morning

split with bird calls, the underside of everything revealed.

Published in:
Poetry Breakfast
Dec. 2016

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Rituals

On Thanksgiving, over the gravy, the conversation turned to animals –
turkeys, pigs, goats – the hostile mean-spirited boar who attacked his owner,

the lack of value in billies, the croak of the auctioneer selling kids
for ten, fifteen bucks, small white baas bouncing around the stage.

I drift off to that morning ritual so long ago, my head against Mrs. Goat’s side,
fingers steady on her teats, the rhythmic zzzt, zzzt, into the pail.

Both of us held in the white breath of morning, chewing our grain of contentment,
our lives the color of hay, the gray between the floor boards of the shed.

No thought yet of a packed motorcycle, a hot room under fetid air
from Miami International and Pan Am’s belching jets, the loss of a kid,

the aching sorrow of Johne’s disease, a divorce, a house fallen in slate-
covered shadows, empty except for crayoned drawings on the walls,

boys who took so long to grow into the exuberance of manhood,
this table with salt, pepper, turkey, in-laws, everything crowded into one room,

only the warmth of that four legged-body against my cheek, the white milk building
in the pail, finally her rear leg stamping, the signal that milking is done.

Published in:
Clementine Unbound
Dec. 2016

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Past lives

When you haul out the old photos from the box, they

lie on the table, faded black and white, names written

on the back long ago, by someone preparing for the day

 

no living friends would summon them over for coffee,

or offer a ride to the beach. Today your grandson looks

on as you pull up relations like weeds from some long

 

untended garden. He has the easy part, to hold the edges

still, while you decipher faces, unearth connections.

His feet, in long purple sneakers, stretch beneath the table.

 

One early photo shows his great-grandmother riding

her husband’s shoulders. She laughs. Even though you both

know she never did in later life, her small face always pinched

 

and pruned. The pile seems never ending, one old photo

after another. Early autos. A pony. Someone’s calico

cat. Domestic scenes. The military. The boy never complains,

 

says nothing, until you come to the photo of him as

an infant, lying against your chest, both of you with eyes

closed. Look at that, he says. We are all asleep.

 

Published in:

Eclectica

Oct./Nov. 2015

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Truthsayer

a rim of sorrow

circles my cup

my mouth hesitates there

unhappy with the words

that have come of late

unhappy with the way time has caught us

pinioned by our separate desires

miserable and weeping in our tea

 

is this the song we sing then

a song of parting

nettled with despair

or will we continue sitting

brittle and blank as new eggs

buttering our toast

swallowing in grim gulps

sipping at our tea

my fortune eludes me

there are no leaves to read

within my cup

 

Published in:

Voices International (winter 1982)

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My neighbors are morose at the village store

They stand square-shouldered, thick coated,

boot treads leaking dirty snow on the linoleum floor.

Storm after storm covers roads, driveways — more

 

than I ever thought possible. One day

drifts into the next, white on white. Customers

jostle each other in line, arms thick with bacon,

milk, wine, all the last minute items needed

before we are caked in again. Back home,

my feet sink into the unpacked snow, entering

the house each frozen step beneath me groans.

 

The flakes are fat this time, wheels of frost

that twist past my window. They fall

unheeded on the stream, a bed of ice

except where the water falls over stones

from the old dam, breaking free in one cold

moment, a flash of blue against all the white.

 

title taken from the poem High Water by Jane Kenyon

 

Published in:

Off the Coast, Summer 2015

 

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Last Stop

Long before the train huffs into the station, before

the windows swim with gray pecks of birds and blue

smoke from the end of dying cigarettes, I wonder

 

what I might say to keep the music going or even if

it’s worth the effort to shake the tree and make

a final apple fall between the two of us, a last resort

 

to gather the dry stems of something once crisp

and young and weave them into – what? –

a basket or a backstop or any damn thing. Or maybe

 

just call a last hurrah, have a drink and be done

with it, a cod standing on its last legs like a dog

that hasn’t been fed a decent meal in over

 

a month, now riddled with fleas, fur matted with

burrs, mud, unanswered texts and calls, drinking

from puddles muddy with hope. Spit on it.

 

Nice guys finish last and nice girls just sit

beside the phone until it rings. An old story.

I think about the sequence of events, hear

 

the names of the stations called as I near

the last one, the last laugh, where I may (or may

not) make one last ditch effort to entrance you

 

forever, to fill you in on every last detail of what

is wrong with my life without you, of what a stupid

shit you are for moving to this god forsaken

 

twin bed without even an extra pillow. I stand

on the shivering floor, reach up to extract one

small carry on, keep my feet in the lurch

 

and last gasp of the train and the cry

of the conductor as he hawks out the name

of the final station and I step cautiously

 

along behind the row of other numbed

travelers, my brain primed at the last minute

to bark, to shriek, to wail.

 

Published in:

Off the Coast, Summer 2015

 

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