bookmark_borderCourtside Tickets

What stands between your words and my actions,
is a barrel of government contractors, an asterisk
along the ankles, a four-letter word for treason.
I am at this very point two sides stapled together
and presented lengthwise; a catapult of shame
and a horse in need of re-shoeing.

There is a precipice of pupil and promise,
a red velvet rope at the local theater, designed
to simultaneously keep out and in what percolates
through and permeates this very layer of decorum.

Having observed your role from the streets
through open windows, I set free my autopsy
of allegiance, a bridge so close my feet stumble
over it as if in lightness—an angel or something
less arcane.

Dear mother, I have stood before you and recognized
my role in this transaction. I am the rabbit, always late,
and you, dear queen, a slip of paper sporting spade or heart,
forever spilling sprinkles over a stand of mushrooms.

The caterpillar in the next chapter alternates puffs of smoke
from a half-brass hookah, and thumbs through the small print
of the local phonebook for your name and address.

All things being equal, a church bell rings and your head
decides there’s nothing left to do but roll.

This poem appeared in The Ocotillo Review, July 2020.


All of the streets and courtyards
are empty. The mayor asks citizens
to report those who break quarantine.
A boy wanders outside the Colosseum
while his mother sleeps off last night’s
heavy pour of table wine.

On the news, Italians serenade each
other on balconies, but they do not sing
in Rome because the epidemic has not yet taken
hold. There is little to celebrate when death
is coming for parents and grandparents,
a frail neighbor who smiles out her window.

A woman says it is ironic that a city
prided for its history should so mourn
its future, their only weapon another
month or two of hunkering down, and
based on neighbors to the north it will
not be enough.

She is 53 and unsure if that means she
is more or less likely to die. She says
she wishes she had visited the National Gallery
before this all started, that she wanted
to see Giacoma Balla’s A Wave of Light
one more time.

The woman in the painting looks exactly
as I remember my mother who died when
I was a girl. After seeing it for that one
and only time, I went to the restroom
and cried in a stall for an hour.

A man, a photographer, says he has only left
his house for groceries and to put out
the trash. I thought about taking my camera
on my walks to the store but there’s something
spiritual about the emptiness of Rome
I do not want to upset—a serenity
that you cannot capture in a photo.

The boy has returned from his walk, his
mother will soon wake and make him toast
with a thin layer of strawberry jam.
He is getting too old to be waited on,
he knows as does his mother, but for now,
they will each play their respective roles.

Outside the city limits, a nurse returns
with amended protocols. There will not be
enough room to treat the coming wave so
most people will need to be treated at home,
only those deemed serious or young enough
be admitted to the hospitals.

A doctor asks about the ventilators
that were sent north. When will they be
returned? No one knows. When he calls
the person he coordinated with, no one
answers. He leaves a message and returns
to his empty desk, everything filed
and organized in anticipation.

For those who believe, this is the time
for prayer. For those who do not, this
is the time for waiting.

This poem appeared on Rattle, April 2020.


I find you face down,
nestled somewhere between dream and sleep,
as if one could exist without the other,
as if a petty argument the night before
had never happened.

The silence of your back and shoulders
invites me back to bed,
where I anchor myself,
where my mind skips rocks as my father fishes.

The tension is as subtle as the water’s surface,
capable of holding up boats and a chubby boy
escaping the heat of summer.
Do you dream of such things, I wonder
as I approach my second wake?

Had we been childhood friends, I could imagine
you a spot on the water’s edge,
alongside my father.
Your arms stretched out,
the visible part of your skin warms
from midday sun as your body
slowly takes on water.

This poem appeared in New Plains Review, Spring 2020.

bookmark_borderBreaking Point

My mother spent my teenage years saying
she couldn’t take it anymore, but she did.
She had no choice but to take it
7 days a week.

Chugging coffee over the sink
before her commute to work, looking out
the back window where the sun would cut
into the morning. A lit cigarette
in the ashtray beside her.

At night she’d make a pot of spaghetti
swollen double size on account
of the hour on boil. A sheen of grease
on the sauce from the ground beef
she never drained.

Among the days of taking it were the nights
of vodka roulette, I never knowing which
mother would show up:

The funny mother who slurred her words
and danced me into the dining room
where the good china would click
in step with our feet.

Or the other one who knew how
to exact the maximum pain
per square inch of fingernail.

She was some kind of crazy I promised
myself I’d never become.

There are a lot of things we shoulder
that if we were asked we’d rather decline:
a night lost in the woods, a month
spent nursing an incision where a fist-sized
mass of cancer has been removed.

The phone calls where it’s obvious
her memory is skipping stones across a pond.

To her, my daughter is always in the sixth
grade, not in high school. My son
still plays with toy cars she sends
and the tooth fairy leaves you money
for your teeth rather than taking a wrench
to your jaw because you took too long
to find the TV remote.

Unable to take it, she continues even now,
rolling down the window of her car
as she gives the woman at the pharmacy
her order: Big Mac, no pickle, fries.

This poem appeared in Ponder Review, Vol. 4, 2020


The careful moment I pull the trigger
and the buck skips a short dash, its last.

How a rack of antlers resembles the bars
of a small cage, and the warm lifeless body requires
that one empty the entrails here along the edge
of the wood, a strip of knife along the belly,
the carcass now something more appropriate in weight
to struggle to the truck.

On the way out, a clearing of buttercups
and a pair of does. Their tails twitch,
and then they retreat.
I lower the sun visor and drive as the acid
rises to the back of my throat.

This poem appeared in Variant Literature, May 2020.

bookmark_borderNew Year’s Eve 2020

Since the pandemic, no parties, no people
on the street waiting for the ball to drop,
just my husband and a couple of friends.

We drive to our cottage near the beach
to celebrate new beginnings
someplace new, at least to get away
from the sameness that has begun to suffocate:
the same four walls, same floor and ceiling,
even the Amazon boxes that collect weekly
in the recycling.

Here the walls are a different hue, the floors
more even and a tad darker, everything is slightly
not the same. The grocery store nearby sells
similar things, but in different arrangements:
bread, milk, bananas in different corners.

We scroll through TV channels for a host different
from years past, this one just as chipper
but less recognizable. He will do for the alchemy
we require this year.

A toast to something different: a vaccine
for the people, a sip of normalcy in which
dinner at a restaurant doesn’t seem so reckless,
where a movie on Friday night seems
an escape and not a risk, no jumping from a plane
tethered to an instructor for a steak and a salad.

I tick the boxes in my head: no more shutdowns,
no more masks, no more line in the sand
for political factions. I want the variety
of small shops open on Main Street,
a heated mall in which to circle inside
during winter, a place where restaurants
are all open and at capacity, even the bustle
of rush hour traffic as people travel
to and from actual jobs.

But in the end, I simply want my family and friends
to be safe. I want the clock at midnight to reset
and all the pain, annoyances, and deaths to stop.
An old woman wakes to New Year’s fireworks
someone has set off in the adjacent cul-de-sac.

She reaches for her husband
but he is not there, not since he died in July
from Covid. There were fireworks then as well.
She remembers seeing the sky
after the nurse called to say
he had passed: pink and blue pulses
of light amidst crackles and pops.

She remembers feeling nothing,
a suck of air in and out.
Her eyes puddle and she thinks of her two sons,
how they stood in her living room and each made calls,
planned a small ceremony for four days out,
to which almost no one came.

She closes her eyes and makes a wish
she knows cannot possibly come true.
Her mind rearranges memories and she struggles
to remember the name of the store
where her husband bought his suits,
wondering if it will ever open again.

bookmark_borderSpring Flowers in a Vase

The husband brings home a vase filled
with white daisies because he knows his wife
likes surprises, and there have been so few
lately. The vase is clear with internal
cracks that don’t quite run through
the entire side. He had joked with the cashier
that he hoped it would hold water, which
it does as his wife fills it and places it
in the middle of the kitchen island.

The vase bereft of flowers finds its way
to a bookcase in a guest bedroom,
where the wife sometimes gets away and
reads classics she meant to read when younger:
Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre. She notices
it is dusty so she takes it to the hall
bathroom and rinses it, wiping the smooth glass
with a blue hand towel. She smiles remembering
her husband’s warm smile. It has been a year since
he passed away from a heart attack.

The woman’s niece is boxing up belongings
for a yard sale, tells a neighbor that her
aunt is adjusting to assisted living:
no room for all this stuff. The vase
sells quickly to an artist who uses it
for a still-life filled with orange tulips,
then sets it on his table where it collects
dried brushes and rubber bands from the mail.
He one day empties it before driving west
to visit his mother, his rusting hatchback full of gas
and packed with his annual stock of paintings.

His mother takes the vase and smiles widely.
She begins to transfer lilies and gardenias
from a cheap green vase to this new one,
stopping to discuss all the baking she has done:
sugar cookies with white icing in their
respective tins for family and neighbors,
peanut butter fudge just for him, and
a pecan pie resting next to the oven.
He shows her the painting of the tulips and
she carries it into the dining room.
She takes down a painting of sailboats
and asks her son to hang it right there.

bookmark_borderThe Easy Way Out

I rearrange my grandmother in loose-leaf pages,
each poem a memory, a sterling trinket in a felt pouch
I keep by my side, often touching it throughout
the day, the way one checks a phone
through a pocket. There is the poem where
she teaches me about the many tastes and states
of salt, the one where I learn to measure
for biscuits using my hands: a palmful of lard,
a turn of the wrist for a pour of buttermilk.

She remembered growing up poor in Kentucky,
going to town in a horse-pulled buggy—an old mare
name Beatrice—after a girl that once caught my
great-grandfather’s eye, something I’ve saved
for a future piece. Her father’s cruel yet loving
legacy continues to this day within me
and my daughter: quick to love, quicker to anger.

For this I now take a pill, a form of bipolar disorder
that is spread out along the whole of my family tree,
like an infected dogwood with large leaf spots.
I told my uncle about Risperidone after his last
episode, every door ripped from its hinges.
I told my brother after he grew angry and threw
his girlfriend out because she found out he was
cheating. So far, no takers.

There is a form of adrenaline that comes with rage,
the kind I always imagined could lift cars off
children, hit baseballs over fences, but I only
know fists through sheetrock, broken plates,
and an arm through whatever stands in my way.

My grandmother married a man like her father,
full of laughter and mirth on a short fuse, telling
how she would sometimes go for walks on the farm
when she felt the thunder building in his mind,
the small ripples in the water’s surface
that indicate something big is right below.

My children called it walking on eggshells, knew
when I had this charged energy within me and was
ready to single out any nonsense reason to lash
out. I was a calculated hothead, a man trying
to apply logic to a misaligned emotional state.
This anger was always followed by regret and guilt,
which I tried to justify away but never could.
It was like trying to assign meaning to a tornado
or a plague, that somehow the victim played a
role in all this.

My son is like my father, mostly calm, only
occasional anger bubbling up in understandable
measure. He was the steady hand on mine that
tried to assuage the monster within me when it
surfaced: a 30-pound catfish covered in scars
and missing part of its left soft dorsal fin.
I do not miss it, swimming through life with a hook
in my mouth because no line was strong enough
to reel me in.

My grandmother lived in the country and I loved it
when she accelerated on the gravel road
near her house, the car shaking like a bull
before it throws the rider.

I am now the person I intend to be, a pile
of expired maps on my passenger seat as I try
to navigate the days before me, the road
transitioning from gravel to blacktop.

This poem appeared in The Ocotillo Review, July 2020.

bookmark_borderDrive By

A misfire of justice.
The worry of something hard and smooth.
The tactile test of opal along the fingers.
The soft parts of the flower or the hard stature of a man imposed.
In the terrarium of the inner city the lid cracked and not enough
peanut butter to spread the length of four children.
Perhaps a therapy of furniture, two minutes on the couch
in between shifts, an entire living room set $59 a week.
Cigarette butts and a used condom on the sidewalk.
Tobacco stuffed in paper and sold in cartons.
Three days wages at a time.
Here azaleas bloom only in books and a plastic crocodile
in the back of an abandoned car.
Wheels and tires too far gone to tempt petty crimes.
On a street corner a blue light warns of a higher power.
The fact at any moment a man’s hand can reach down and grab you.
The eco-system remains artificially out of balance.
Paint comes unstuck from the walls.
The sun splatters white across a window sill
and nails hum under the strain of it all.
The center of the stoop gives way until from the edge
of the road it resembles a smile.

This poem appeared in the Hole in the Head Review, May 2020.

bookmark_borderRestroom Sign, Acrylic on Canvas

Before this, I was a cloud on good authority.

I didn’t have the heart to settle for anything less
than full iceberg against low hung sky.

She shatters the fence post from fist
to eye and back again.

The man who operates the chipper ride:
No need to keep your hands inside at all times.

A prayer for more blind, less vision in the time
it takes for an hour to pass.

The better part of an afternoon humming room.
The only way she’ll make it to the swearing in

is with a bag of pardons and a couple
right-leaning justices in the backside pocket.

A froth of black robes spilling to the floor.
Arabica beans on the outfield, low roasted.

The earthy simmer of plant and propane.
The fire department called in for recess.

The train conductor pauses at my row and smiles.
His punch card full, and his hands

the universal symbol for dancing.

This poem previously appeared in snapdragon, March 2020.