bookmark_borderAmerican Obsessive

My best friend’s life has been stripped to its essence. His living room is devoid of brash luxuries: no couches, no chairs. Twenty-eight years later, he’s still waiting for the right ones. His only photos are JPEGs on a computer. He likes to keep the walls pristine, freshly-painted Sherwin Williams Steamed Milk White every three years. I just don’t have the heart to sully such a perfect wall with nails.

Everything in his pantry bears the date of purchase in Sharpie. He’s given up cable TV for YouTube, mostly grocery hauls, middle aged women hoisting bags of frozen mango. He’s convinced the hardwood floors are creaking differently, so he asks me to walk back and forth as he listens.

He keeps the door shut to a third bedroom. Twice he’s shown me what he considers a failing—tall shelves containing more than four-hundred phones. Asimitel, Century, Crosley, Disney, Kingston, Regal, Strowger, Viking. Rotary phones, push-button phones, princess phones, a candlestick phone, a big button landline, a sleek slimline, a PacMan phone, a football phone, a Hot Lips landline.

He stands in the middle of the room. In the corner, four bins run length-wise, resembling a blue sarcophagus. His hand rests on a black Western Electric called the screamer, but there is no screaming. It’s quiet, this room filled with hundreds of phones. No voices other than our own. No rings, buzzes, rattles, clatters, hums.

My friend picks up the red handset of an Asimitel emergency phone and presses it to his cheek. There is no emergency. He sets the receiver back down. The sound of plastic settling into plastic, then nothing, then nothing all over again.

An earlier version of this poem appeared in East by Northeast, September 2020.

bookmark_borderGrowing Wings

Pink wet robin, a baby perched
on the end of a shoe,
plucked right back into the nest,
to be rejected if the oils on my hand aren’t too human.

The alchemy of milk into caramel,
a shifting of weight on linoleum.

When the power finally cuts off
there’s a triangle of steak, a folded slice of bread, and beer.

Wings sit in the back of geometry class.
Mother of pearl at this angle, bending at the knee,
she makes the sign of the agnostic.

HVAC repairmen fashion sheet metal into tear ducts.
A line of migratory birds registering flight paths with the FAA.

This poem appeared in GRIFFEL, June 2020.

bookmark_borderSmall Talk

We are projections on a sheet in the yard,
suspicious spools of film liberated from metal cans.
When there is nothing left to play, the children retreat
to flashlight tag, and the women refresh their wine.

The men huddle in the darkness.
Someone is talking about the circus,
and a boy on stilts who used to shout insults at the crowd.
Your mama’s so short, she needs a ladder to pick up a dime.

The landscape is a mishmash of competing conversations
against a backdrop of cricket chirps.
A chalk-spot of moon hovers overhead.
The men join the women, and the story of how each couple met
becomes fodder for laughs and intrigue.

The new couple who just moved in say they met at the gym
in a nearby state—her just out of college.
What he doesn’t say is that he worked there
and had signed her up with her then husband—
a complimentary personal training session
that ended badly or well, depending on your perspective.

Desire is a stack of chips pushed into the middle of the poker table, all in.
Another one, he interjects. Your mama’s so short, she poses for trophies.
The men laugh. The women look at each other and smile.
The origin story was rehearsed, and tomorrow’s verdict
will be that it was fine. Such stories carry a short middle and end,
deliberate answers for deliberate actions.

A child emerges with a frog in her hand.
Can we keep it? she asks. Absolutely not, her mother says.
Polite laughter, then the girl runs back to the other children.

We have reached a crossroads, nay, a threshold.
Someone has walked into the wind chimes near the back door:
hollow bamboo and aluminum with no cadence.
I think someone has had too much to drink, someone says,
and more laughter.

The new couple stand as one shadow, and she says
it’s time to go, something about stopping at the dry cleaners
on the way to work in the morning.

The soundtrack in her head plays, You’re a fraud.
She smiles. You matter. You’re a good man, she says,
then switches over to another station.

This poem appeared in The Write Launch, July 2020.

bookmark_borderBig Score on a Little Porch

A couple of women in hospital scrubs
steal packages on porches. When
the homeowner checks the footage
he finds the culprit is unfindable,
essentially anyone—essential or not.
They parked far enough away so not
even sure of the car or whether they
walked a few houses down where they
might live. They are everyone and
no one. The video is uploaded and shared
online with neighbors. Very few seem
to care. The police file an incident report
over the phone. He offers the video
to an Amazon customer service rep
who says no need, she’s already sent
out a replacement. These things just
, she says. The price of theft
and damage already calculated in,
less lately because most people are
home but the delivery people don’t
ring the doorbell so there’s always
the chance what happened here will
happen again. Somewhere these women
are opening the box after their big score:
a bottle of anti-itch foot spray
and a 5-pound bag of Epsom salt.

This poem appeared in The Write Launch, 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.

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.