bookmark_borderFalling Outside the Body

Each blade of grass pressed by the bottom of my feet, I walk in open opposition to those seated at the wedding where I should have been your groom. I had learned to speak American through a series of tapes that arrived in the mail, being out of place more a mood than the actual spot where I buried my face into a pillow.

You look at me the way women look at the rib cages of Victorian corset wearers, holding the strings in their mouths while tightening the straps. Cordial cherries I bought at the drug store and administered to those I disdain. A drawer of zip ties and rubber bands. The way Sarajevo means something to those with a past and a passport.

A cat with a factory of purrs, and I will write the pen from the table and across the linoleum. The monotony of friendship, mathematical imprecision at the shoulders my head tucks into, a story of revolution where no hero, no David or Goliath. The haves and have nots both own flat screen TVs, microwaves, bicycles with the hand shake of handle bars, and froyo on almost every corner.

Every 50 years, a family tree re-written, two people fall into the pre-divorced state of marriage, followed by children. Desire on every billboard, commercial, college application. We are being marketed a version of ourselves: improved, enhanced, saddled with one more vacation getaway, a car more indulgent than the last. Was this where I lost you?

Life has starved the emotional connections on the vine so that social media posts trigger feelings. The Christmas commercial for a grocery chain prompts tears as I realize what a dead grandparent truly means. The time we stood on your apartment balcony and caught snowflakes on our tongues.

The boy at middle school whose mother packaged his sandwich in carefully folded wax paper, he experienced just a bit more love than the boy with the dollar bill for a hot lunch. Doubt is the real currency of capitalism. What if my future kids think I don’t love them because I didn’t buy them Lunchables? What if my future wife realizes all that’s stopping her from sleeping with other men is whether I bought the best patio set?

The landscape architect says he can tell your husband loves his family before steering him to the deluxe package, with swimming pool and white picket fence: vinyl, maintenance free, years of family parties before the inevitable divorce. My mind is a pocket cactus I take out and set on the window sill in the kitchen.

During a recent lunch with a co-worker, I learned she was on marriage number four. I loved them all, she said. There’s just a sort of magic that takes place in the first three years that she can only catch in a new one, a new ring, proposal, honeymoon, getting to know someone all over again for the not first time.

Even the waiters are singing along to the Christmas song amidst the clink of dishes and glasses filled and refilled. Not to trouble you taps the outside of my car window, but it’s awfully cold, and how much alive do I want to feel on my ride home?

A $5 bill I keep in the center console for such occasions. The truth in giving isn’t the size so much as the convenience, how paper currency folded in half and slipped like Cold War secrets takes me back. The time I fed scraps to the stray dog, and he came back with friends, so you called animal control. For their own good.

The amount of trouble caring takes depends on the make of the car and the condition of the roads. Under my seat, the ashes of a favorite uncle sealed in a cardboard box, waiting for just the right time I’m not sure will ever come.

At the crossroads of empty gestures, I wonder if tipping the barista is a way of asserting my humanity. I sit in front of my laptop, my finger hovering over the track pad uncertain whether to accept your friend request. I wonder why you are circling back to me: perhaps an inventory of paths not taken, perhaps an easier way to measure the years and ultimately keep score?

This poem appeared in The Write Launch, July 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_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.

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.