Sunday, December 18, 2011

Random Questions

Page 1,961 of the Random
House Unabridged Dictionary
is a world of testaceans and testicles,
the latter vulnerable, the former
protected by a bony shell. They squat
among test-tube babies and tessera,
thankfully past caring about Tesla’s coils.

If I’d been born in 1961 with
testicles, would I have married
me? And would we have divorced,
and I have lost the children? Would I,
like you, have grown testaceous,
drawn into the arched and vaulted
safe house I constructed
and now carry on my back?

What if randomness isn’t
random: testaceans deliberately
sidle up to testicles, page numbers
point, every sign leads inward,
each connection presses down?

If life is a test with 1,961 questions,
will I pass? I’d like to ask a turtle
if the shell is worth the weight.
I’d like to ask the Tester,
which tessera am I, a holy tile
in Your mosaic, or merely
a fragment of bone?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Villanelle for an Afghan Boy

This poem first appeared in the California Quarterly.

It seems my math class kills his joy.
He tucks his chin as he enters.
He’s a quiet boy.

He doesn’t try, just sits, uncoiling
lanky limbs. He won’t experiment
with polygons or graph a trapezoid.

“Math Class in Your Country” – he’d avoid
that essay choice, I was sure. One fluent
paragraph for a B. He’s such a quiet boy

that when he turned in a whole page, I rejoiced.
Then his words humbled my impertinence.
My math class didn’t kill his joy.

The Taliban came to his school with toys,
then laid out his teachers dead-center,
dead; he survived by being a quiet boy.

Sixteen of his teachers’ lives destroyed –
zero survival of dissenters.
There’s the math that killed his joy
and made him a quiet boy.

X's and O's

This poem first appeared in Bellowing Ark.

Blackberries from your ex-husband,
are never plump and juicy. He
will not cull the unripe pips, the ones
you argued about back when you were
still married. His bitter berries
bruise your tongue.

Bills always multiply,
never divide or
subtract, and the balance
loves zero.

Late at night, alone, you
fumble upward. Christ!
you cry, reaching
the big O.

Waiting at an intersection,
your lover speaks. I’m
Robin Hood, he
says. I steal from the
median if I see an endangered
plant. Sometimes I give
up looking,
he says,
and then there it is.

You draw an O in the center
square, trying to block four X’s.
You tuck the blackberries
behind the milk, hoping God
is still in the fridge, minding the


This poem first appeared in Aura Literary Arts Review.

larva (plural larvae): the immature, wingless, feeding stage of an insect
larvae: in Roman religion, the ghosts of the family dead

A Roman woman knew to place a stone
in her womb, a primitive barrier.
Did she know as well the herbs, the chants
and spells, to end unwanted life?

And later, did a tiny larva, wingless,
follow her as she swept the floor,
bathed and tended the fire, ate grapes?

Did she then cast a prayer to the sky, bake
a propitiatory loaf of bread?
And did the larvae of her making, her
personal contribution to the
family dead, did her larvae depart?

Or did it follow her still, as she swept,
as she baked and bathed and shopped
and prayed, as she wept?


This poem first appeared in NDU Presents... Survival.

“Acariciando la muerte,” collage by Luis Gonzalez Palma

Her eyes unblink of death; silver print
Kodalite glows softly, young and knowing.
Smoke rises, eight cakes, a grove of candles lit
and spent. Singed birthday cards say Siempre es grato,
her siempre a sepia crown of thorns and promise
rings. Acariciando scratched like a scar
on gray plaster – embracing, Acariciando
la muerte.
Her interrupted life has been stapled
with love to the wall. A plain oak frame,
her bounded casket, encompasses boundless grief
yet also joy. They celebrate her life, reclaim
her eight whole years, happy birthday, and I believe
their embrace, their always. My own deaths unseal
and siempre, acariciando, felicidades, I heal.

Grieving My Father

This poem first appeared in Margie: The American Journal of Poetry.

Our father died again tonight
on the island of Lesbos. A crescent
moon hung over the castle,
and the stench of a thousand
slaughtered pigs, an offering
to Demeter, wafted down
celebratory roads. On our street,
a traditional lead tablet, nailed
to the wall with forged lead
nails, curses all lawyers.

Five years ago, we rented a grave
for our father, a ruddy-faced peasant,
too red said some, blood
red. Tonight we dug for his bones,
to place him in the box
my brother built. In the shadows
cast by torches, his flesh
was still fresh, a vampire, they said,
and the whispers spread like a winter
storm. The priest brought a lead
spike and drove it through our
father’s chest. The ribs splintered
and the blood was a dry black stain.

We must pay a tithe of our harvest
for another five years to rent
his grave again. Others
sleep soundly tonight,
the vampire vanquished, but I
cry for the twice dead.

Vincent Implores Her Husband

This poem first appeared in Ship of Fools.

“Oh, God, what fun it is to be happy again, & to be writing romantic ardent nonsense to the only infant dragon-killer since Hercules wore didies.”
Edna St. Vincent Millay, letter to her lover, George Dillon, 1928

Eugen, I have met a man, a youngish
man. He is tall and slender,
with black wavy hair. He is a baby really,
an infant of twenty-one. He drawled,
“I’m George Dillon,” and he’s a poet.
What could I do but fall in love?
You will say he is too tender
for me, but what are fourteen years?
You say his lips cannot be as soft
as a young girl’s nipple, but they
are. You will like him too, Eugen, love,
I know it. You must. He admires you
already; you must meet soon.

Eugen, darling, my cavalier, you must
write George at once and invite him to
Steepletop. Invite him to stay with us.
He has taken a job in Chicago, poor
boy, so far from his Kentucky, too far
from New York for weekends. You must
convince him that I love him.
How could I not? Eugen, we must
show him the pool we built, and the
blueberry pasture. I will sit on his bed
and feed him an omelet, then we three will
drink coffee on the terrace, and be silly
and wise, like children.

Eugen, tell him I need him here. Tell him
I have written twenty-six sonnets. Put them
in your letter. I wrote them for him, but
two of the sonnets are for you, Eugen; you
must tell him so. Tell him we will
wash dishes and fire off our guns. Tell him
we will write beautiful sonnets, terrible
sonnets, and the poems will last,
whatever comes of love.
Tell him to come, Eugen.