All posts in Poetry

  • Paper Coffin

    She planned a burial in origami.
    Folding, unfolding sheets.
    Imagining the tight, crispness
    of cold corners,
    the contrast to her days
    of television static
    and the rows of meal after meal after meal.
    All of it pressed back
    by a ninety degree angle.
    The world folding away
    from her eyes.

  • The Girl in the Picture

    for Kim Phuc

    The girl in the picture —
    the naked one with flames on her back,
    arms flung wide, exposed bare pubis —
    the girl in the picture ran down the road
    and the world gasped when it saw her
    napalm ravaged steps.

    The girl in the picture, skin burned through to her bones
    Did not die from jellied gasoline like
    her brothers who hid with her during the
    attack. When she left the hospital barely mended
    she wanted to hide her scars away from prying eyes,
    wanted to heal scorched children like herself.

    But the girl in the picture was summoned to Ho Chi Minh City.
    Her President ordered her wounds undressed for visitors,
    paid camera crews to film her gnarled skin. Years later
    she stole away to Cuba. Studying medicine in the island’s heat
    she dreamed of wearing short sleeve dresses,
    waving smooth arms as she danced like the other girls.

    The girl in the picture is a woman now.
    She married and gave birth to a child.
    She flew over the country that ordered her set fire,
    escaped from the plane when it refueled in Canada.
    These days, when it’s cold she pulls her coat sleeves
    all the way over her fingers to hide her past.

    The girl in the picture teaches her son to count in Vietnamese,
    Spanish, and English. As he plays with her scarred fingers she
    wonders why many years ago she had to wear flames.
    Wonders when she will show her picture to her son
    and how she will explain to him the reasons
    his mother had to run naked before the world.

  • Twister

    I blame Dorothy –
    fantasy morphed to nightmare at age six.
    I’d spot a skinny neck descending
    from stooped shoulders of blue-black clouds,

    fangs ripping ground, mouth gulping houses,
    bicycles, cornstalks, sucking Lake Erie
    through a straw, spitting out stripped branches
    stuck in its teeth miles from toppled trees,

    roaring, rumbling on its flight path
    straight toward me. Tucked covers only egged it on.
    Sometimes it’d snatch my bed, play with its prey,
    give me a spin around its gullet, a coaster plunging

    skyward. If I’d crouch in a closet or flatten in a ditch,
    it might teasingly wing by, wait for another night,
    another night. Or it might bring more in its wake,
    three or seven, maybe eleven hell-bent fiends.

    I don’t know why it came so often, or why it stopped.
    Dare I rouse that old dragon? Will whispering its name
    draw it back into my slumber? Did I disappoint it
    when I hid myself, my sons, their friends so well?

    I survey unsettled skies, bellies of clouds,
    alert to the slightest harbinger of funnel necks,
    freight train roars, vortex breath,
    ready in a flash to shepherd family to shelter

    and wait till the voice no longer bellows.

  • What We Do

  • On the Road to Basra

    Fleshy nubs wriggle on the boy’s elbows,
    forearms lost in stony plains of Al-Amarah
    by a mine meant for Revolutionary Guards

    then forgotten like the way he used
    to twirl hair at the back of his neck
    when he was three. Behind him

    Saddam smiles on a sandstone wall, chest
    festooned with medals. He doesn’t realize
    his face is pockmarked with bullet holes

    and splashes of paint black as dried blood.
    In the dusty courtyard, sandals kick a soccer ball.
    One child breaks free from the scrum, dribbles

    toward the crippled goalkeeper. The ball
    sails past flailing stubs then bounces
    back from the wall. Clapping elbows

    together, the boy yells a taunt. Half-arms
    dance above his head and he sets his jaw
    as if to say, Is that all you’ve got?

  • Cause and Effect

    The fact that the blades of knives left unused for a month-or-so
    return without fresh setting or sharpening is amazing,
    but because no reason for this has yet been assigned,
    The World’s Largest Knife Outlet closes early on St. Valentine’s Day.

    Because I know spraying the back of my daughter’s arm
    lets the kiddie-pool-slosh water the grass,
    but because they go unwasted
    the tears from the hose can’t be mine.

    I thought once to tell her to sap the earth like the wisteria root
    because even if it has the most wanton and wicked arms,
    its purple lanterns make perfect frames for people’s faces.

    Because the whole of him rarely adds up to the sum of his parts,
    it’s sad (but not that sad) the Cheshire Cat’s webpage is not available for viewing.

    We both hear the neighbor lady’s baby crying in house next door,
    but I’m too scared to define for my daughter the word widow
    or explain the reasons for war.

    I know for a fact the collective self-bounty of Americans
    has emptied out faster than a whiskey drinker’s bowels
    after the first sip of morning coffee, but that’s not the reason
    the stock price for The Paintings of Horses by Amateurs Inc.
    has utterly plummeted into the valleys of those same paintings’ backgrounds.

    But because a murderous psychopath now thinks
    all the gods he never believed in are a simpler human’s explanation of aliens
    poised to return in fits of violence and disappointment,
    because now there is something to answer to—

    with eyes and arms that will slide knives through him,
    disassemble him into his component parts—

    he has stopped killing people
    and is now working as a Maritime Specialist in the local
    nautical museum, I cry, after the pool’s emptied,
    my child is sleeping, and the mice in the garage watch safely
    as I paint landscapes and horses and huge purple moons.

  • Yemayá

    (Standing on the Beach : Taking On the Stars and Cold Wind)

    I should have built you an altar, burned a blue seven-day candle, and placed a honey-smothered watermelon in a bowl for you before coming here. I could have brought you that melon and sat it down on the shore for your waves to engulf.

    I don’t even have seven pennies for seven wishes to cross myself with and drop into the ocean.

    Mother of the Seven Seas, I extend my arms to you, hands palm side up, eyes closed imagining blue flowers — their petals trickling from between my fingers falling and floating on your body of water — hoping that this gesture will please you.

    Protector of Children, I come to you tonight disguised in the body of a man, but I will stand beneath your crown of moon and stars and strip my flesh to present the unprotected child, fetal in my chest, who needs your compassion and nourishment.

    And if it wasn’t for the Santera that warned me long ago to not go night swimming, I would throw myself into your liquid arms and swim with you : La Sirena and the Pisces fish. The Mother of Children and the man child with salted tears mixing with your salted waters : salt seeking salt to heal old wounds.