This morning, flowers cracked open
the earth’s brown shell. Spring
leaves spilled everywhere
though winter’s stern hand
could come down again at any moment
to break the delicate yolk
of a new bloom.
The crocus don’t see this as they chatter
beneath a cheerful petal of spring sky.
They ignore the air’s brisk arm
as they peer at their fresh stems, step
on the leftover fragments
of old leaves.
When the night wind twists them to pieces,
they will die like this: laughing,
tossing their brilliant heads
in the bitter air.
Appeared on About.com: Poetry, Spring Poems Anthology, March 22, 2007.
Zachary learns to swim
The ant, black as licorice, insists
the chair is his, roams up the legs
and arms as if the pool with its cool
blue depths wasn’t a foot away,
where the boy learns how water
can cup the torso, slide past hair
like a mini-ocean, not quite welcome,
not quite unfamiliar, but still
the absence of air,
how necessary it is to blow bubbles
through the nose, become a dolphin,
free with clicks and the fresh
jump into the deep
where water opens its mouth
First published in Nimrod, Awards 28 Issue, Fall/Winter 2006, Vol. 50, No. 1, October 2006.
How to photograph the heart
You remember how the lens squeezed
unimportant details into stillness:
the essential trail of rain down glass,
the plummet of autumn-dead leaves,
your grandfather’s last blink when
the breath moved on.
Your startled hands compressed
the shutter when you realized: this is it,
this is the last movement he will take
away from the silent fall of morphine,
beyond the soft gasp of the nurse,
past the sick, slow thud of your heart
moving in the luminous silence.
Appeared on The Guardian’s Poetry Workshop, December 2005 shortlist: Poems that tell a story. Finalist for 3 Quarks Daily’s Prize in Arts & Literature.
How to search for aliens
At midnight we’d light candles
in the tabernacle and begin
our yearly vigil for the dead.
Mostly I remember the kneeling,
how the vaulted ceiling pressed
the congregation silent until grief
weighted the air. Sometimes I slept
as the incense censer chimed smoke
into strange eddies; often I dreamed
of falling into a vast darkness only to wake
in the pew with tears stepping down my face
as though death had come and gone in the space
of an hour. Even then I knew the spirit shunned
this drama, the artificial quiet shrouding the voice
of god in ritual while outside the planet spun
unperturbed. Four point five billion years
since genesis and the sky still hovers
like a veil between us and space,
wanting to be lifted before the unintelligible
babble dismantles the tower we have
half-built. At Arecibo, signals fall
from the dark like angels dropping messages;
there are miracles in the data waiting for discovery,
contact unrealized despite centuries of squinting
into the heavens. When our vigil ended we would walk
home in the cold, my mother mourning the past
while I tracked the stars that winked between
the street lights, listening for serendipity
in between footsteps. She held my hand so tightly,
perhaps she knew that prayer was too simple:
not enough prime numbers hidden in the signal,
no small man standing on our solar system,
peering out into the universe.
First published in the 2009 Ellen La Forge Poetry Prize annual. Later appeared on 3 Quarks Daily, July 17 2009.
You are not to blame. We separate.
We jump in the river, flailing, sink along
the slippery shore. Angels come too late.
Iridescence decorates the wrong
sky. I close my eyes against the sting
of antiseptic. Plastic tubing smells
forever. We pretend that everything
will be all right. His brother gathers shells
as though the sound of water matters. I
cry when no one knows. My darling son,
can you see the rainbows in the sky?
Not yet, I know. The morphine has not run
its course. The river beckons. I will keep
your dreams safe, my little boy. Just sleep.
First published in Think Journal, Volume 3, Issue 1, Spring 2010.
Star streams of the Splinter galaxy
My mother thinks the dead can hear us,
swears they drift around, walking through
walls and photographs. And I’ve heard
the house creak at odd times but never
believed in ghosts, never felt the remnant
of a person touch me. I’ve told her this,
told her about the faint trails that surround
the Splinter galaxy, glowing like the demented
arms of a long-dead spirit.
When my grandfather died, they would not
let me see him. I hated the acerbic drama
of the house, the stopped clocks. My father’s
refusal to ever speak of it. No one wept.
Fifteen years later I remember memorizing
constellations all summer, shivering for hours
in the darkened grass. I prayed for a sign,
for a shooting star to wish on, but fell asleep
too soon, never learning the details of his cancer,
how death is a surprise even when you expect it.
The streams around the Splinter galaxy are believed
to be remnants, debris from an interstellar collision
so long gone no one remembers what happened.
Odd how beautiful the photo looks, the soft streams
of one galaxy haunting another, the brilliant edge
of a spiral tucked between as though the eternal
darkness was not at all heavy. And I’ve asked her
what it was like, that night, when everything stopped,
wanting to believe my grandfather knew the universe
could be beautiful, but she says it’s too long ago
to remember for certain.
First published in Diode, Volume 3, Number 2, Winter 2010. Nominated for Best of the Net anthology 2010.
Tango — medio corte
Stand closer, she says and I slot
against his thigh
as though no one can see us.
We don’t look at each other.
In fact, we push away: shoulders back,
heads arched. I pretend indifference.
He knows better.
When he turns me the first time I lean
so close his hip scars my body.
The second time I crawl
high enough to touch skin
and he’s perfectly frozen, for just a moment.
Our teacher claps. I don’t look at her.
I don’t look at him either but I can imagine
his face as we slip into pivots,
a promenade, the basic.
I am a cat, nonchalant as three o’clock.
He leads me across the room,
its mirrored wall transparent
I am a feather.
Fluff on the lawn.
A slip of paper flirting towards
the corner until he grabs my wrist, locks
it against my spine, secure
as a fallen angel.
My body is frozen. I want to kiss him.
He opens his hand
and looks away.
First published in Diode, Volume 5, Number 2, Winter 2012.