Friday, December 16, 2011

Candle I

What am I waiting for?
I am waiting for you to come down
On me, like the sun on Vermeer's milkmaid, (be starlight)
On me in my frumpy flannel nightgown,
Kneeling in my room tonight.

I'm home. You're home, sister. Cause a stir at the dinner table with the band
on your left hand ring finger (tease me that way; I forget what it feels like).
Take pleasure in collecting thoughts while picking meat, washing dishes. Blow out the candle. He's coming (could I light it again?), breathe in His fragrance with the flame.

Unpack and explain to yourself why you need all these things. Whisper, "what freedom in a room like Vincent's!" Bury your face in your grandmother's quilt: it's no crime, but a thing to be held lightly.
What is gifting this year? What can be made from my hands but a patchwork of half-thoughts and a quavering love, a few colors, a hint of peppermint and pine? What of the children enamored by bright plastic for a week, and a string of lights?

Sometimes I feel this life is too offal to be right. Is this bowl of red meat worth it, after sloughing so much white?
Our jolly old record plays, I look at the gleaming bulbs in the window. Something did happen here, in this world where someone was telling earthy jokes and someone holding out one more day, to see You born.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Debilitating Strength

I tend to take small directives seriously, moving obstacles out of pathways. Perhaps someone blind or absent-minded will come by. I never know, and so a stone sticks in my conscience like shrapnel until I turn back and kick it into the brush by the road.

I wrap a bit of glass in a lamb's ear; carry it in my coat pocket. Those who protect others will be protected.

I can't stand to smell the doubts of others. I must swallow them, and be sickened when my love is not enough. Feeding a child with dysentery. 

But there are some words I forget, so familiar etched in the backs of my hands. My few scars are faint, but clear enough to show that I've known pain. And perhaps I've made an idol of my buckled, rustling pages, but they melt heavy on my tongue, earthy and leaden like rain. 

So maybe your brother died. And you feel to blame for silence. So maybe you wake each morning guilty for your daughter, keeping her in sagging dim hotels. If I can't make it whole, let me help you make it evenly broken. 

No one believes you. And I want to. I know that I've felt more than breezes on my spine. Those white things you see are begging you silently for peace...and your eyes, selfless and helplessly seeing, crumble soft like glowing embers. A sound like breath on powder, in the burning orange.

Maybe I can comfort when... 
And try to extend some solace... 

It is getting cold. But I am still barefoot.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Memory of Birds

I reached her house and saw her sitting cross-legged in the front yard, in the shade of the big maple tree. She was looking up the street, so our eyes met at the same time. She smiled, but she didn’t get up. I smiled too, not knowing what to say, and ambled across the lawn to her. There was something small and brown in her hands that quivered slightly.
I felt tall and awkward, walking up to Eliza sitting there in the grass. She didn’t say anything until I was right in front of her, and then she asked,
“Would you like to hold him?”
I grinned and said yes. She told me to sit down. Then she placed the brown fluffy thing in my hands. Geoffrey adjusted his stubby wings to regain his balance after the transfer. I wasn’t prepared to feel how light he was, how fragile, like a handful of grandfather dandelions. The queerest thing was the sensation of his body against my fingers; I could distinctly make out his breastbones beneath the down. That surprised me. There seemed to be nothing but airy fluff and a thin membrane of skin between my fingertips and his ribs. But below I felt his round belly, warm and moist. It swelled in and out. His little feet clutched at my skin in a funny way, so I laughed, and Eliza looked at me, enjoying my initiation. I felt like I should say something.
“How old is he?”
She answered that he was probably about two weeks old. She said she knew this because his eyes were fully open but he still had baby fluff.
I was always impressed by Eliza’s solemn knowledge. Maybe that was why she charmed me like no other girl I’d ever met. She was a child, but her mind was sensible and probing. I still don’t know what she saw in me; I was such an overgrown excuse for a teenager. Maybe she sensed how I saw meaning in things, the way she did.
I gazed back down at Geoffrey, who was blinking and rustling his little sheathed wings. I bent my head to inspect them. Each feather was growing out of a semi-transparent tube, made of quill material. The tips of his feathers were free and fanning out, but the roots were still tightly bound in tube-sheaths.
With my face close to Geoffrey like that, I smelled him for the first time. It was a curious, delicate smell: eggy, sweet, with a hint of urea. I didn’t find it offensive, and leant there, inhaling for a moment.
Then Eliza shifted beside me and I saw her pick up a recycled yogurt container from beside her leg. She pulled out a small worm, took it between her fingers, and methodically tore it into three bits. They wriggled and exuded guts, but she placidly laid two of the pieces on her bare knee, and leaned over to feed Geoffrey the third. I watched in silent admiration. As her hand neared Geoffrey, he lifted his head, beak open, and flapped his tiny wings, letting out a series of sharp, shrill chirps. I could feel his whole body straining up toward that bit of worm. With the writhing morsel safely in his beak, he bobbed his head and swallowed it, his eyes pressed shut.
“Don’t the parents sometimes regurgitate the food for their babies? I asked. “Would spitting on the pieces help Geoffrey digest them?” I hoped this was an intelligent question.
Eliza leaned back and squinted for a moment in thought. Then she turned to her knee and picked up a second bit of worm, saying,
“Bird saliva is different from human saliva.”
I nodded. And I watched Eliza carefully feed Geoffrey the rest of the worm. His body was warm, and my palm sweated, so his down feathers stuck to my skin. When I gave him back to Eliza my hand felt cool in the air. Eliza took him in a motherly sort of way, and I felt something like a father. Protective, and proud, and a little in awe.

As I walked home I brushed my nose, and smelled Geoffrey on my hand

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


When I was nine, I drew spaghetti straps with blush on my shoulders and back,
Anxious to see how forbidden styles looked
On me.

That night, though safe in the black of my room, my cheeks burned
When my Dad came in to rub my back goodnight.
Could he feel the pink paste on his fingers, sense my guilt?

Silently I hoped he couldn't tell, and resolved never again to test the strength
of the gates of hell.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


"No peace for sinners,"
 He whispered as I spun by. I was too dizzy to retort, but I thought how I could have replied.
What about the righteous?
But I'm not.
The forgiven?

Gene asked my name I think three, maybe four times. Wore a mint green shirt. Smiled kindly.
Mark was weathered, stocky, dwarvish. White beard, jovial eyes behind glasses. Led me well.

Drew... I cannot be sure what the battle was. But his built arms, ostentatiously bare, were intent on showing me just how the dance could be dared to the next level. Could we manage four under-elbow twirls before the left-hand star? We did. He told me spins wouldn't daze me if I looked at his eyes. "Unless that's too intimidating..."
I smiled, took it brightly.

But I remember most the way he tried to serenade my friends and I before we left. Strange mix of self-confidence, self-consciousness. He stepped to my side and told me he'd play a song called "Princess" while the others talked. But he was bashful halfway through, stopped.

Strange mix of defensiveness, tenderness. Empathy with hungry humanity, in my heart.

I asked God to bless him as I shook his hand goodnight. I looked in his eyes.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

In Trutina

Lucy and Schröder in a cardboard box,
Herman and his dogs,

Andy Warhol offers me saltwater taffy under the barn door.
Will the absurdity of this moment induce me to succumb?
Yellow hay is strewn around his shoes.

Quivering in balance,
Between pungent printed pages and a bundle of letters, wrapped in diaphanous white, from four and a quarter years of patience.

Wrapped in blinding white,
I will carry a rock in each hand,
And climb this fragrant summit,
Damp in the scents of myrrh, cinnamon, cane, and cassia.

"In Trutina": Carl Orff

Melodramatic Tree-Hugger, Nov. 20

The weight of a dropped nut in my hand
Reminds me of a thimble.
Embarrassed alone in the woods, wanting to cover over obscenities on trees with my bare hands.
Do the leaves know what is scored into their bark? A scar of the shame of humanity:
The desire to deface the good and holy.

There are a few trees I have befriended. One to press my hand on six days of the week. One which made a chair for me when I found it in the snow, and now shelters a cairn of stones.
But this       white       wonder
Is a tragedy worthy of the prayers of the saints...

A tangle of helpless elegance supports it from a slide down the forest's incline,
For it is a broken body, voluptuous and angled in a dozen curves and bends of almost human forms,
But fallen with its arms outstretched along the ground, beseeching travelers to muse on the passing of the  white beech of Round Pond.
Clearly, this is a friend in need of company (I will kiss you youngly while I rest my cheek and neck against the swoop of your outstretched arm).

I am a waif of melodramatic tendencies, and my raw feet will reproach me in the morning.

But for now, I only smile at myself and the yapping dog who found me.
Somehow a wooden family soothes my wounded soul, and grows my heart another ring.

Friday, November 25, 2011


On the almost frozen ground

The young spring up, the old fall down.

O tender, tender, tender,

Why do you bloom in November?

Why do you bloom in November?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


It was easier for me. I've been learning floating anyway, so relaxing was an exercise in life. Resting was a prayer in itself (but I admit to thinking how funny it would be if I held the ceiling handle, like our mother does).

I wondered if you felt carried as I did, or if you felt the pressure of causality, the burden of decision in a complicated way. Your voice sounded flushed. Nevertheless, we made it safe.


However do they drive so bravely? There are several things I am stepping out to learn. I am climbing in behind this wheel with real fears from all that I have (never) done before. Signal, Merge.
Single, Merge.


Rain pounds our faces faster and harder than we are prepared for. City lights blaze over black water like music and clinking glass. We taste wine on our lips. Or maybe it is blood, from biting them. A white flash - and the danger is behind us. We have passed.

Maybe, I hope, you understood,
That as I sang the words of those songs,
I meant them for you.

In some ways they were written for us,
For last night on the ride back.

Credits: "Umbrella" by The Innocence Mission.

Penned Again

Glittering like bits of blowing tinsel, the stars gathered in a patch of
midnight sky, the Pleiades one bright smudge against the darkness.
This will be a brief meeting, a one quick feeding in the lawn before being
penned again.
- Eat of the earth's richness while you can -
But my plate is too full: feed my soul.

Press my eyes closed. I will feel it is you by your fingertips.
Hold me as tight as I hold you. Tighter. Your bark is rough on my lips.

Branches design to blind me as I run,
(Run? Stumble, as inebriated as I am with the sap of stars)
Cold mud numbs my spinning feet to the point of pain.
I will not will not stop until I fly, or fall. It has begun.
I will not linger at the threshold. I will run down the aisle to your arms.

We Are Separate Flours

Grow me a garden of this kind of nothing,
Draw me a picture of this kind of fine.

Tell me why I can't sneak back inside
After playing school in the yard until midnight.

You hear me scratch at the window, and turn your head.
We are separate flours.
Together, we'll make bread.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Patience in a Pulse and Helplessness

Bring me back to the child, forward to the woman,
Only let me hear music in the air and feel your breath.
My ivory tower is easy to hide in: it's only on top of my neck.
My hands once were clenched
Around what little I could gather for my confidence,
But now they are open, and what filters through my fingers leaves them heavy and confused.
If You were a bed of nails, I would pray You bend the laws of physics, so that I could lay down, and
You would pierce me through and through.
Do not leave me halfway shedding my cocoon.

Let me prove to you that I am afraid of helplessness:
I have already acquired a share of the viciousness and shame that I see in the lame, in the man that limped along with his walking wife, heavy and slow, intent on healing though couple after couple and dog after dog and jogger after jogger passed by. I wanted to tell him he was kingly, but I did not know how. His wife was a queen in her patient prodding love.

So much of life is helplessness,
How stubbornly we struggle for independence!
And again, we are caught, against rain storms and our impotence.


Do you know that you're loved?
Give me words I can trust
Would you believe me if I told you?
Hold me. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Dancer in the Dark

It was a blessed film over my eyes, enough to make me crumble,
Or make me cry.
I had to pause last night before I broke what was thinning inside.
But I danced in the dark and prepared my heart for today. For what always makes me girlishly tired and afraid, meek and white and smiling.

Lying still and trying to forget the only thing I feel while all the rest of me is calm:
A pinch, a chill,
Spreading from the top of my taped right hand toward my elbow. Dripping,
a tube. I close my eyes and image myself tearing at the cords that feel so foreign,
Attached to what should be whole flesh.
But I breathe deeply again. How like a child I feel.
Mother, gazing out the kitchen window, washing dishes,
Papa, sealing envelopes downstairs.
There could be soup and cornbread on the table in an hour. I'm only resting
In bed.

This gown is a humbler of humanity.
I am glad though, that it's flannel, and long, and large enough to fold around.
Powder-blue dancing triangles on a white background.
I feel more like a princess somehow. No show, I'm just myself.
I'm in a space made by cream curtains. The woman to my right is giving answers to a nurse. She takes a pill once a year for her skin condition. She considers vitamins solid food. She isn't anorexic anymore.
Humanity. The man who laughed when asked if he had piercings or tattoos (saying, What, at my age?!) is trundled by, grinning, with a weathered patchy face.

It takes a while before they are ready. I am wheeled along with all my attachments, but hardly remember.
Drowsy even before I was drugged, I smiled over my chin
At my doctor in the hallway.
Cheryl (or Cynthia, perhaps?) wore purple. Diane wore pink.
Cynthia. Diane. Did I laugh inside to think of those romantic names?
Hyacinth Claire. Cordelia Fitzgerald...
We played the game of making conversation before I went under. But I started with thin shoots of oxygen that smelled like a new shower curtain. I turned on my side, a white towel under my left cheek.
Rembrandt and the Dutch Masters...
We have a print downstairs. He looks older, and broken, but really a man..
Are you feeling it yet?
And I made sure to murmur his name as the last on my lips
Before sleeping.

Credits: Names,"Hyacinth Claire": Elizabeth Gaskell, "Cordelia Fitzgerald": L.M. Montgomery. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011


Find me in the woods and I will feel your intrusion like a lovebug
In my pizza crust, a maggot in my rice.
But maybe you will be around when I am lost,
In which case,
You are welcome to flavor my sauce.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Two Coins

My lips aren't close enough,
My mouth, my throat, my ribcage...
-I'm wishing it was safe to sleep outside-
...I cannot swallow this into my

You tuck my arm in yours, fondly,
And guide me firmly through a crowd I can almost see -
Stifling in a different way.
I smiled, surprised to realize I might have been afraid.

It was the naturallest thing in the world, the way you slowly recognized me, smiled. Our talk was smooth as the awkward unpolished good can be. But it ended just as naturally, reached its fresh end, and left me wishing differently.  What I meant to be a gift became a trade, and a gift the other way. You gave me more before I could object. You left, and I could not help feeling cut out from a catalogue, posing softly by the corner until you returned.
Conscious affectation of unselfconsciousness. Relaxation. Shuffle again.

You have your mother's eyes, your father's face,
And a strange way of being brother, ever loving everyone
In a way that I have yet to understand, without mistakes. 

Rejoice with me, I have found my almost-idol under the table
In the dark, groping over a filmy floor and squinting down sideways so a ray might glint on the surface.
It was vouchsafed, and by a gracious grace. The shadow on the stairs went down.
What You grant I will take, only not my will, but Thine.

I am left in the frost with two warm coins.
What do you live for?
All these songs have been heard before. What will make them live?
When there is nothing new to say, say what is.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Draw Me A Picture of This Kind of Fine

With you, it's like being continually in love with the world.
Are these the eyes that you see with?
You love the light of the morning, the deep dark arms of the night,
The steam in your cup of tea, the texture of tree bark.
Are we blind in love? Or is it then that we finally see
The truest true of things?

Let me only walk awhile with you so the sound of wind's fondlings makes up our silence.

You baptize your hands in a bucket of hot soapy rags. You are quiet and alive as morning sunlight.
You speed along streets as a bringer of peace, on your bike.
You write music in lamplit corners while the rest of us sleep.
You come back later to make sure I'm alright.

Let us breathe deep the delicate scents of time,
To remember later when we are grown too old for journeys,
And can only remember life.

Sunday, October 30, 2011


We are young, passionate, and carried by a bass beat booming.
Yet I want to jostle past these gyrating bodies to the chilly damp trash dump for a while, smell the cold stink of waste rather than the too warm, too arousing stink of sweat and breath and human energies. This mobbish delight is blinding. I catch my breath and imprint the quiet on my ears the way I imprinted caught glances on my mind in dancing. 
Makes me want to laugh, the way I try hard to keep myself bound while losing myself to movement, to music. Forget without forgetting the real true pure in the stupid, stupid, stupid. What do I want to prove? That my body can move like anyone's? That I'm not afraid to be wild, to be free, to laugh in a crowd of costumed students shouting "Friday night!"? That I can be free in what may amount to slavery? Truly free to sway/jive/bounce for joy in a dance of sugar-high, this-is-what-fun-is-supposed-to-be?-young-people, dance the dance my little brother taught me, lose sexy to silly and be drawn to raise my hands high, not to celebrate youth but to plead violently, meekly, for Jesus in the dark ceiling untouched by disco lights. 
This makes me smile and press bandages on our arms, when the crowd boom boom booms and takes your money.
I can't stay for the next song. Just let me walk home slowly, letting the sleet beat against my hot face, allowing my numb feet to linger in chilled puddles, to only want to feel that clean sting. 
Can't help murmuring "forgiveness" to the lamp-lit trees overhead. These are they who rejoice in being just what you made.
In a quiet, dim room now, press my lips on those smooth, smooth pages, waiting open on my bed. Egypt was glad when they left. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What Is Precious Is Not From Us

What's the trouble with these training wires,
Oh, I want family, inspiration...
These trellis lines, binding into tidy forms to try to bring to life?
Can living come from trying?

These tenderest things you can't truly make, can't create,
Can only be or not be as you are given, as you give.

Can we truly cultivate, or husband this healing flower, this winding vine,
Now strengthen my hands...
Or do our greenest thumbs damage every thing we try to grow?
Can growing come from dying?

Only the brave and gentle know,
If planted seeds can, of the vulnerable kind we sow.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Stripe me like a Bengal tiger,
Spread your wet paint brush across my shoulders, down my back.
Stroke your lines in daring arcs, and smack
Your hands in two palm prints against my cheeks.
Your feathered thoughts in plumes of blue,
Beak your way to preen in grease,
Sheathe my arms in papered tubes,
And grow me wings where once my fingers grew.

Wild II
Stripe me like a Bengal tiger,
Spread your wet paintbrush across my shoulders, down my back.
Stroke your lines in daring arcs, and
Smack your hands in two palm prints against my cheeks.
Your feathered thoughts in plumes of blue.
Beak your way to preen in grease,
Sheathe my arms in papered tubes, and
Grow me wings where once my fingers grew.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Bruised Leaves


Kneaded, pounded, steamed, thumbed,
Pica for tree bark or the flesh of my arm,

The crackling of oil, the spitting of fat,
The splatter of rain on the tempered glass.

You won't mind my voice if I sing quietly,

Rosemary, laurel, lemon, thyme,
Balsam, yarrow, yew.


I have blistered my arm with my own little mouth,
And left bite-marks along it in childhood.

I have nothing but skin to hold myself in,
At least leaves have release, when they blood.

You won't mind my arms if I hold you lightly,

Rosemary, laurel, lemon, thyme,
Balsam, yarrow, yew.


Tie up my ankles and hang me, after,
I flower, aromatic, from attic rafters.

I've waited two years if I've waited an hour,
To rake where I'll nest, to bring lark song and laughter.

You won't mind my leaves if I love you rightly,

Rosemary, laurel, lemon, thyme,
Balsam, yarrow, yew.


Cockles and mussels, cochlea and muscles, sinews of serpents and the lithe forms of flowers. Sinister spikes at head-height surprise eyes stupefied by color.

A snake I killed myself by accident
On accident,
On Occidental door frames squeezing tight enough to crush its rippling spine, its supple scales, to glaze its eyes for a final shed,
of life.
I placed it, gently, on my window sill, covered it with paper, to think upon the ledge of death and the tender give and sway of life on this iron sphere, this sponge, of earth. 

This world is a warring place
Where which is real? The lullaby or the threat on the other side of the locked door, the folding of family laundry, or the rinsing of blood off the hands?
Press each heat-tossed sock a moment longer to your belly.

What can I offer but one clear bird-call in field where no one stops to hear,
Or in a forest where no one can?

What can a woman do, in the end, against the hardened face of a man?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Remember to Remove Your High Places

If your mother is a priest's daughter, she will lead you well.
But remember to remove your high places.
Remember the distinction in the ooze, and glow, and burn of Fire itself.
Fasten the stones of your brothers to your shoulder blades,
- A bell and a pomegranate, a bell and a pomegranate -
And choose to lay down traces of idolatry in graves.

Do you see, you are the prey of old questions,
Though you deem yourself a different kind of breed.
Are you brave enough to be a child, green?
Clear your dazzled eyes and smooth your pride down,
Smile to show where teeth have not grown in.

Live for when the tocsin and the knell toll death of self,
And where the vines entwine around the tree.
I will move, by grace, from where my fingers linger
To where my ribs cave in, and then bleed free.

The Ends

Sometimes I can trace to the ends of my hair,
To younger years, when I danced with my blanket wrapped around my back,
When I asked for stories from outside bathroom doors.

Today I read aloud from the other side of a shower curtain,
And I danced in the edges of a pond reflecting the moon,
With a shawl around my shoulders, my feet plashing softly.

The shadows of trees tell me I am old,
And the moon tells me more:
I am not wrong to love and be drawn,
Maidenly, to aspire to tender hopes.

Friday, September 30, 2011

In His Earth

The three of us slid out of Claire's car, I the only one unused to the growing plot,
The rising action, of this place.

He emerged and met us, slapped their hands, and shook mine,
and we stood in a square, talking.
Light, sweet conversation mellowed us as we faltered into words, the creamy air of the last stirring day of September awing us a little. It was almost as if our feet were planted under those old trees, by the silver car.

In time the word was spoken and we made a beginning, taking hoes in hand and two of us baring four feet to weed between the rows. We shifted irrigation hoses, spread ourselves out and cut into soft, caky earth with rectangular tools on rods.

I salvaged forgotten red onions scattered in the paths and hidden between lettuce and small greens. In tight rows, we stooped and kneaded soil with our hands. I knelt and let it saturate my knees. Vital odors permeated the air, clean in the unity of their composting growth, like sweating crowds singing praise and turning fresh. In His earth our minds turned to Him, and in both the clumps we formed we naturally talked of God.

The germ of division molded into mottled feet of clay. Metal met worm, words lilted across minds; conversations linked and un-linked as we stepped over lines. 
When the work was done, we crossed to the tents with their tables of ripened tomatoes, bright-colored crates littering the ground like lobster traps, and wagon loads of dark round watermelon and squash.
He generously offered that we carry home a harvest.

He leaned against the trailer bed edge, and cut up pink flesh into wedges, handing them around as we gathered. The thick brown earth on my hands was drying into dust. I smacked off a layer and ate, and watched the dripping juice stain my dirty hands darker where it fell. The seeds crunched and I swallowed most of them.

For most of an hour we savored food God had made, and laughed at the way we threw rinds, or fooled ourselves. When honesty caught the conversation, it came out smoothly, like breathing. Like I'd want it to be: bottled things aged carefully to perfection, but served liberally.
Good has power, and gentle can be rough and tumble, and clear blue has depth like the sky. There are new shoots even while things die. And knowledge doesn't make you wise.

As I carried my bursting paper bag back to my room, I bent and smelled the rich, sweet, varied scents of autumn's abundance, lent to me unexpectedly on a single rare Friday. I could not keep from smiling, and laughed in the shower.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Snapdragon Featherdown

One pine tree casts an astonishing shadow halfway across the lawn-mown grass - This is our backyard for four years or three and a half -
And I run in it, back and forth,
Touching the dry grooved bark each time I reached it,
Once or twice planting a kiss,
Wishing I knew how to cartwheel,
Blissful in the damp of the evening, watching serene stars slide behind certain traveling clouds.

I am frightened by the refulgence of my own heart
When it is worn thin to nothing but a vessel to hold treasures in.
I laugh and laugh at myself for laughing,
And laugh at myself for wanting to be seen laughing
By someone who might understand.

Well, we will share this vessel together. You sharing me, and me sharing You,
Breaming the bottom of our boat
So the light shows through.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

September 24, Bridesmaid

Only a year ago
We sat at the top of the world you were about to enter.
We sat at the top of your stairs, in our nightclothes,
Awed, and calm, and terrified by terror and by joy.

The breath of trust blew through us from behind
The space above and the space below
Were the blending points of our two white thoughts,
That would grow gold.

That night I slept in your sisters' room, and your sister cried.
Cried to think of evenings without your soft voice hushing,
your love soothing,
your snowy arms hugging her goodnight.

But it was right to let the harmony begin
Love so desired, and love inspired a song that two could sing.

With the next coming of the cool moon over desert sand,
There was a new ring on your left hand
And all the stars rang together
With laughter.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Afraid To Stop Trying

I saw myself with loaded arms
A laden back, and strained hands
Determined to carry my burdens,
To carry them all at once,
and Alone.

I was nearing the middle of my way.
My back ached, my arms were bruising under weight,
my hands had deep impressions,
But I would not drop anything, would not call out, would not stop.

Blood pounded in my temples, heat blurred my eyes,
But pleasure in the less-important lies, in truth, in lies.
Half way on my path I couldn't step, my arms failed, I collapsed in tears,
Unable even to free my hands to wipe them away.

This is what is means to say, "I am afraid to stop trying." 

A Saturday Without Gravity

When you asked me to be your mother, I didn't know how,
Except by carrying you longer
And letting you down.

To your sister I have been daughter, mother, father, lover;
Chef, and beast, and dressmaker.
Later I'll be wife, after waiting draws more than side-glances
Or startling stares through glass.

I wonder if the stories I tell you are my own,
If I'm waiting to be plunged into water.
It took death to make her love, love to make her live,
Life to make her feet ache on ground.

She's tied to twenty-two silken threads to keep from floating away.
I'm tied to my own apron strings.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Experiments in Poison

I will fold myself in grass, and you will tumble on my lap.
We will pick oats, find strange homes, make maypoles of trees.

And if, behind one wall, you find ashes and experiments in poison, I will tell you a lonely one lives there,
And we will clean house for his return.

Ask me to dance again and I will not be ashamed to be seen spinning;
My arms must learn to lift.

I do not kiss you to make to think of kissing
I kiss you to remind you of what matters more than this.

The House of Blessing

We have prayed behind trees,
We have danced on young grass, young snow, in secret,
We have run barefoot on rocks in the rain.

We have met quietly in libraries,
We have staked ourselves in hallways
We have shaken with laughter, ached with tears.

We have watched a woman clutch men's hands and fling her body in a wheel of war,
Like a shot bird whirling, rolling on a road,
Like music, like a thrown stone, but "light as phyllo dough."

We have sung in the night,
We have talked until early,
We have sung in the morning, and made bread from memory.

We have carried tables up stairs,
Tangled fingers in sunny hair,
Un-knotted knots as we wished.

I have scrubbed behind closed doors, 
Told stories while stories were stored,
Eaten from the surface of the world.

You have woven home in close quarters,
Made beauty in a beater house,
Greeted change with grace.

You have blessed, and I have been blessed. Amen.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


Raining rhythm of piano keys
Like children's fingers on my collar bone
Like ripples in the water, where bleeding underbellies of lily pads sprout stems arching up like portals into worlds.
This is a creation where colors converge in soul speech. Where crimson sighs quietly in spreads of green. A pen cap, a candy wrapper, holly berries make me stand still, hardly, barely breathing. Spilling out at last, the one half-leaf pleads guilty for me as I pass. Where did my heart learn scarlet?
Darting from the path, I cannot hold my ribs from gasping laughter, desperate to believe vermilion asks for what I hope it asks.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Another Kind of Brother II

He is the only man I have ever wanted to be plainer for.
Beauty can be a show, and he knows it. And a golden heart glows honest through a homely face.
He is the first man I have ever wanted to sing with.
I long to know if our voices blend, but I cannot, yet.

He always seems to be a step ahead of me, crying words my soul will cry when I step forward.

He may never be mine, may never want me. But he awakened in me an earnestness that I have not lost, and for which I will always be grateful.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Sweet, Nice, Cute

There is a part of me that cringes at being called "sweet" or "nice" or "cute." The latter two, especially, communicate an aggravating smallness, a paltry pleasant manner, that grates on me. I would rather not be cute. I would rather not be nice. Make me ugly or beautiful. But an honest ugly or a truly beautiful. Make me hard and unsociable or deeply kind. But none of this dull nice that makes neither a safe spoon nor a sharp knife.
But make me, above all, good. A good that rumbles richly in the belly, that softly springs upon the mind with time, that shows itself best, and truest. Make me a satisfying yet longing-bringing good, sweet in the way my Mother meant it when she found me helpful, a "sweet girl." Not a candy one. Sweet like ripe fruit, fresh milk, or honey on bread. Like the texture of wood under the hand. Like a genuine smile that changes nothing, but changes everything.
There is a part of me that knows I will not be this good alone. Nor will it come without pain. There is no joy apart from suffering. There is no growth without rain. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Second Night at Third Home

It was strange to wake childless
Because, though she was not a child, the closest thing I can come to is that I was a mother for two months.
I was a mother for two months.
Now I wake later, wonder what I am to do, feel as if the day is a plate I fill, not a plate served me.
And so I ran campus errands, met friends, found trash and picked it up, decorated, unpacked, beautified. In continuing last spring's tale to two children, I touched delight at the thought that I was a story-weaver, and later tucked away their grandmother's words that I had made her want to stay and pluck grass with us. Later we played snow-eagles, and the foxes learned to lie and then love mushrooms. Their great-grandchildren were weaned of cunning and became the birds' friends.
My idea of resting on the rocky outcrop was foiled by mosquitos, but I added one more stone to the mound, the story, the reminder of the Man-God who brought me through water on dry ground.
The tree that I likened to Larisa had dropped its dead-limb burden, and I wondered if the limb slipped lightly down or broke the arms it lay on. She carried a broken branch, and on the day I understood, I knew that I must carry the tree.
And so now, I am free.
But I will keep my hands open, and wait for leaves.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Boerne, August 9

I came back inside to a shriveling marmalade scorpion in the bedroom, tangled in hair and dust. He was dead until I touched him, and then he died under a shard of carved flint.

Imitation is a form of flattery. If you will make this your life, you may have a master for your advocate. If I’m not painting, I feel less alive.

I can’t leave you tied to the chair without coming and speaking and stroking your knee. But I can’t take you with me. I need to puncture my soul and draw out cords to air out in this room, to hang from kitchen cabinet doors and drape over high-backed chairs. I don’t know what all, yet: I will not know until it is finished. And I cannot carry you as I do it. And I cannot carry you as I do, and live. But in leaving you I feel ashamed to worship. Which way is slavery? Which way is beauty?

Love hits you harder when you run toward it.

The Alamo, San Antonio, August 9

I like talking to hotel room cleaners. Especially this kind: friendly, helpful, and humorous. It’s like instant accommodation when you wheel about a sweet lady in a chair. You can squat your car anywhere, use “out of order” bathrooms, kneel in parking lots to administer cold blended soup. People open doors, give up seats, smile. Or look surprised.
But I leave her for a while with her husband and walk off alone down the block, past Bonham Street to the spreading trees and clustered people around the church-turned-fort-turned-shrine. Lookers shuffle around glass-covered knives and a coonskin hat. Leathery men sweat on the scaffolding, repairing dusty, bone-colored walls.
Strangers walk the pavement where a battle took place. On the concrete path a skittering catches my eye, and I turn in time to see a green anole, subdued to brown, crossing to a bench’s shadow. Recognition cheers me in this strange and sweltering place. A friend from my old home. I can almost feel his white puffy mouth, fine rows of teeth, on my finger. A drop of blood. Like my grandmother’s cat, anoles drew me inexorably, and left scars.
A century old live oak bends and sags and beckons. One bold youth in red clings on a branch. I am not impressed.
And for all that, John had no last name. A freedman, remembered, but stamped in history with little but the color of his skin.
We drove home and he used my father’s word to describe the way I did my father’s work. An excellent job as navigator.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Bandera, August 8

I am given thirty minutes, fifty dollars, to walk the shops and find a souvenir. Strange to feel like an outsider, to greet shopkeepers with “hello” and be recognized for a northerner as soon as I speak. 
Boots, trinkets, blouses, plaques, all lie about as if they know they are practically useless. I cross streets, duck in and out, merely crack the door in one shop before closing it. In another, I only glance through the window. I am one of few shoppers, feel conspicuous but adventurous, somehow braver for looking older, chic but dignified, wearing clothes edging dowdy on a twenty-year-old: my grandmother’s linen pants and a well-made shirt and scarf. I feel safely unexciting until a car passes and two young men whoop.
I awkwardly cross the street, smile at the police officer who has been watching my inexperience on display, and smile broadly as I cross the parking lot to the cobalt-blue rental car. My five-dollar-and-forty-one cent souvenir bumps against my legs, and I think how strange I must be for buying a stainless steel mixing bowl in an antiques shop in Bandera. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Boerne, August 7

Lemon verbena in the bathroom, dry Saint Augustine grass outside. My feet have not felt it in six years, have not stood beneath the night sky for days.
Thirty-one days without rain.
A rugged plain, a whistling wind that blows without burning, strangely. Love rattles through dry leaves, takes moments to reach you, can be heard before it is felt.
Sweet Gulf shrimp, sopaipilla, laughing and jelly beans and a need for affirmation.
Now, all dishevely, dance on the still-warm pavement, dance beautiful, dance foolish and grin at your shadow. Laugh to the sky above, finally lie down in the driveway and drink the tipping-glass moon. Sing until you have no more to sing, and then be still.
His wings, His refuge, are warmer than you thought, can be wide open spaces behind bars. After tears come quiet and a smile of,
“You have given me hope, and hope was all I needed.”
This is the land my heart wanted to feel home in. 

Near Austin, August 7

Open arms, open arms.
Your foster child is blessed, her room is hallowed, the great-grandmother has entered it.
Eighty-four years separate two women who will never remember each other. Both rejoice in the other, light up like clouds aflame in sunlight.
Here is a home, a home, a home,
Liberal and loving.
Open arms invite entrance to the heart
Can I trust vulnerability?
A warmth like a kiss in the corner of the mouth. A twitch, a smile, a gentle southern twang,
And the little one’s soft head and tender body passed from embrace to embrace. Conversation of fishing and of fishing. Caught fish must be cleaned, may wound you in the cleaning.
Peacemaking, our mother joins two hands across the table. Like a sign, the others cover them with their own.
Don’t Shave Dogs Past Easter becomes Don’t Say Pure Desire Ever Abandons those who lift up their hands…or spread them wide.
She will not remember you, but she will know red hair for kisses for the rest of her life.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Dallas, August 5

It's like a rich old mansion turned greenhouse,
Thick maroon carpets, heavy crystal chandeliers, dark wood furniture, gilded edges, mirrors everywhere. The elevator is one of those stare-at-the-floor-or-be-staring-at-the-reflection-of-your-neighbor kinds. It's small and shaky, but it works. Just don't let it close on the wheelchair.
Rich foliage of snaky-armed trees shade the lace-curtained windows, shelter lounging squirrels outside, look old and grand like a southern plantation. There is a continual dew of sweat on the neck unless you manage to run fast enough from the tepid shower to the air-conditioned room without working up another one. There are salads with every meal except breakfast. Succulent plums if you want them. Pink Keifer.

And you feel like a part of a story. But you hope you are not a part that passes, not a character with a trivial role, not a sales clerk or a washerwoman. You want to be the cousin, the best friend. You want to leave stirrings in the heart like the pounding of stars into dust dissolved in wine.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Jai ho - you are my destiny.
I am your lady, digging my head out from the sand.
My love rips an opening above me, my arms flail and strain upwards, to break through the skylight, to hold nothing back. My thick hands, thick feet choose obedience.
I am surrounded by your love like a hurricane, a mote, an irresistible joy.
I laugh at my reflection. And I swallow a lump in my throat:
I am what I asked to be, and not what I wanted to be.
You are my refuge, my every-moment-choice-of-patience, my four-sailed ship going north, my head's perfect gap between two chairs, to fall through.
You will dance with me on our wedding night.

A.R. Rahman, Slumdog Millionaire, "Jai Ho"
The Mew, "Zookeeper's Boy"
Matisyahu: "King Without a Crown"
Phil Wickham: "After Your Heart"
Audio Adrenaline: "Hands and Feet"
David Crowder Band: "How He Loves"
King Charles: "Love Lust"
Newsboys: "Joy"
M. Night Shyamalan's The Village.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Brownie sighed deeply and used one finger to smudge the smiling face made of sticky tack on the wall. She thought about making it frown, but decided her already burdened mind couldn’t sustain the depressing effect. Instead, she poked two eyes and a garish smile into the tack with the end of her pencil. In the end it wasn’t much better than a frown. It looked like one of those Greek comedy masks: white and pasty and fake like a clown. Clowns, with their presumed identities and startling antics, had made Brownie uncomfortable since her childhood. The worst part was the face paint; it made the person look ugly and gaudy. Circuses were tainted by clowns. The maudlin exterior must be a cover-up for something twisted, disjointed.
            Thinking about clowns made her think about other things that she was afraid of: elephants, and somersaults, and the ocean. The ocean was perhaps the worst of all. You could only drown once, but before that was a host of dunkings beneath the endless waves, and the desperation of trying to get breath before another pulled you down.
            The imagining of it was the worst thing, just like with the others. Brownie’s
head had never been crushed by an elephant, her neck had never been broken by a somersault, and a clown had never tormented her. Each of these things just carried their fear with them.
            “I guess even good things carry fear, like giving birth and getting married and graduating college and opening a present.” She picked at a scab on her forehead. It was a bad habit she had, especially when she was deep in thought. She tucked her fingers under her chin to avoid picking, and turned her eyes to the CD on her desk. She looked away again. The face on the back made her think of people that she wanted to slap, like Leonardo DiCaprio. If only good music didn’t have to be ruined by association, like the song from Doctor Zhivago that she wasn’t supposed to hear. As she was thinking these thoughts, the sounds of “It’s a Fine Life” from Oliver! flew into her room from the living room TV. A few minutes later the smoke alarm went off, stopped, and began again. She heard frozen peas ping!-ing as they were poured into a pan for supper. It would have been too noisy to think, except that the sounds were what gave Brownie inspiration. The supper bell rang, so she put her pencil down and got up from her desk.
            As she ate her meal, culling out the peas from her rice for separate consumption, she kept thinking. There was a thought, still gray and bulging because she hadn’t thought of it yet, in the right side of her brain. She felt it getting ripe, but she couldn’t hurry it. Pretty soon it would open up all by itself, and be a color like apple-blossom pink or “Camiyasa”, the color of her bedroom at the old house in Florida. That color was a light, bright aqua. Her current bedroom in Pennsylvania was also greenish, but more yellowy-green than bluish-green. It was called “Garden Party” on the sample strip. Who came up with those names, anyway? Naming paint was probably a fun job. Brownie would have been good at it; she loved naming things. She’d had a name for nearly every bird that visited her feeder in Florida. She even named the birds she couldn’t tell apart, like the chickadees or the titmice. The cardinals were the easiest to name, and so were the house finches since some of them had immature plumage or mites that infected their eyes. She had always felt bad for the birds with mites. They’d sometimes be half-blind, with one eye swollen shut to nearly the size of a Cheerio. But there wasn’t much she could do to help them; their impairment kept them on edge and she was never able to catch and treat them. She remembered the hours she used to spend at her bedroom window, with her blinds down and the pane opened just enough so that she could slip her hand through to the ledge on the outside. That was where she put seed. The birds congregated there at her window, and she loved watching them from her room. It was better than a movie; the characters were real and she was the only one who knew them. She would become caught up in the plight of persecuted birds, and would be deeply pleased when regular customers brought their new young to her feeding station. She’d never been able to catch an injured bird through the gap in the blinds, but she’d fed a chickadee that way. Her hand had been covered in peanut butter and seeds, and a chickadee had hurriedly picked a sunflower seed from her fingers. It had taken a long time, and patience. The metal ridge that the window fit into had dug painfully into her wrist and hand. But things like that, Brownie reflected, can only be done if someone has patience. It takes a lot of work to help wary animals become friendly. It takes a lot to make them trust you.
Brownie had wanted wild animals to trust her for as long as she could remember. She’d been close a few times, but they never really forgot their fear. Rabbits were a good example. When she was close by, they kept their eyes on her and feigned preoccupation with nibbling and hopping a little. They pretended not to be alarmed by her presence, but all the time they were judging the danger and preparing to make a dash for it if she did something sudden. They acted comfortable but they never trusted.
“I wonder if people are the same way?” Brownie thought.
Maybe people take work and patience, even more than wild animals. Are we nonchalant to hide our fear and mistrust? Are we wary of the hand stretched out to feed us, afraid that it will suddenly grab and kill us? Is this fear learned from experience, or do we just carry our fear with us?
We must all be wearing masks, painting ourselves to hide what is twisted, disjointed. Association taints us all. We’re all infected with something, something that makes us ugly and sad. Why are we afraid to frown? Our plastered-on smiles are even worse.
“I wish we would show our true faces”.
The thought was pulsing now, and turning soft colors like a new butterfly’s wing being pumped with blood for the first time. Brownie was back at her desk, and her feet were jiggling to the sound of Mozart.
Maybe without a mask the ocean cradled you, and drowning was as lovely as dancing to Tchaikovsky. Maybe then a somersault was a tumble of joy, and an elephant only broke coconuts under his feet. Little brown children would drink the milk before it drained away, and they’d ride the elephant with ease, and without a harness. They wouldn’t be wearing masks, and they wouldn’t be wearing anything at all…
...If it wasn’t for something that happened. Something that made us sick, and infected everything we touch. If men didn’t fall.

The thought broke. Blood red, it filled Brownie’s head and ran down onto her fingers.
“What does blood have to do with everything? There is always blood!”

There is always blood. Only blood can wash the blood from our hands, but it must be God-blood. There’s no other panacea. Blood frowns so we can smile; it weeps so we may laugh.
Blood…panacea…heals our sickness…takes away our fear…drowns us once for all…wipes off our paint in red, liquid love.

            Brownie stuck out her left hand and smudged the sticky tack again. But this time she didn’t press a face into it. She let it be what it was, and stuck a picture on her wall.

The Clod-Hearted Child

The Clod-Hearted Child

Belt it out, cricket voicéd, bullfrog-throated friend of mine!
Hairy worms grow lovely wings
But first they keep themselves alive.

Forget the lie that praise is dull
Or that it wastes the hours
The best things hide in banal clothes:
You must search out their powers.

Your bottled stream won’t mean a thing
Until you let it flow
You’ll never learn a new thing
‘Til you’ve said the things you know.

Old Poems


Jesus met me in the library.
I was afraid to go into the aisle where the bearded man was.
He was wearing a bright green shirt.
I was afraid to listen to my friend
Or to take the time to tell her how I really felt.
The girl with brown hair,
Who wasn’t really there,
Was there in my dream.
I was unafraid, and Jesus’ name broke the silence
As I proclaimed it and praised it in the parking lot -
Who He is: the Holy One, the Savior.
Why can’t I, don’t I, yell it in real life?
Why am I so careful to hide from others, that I hide it from myself?
Why don’t we die from forgetfulness?
Why do we forget that the universe is controlled
By God?
Why am I knotted inside?
Jesus, Jesus, the Holy One, the Savior.
The only name that should be yelled
In libraries.

If This is Learning Love

Keeper of my heart,
I want so much to be loved
By what I love
I want what I love
To love me
I want what I love
To love me.
Keeper of my soul’s keys
You must know what I mean
Isn’t all You’ve known with us
Wanting to be loved
By what You love,
Wanting to be loved
By what You love?

On the Heights

Hold me by my right hand
And take my fear away
Guide me with Your gentle words
And lead me in Your way
For what desire have I on earth?
There is nothing here but Thee
For You have called me your loved one
And set my spirit free.

Hide and Seek

Where are You hiding?
Are You hiding?
I am faint
For want of You.
One moment I am glad,
For Your hem brushes against me as You
Walk by
And I am warmed and
But now I have become
And sadness settles on me like dew.
It is as if I see You
Only to lose sight of You again,
And to doubt whether it was really You
At all,
Since the emptiness remains.

You have passed by me
And the breath has left my lungs
To cling to You
So that I will not breathe again
Until I find You.


Come to us
Brand our backs with your Name
And the pain will draw us out of this complacency
These lies, this inconstancy.
Our hearts will flame and burn for You
All fear will fade
And love be true.

Draw us out of this numbness, this death
The truth is what we long for,
For passion, purpose, and for love
And righteousness…
Oh, for righteousness.
To battle like a warrior
To wash feet like a servant
To give You all we have
And find You gave us more in return.
So come to us
Come to us