Sorrow spills onto the floor,
not like milk's single splat and white spread,
not like syrup's sticky melancholy, oozing black,
nor even olive oil's slippery sheening.
Rather, like raw rice spilling uncontainable
from its ripped sack, splattering staccato
across the countertop, across the floor,
its rhythm unrecognizable,
according to some physical law
I cannot comprehend.
So as I bend to retrieve rice,
tracing tile like brail, its crevices, bumps,
corners, unwilling to miss a grain,
I wonder how much rice it takes
to fill the holes of the living undead
father who lifts limp the broken body of his boy,
neck swinging and bobbing from the crook
of his arm as he trudges toward the gaping mouth
of his wife who stops wailing then
to stare silent beyond despair
at some physical law
she cannot comprehend.
What Rice draws four fingers
to the warm bowl to scoop life
into the mouths undead and unliving?
What hunger opens lips to wrap around
spoons to pull life in, to press it against
an untasting tongue, to chew it without will?
How does one swallow loss?
What Force washes the wave,
slides the mountain down,
slits the slender throat,
rapes the wide, wide eyes
that cannot apprehend?
Source does not matter.
Why does not matter.
Neither does How.
Only the Is counts now
like rice spilling random from the ripped sack.
I stoop to my knees seeking, but cannot see
each pointy seed to drop into my tallest pot
where I'll steam it and mound it like love
into the gaping small bowl,
cupped feebly by the saddest
*Published by Kalliope
Today, let me draw down light
like the 4-pointed primrose,
her yellow stamen rising
to taste the air, her clustered petals
dazzling this barren land.
Let me sing down love
like the distant dove
cooing I do love you
despite his gray weight,
his tiny jutting head,
his wings that cannot lift
his own heaviness.
Let me rise flat-faced,
round-bellied or jagged-edged
like little mushroom lamps
nuzzling aside the musty dirt,
May I lift like spotted bee-balm,
those purpled pagoda flowers,
drawing bees to their nectar,
containing within their being
both unguent and sting.
May I read truth
unslippered by reason,
ungloved by will,
untarnished by the past
that I may know it again
in the glint of an eye,
the twitch of a lip,
the lift of a finger
the clench of a gut.
Then I shall
hear Mosquito's hum before
he trades spit for blood
and smell Moccasin's musk
before he strikes white-fanged.
And in an ancient tongue
rising from a primrose temple,
I'll point 4 ways beyond
bees and layered pagodas;
I'll strum a lemon-yellow sun.
Published in These Holy Hungers
It's finding a watermelon tucked
under a cotton stalk waiting to be cut or burst,
its sweet heart devoured at the end of a row
on a Delta-hot September afternoon.
It's knowing that what makes a desert beautiful...
is that somewhere it hides a well.* Its surprise
mounding deep purple from morning glory eyes
rising from barren ground toward Fall-stark skies.
It's the golden repair of resin-dusted lacquer-
silver, gold, or platinum-used to join
shards of a shattered pot that renders
the mended pot more beautiful than before.
Prospect of such things as respite, beauty,
or repair make life bearable. Kintsukuroi*
of the heart comes like silver wisdom
in blue-waved compassion.
But if "good" doesn't come after fall
-no seedful sweet melon, no hidden well
amid life's grit, no floral purple spirit rising-
you quit like Mama did. She died a broken pot.
I saw sorrow-lines streak old eyes,
droop corners of mouth, sag and soften jaws,
pooling life's blue-beauty into open-palmed
surrender, laid in the lap of brokenness.
What makes long life so hard and so possible
is hope of goodness; Dad was hard.
No tender mercies turned labor into joy,
no sacred, luminous lacquer traced
and glossed her cracked bones and days.
Only kindness could have
mended her fragile broken heart
into a vessel impaled by light.
Published in Switchgrass Review
*Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with lacquer resin dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum; **The Little Prince, Antoine de St. Exupery
The boy with Down's Syndrome looked up
when the preacher focused his flock
on the gospel according to St. John,
a familiar name-J-O-H-N, which he saw
in the Bible, a book even he knew by habit
to be Holy, for he did love hymns, and
he had faith. He turned in his pew
toward his father, also John.
He stared as he strove to make sense,
then when Preacher Buddy Roberts said,
"Now, John was the first cousin of Jesus..."
the boy of the small strong hands
and the flat full face beamed open
astonished eyes and mouth toward his dad,
shook his head in absolute awe
at the man, whose own silent eyes had
floated for years somewhere between
weary gray and hopeless taupe, Humblest
Knight of the Saddest Countenance,*
for he could not right the gravest wrongs-
his burn when people stared or laughed,
the bruise from school his boy could not
explain, the why he'd never marry Miss
Cathy, nor wear a blue hat or gold badge....
Then the boy twisted his most un-
speaking tongue to shape the sense
his heart had known: he gasped,
clear, loud and unabashed, "WOW!..."
Published in Snake Nation Review
"Focus," says my analyst. "On tomorrow, today."
"I can't see," I say.
I mean literally: My eyes can't see the glory
of the coming of...nor read the fine print,
nor distinguish subtle curves and shades
that tell "B's" from "5's" from "3's" anymore.
Much less the big picture.
Not love, for sure;
I had and had not that.
Not kids; they're leaving soon.
The door will slam, no "thank you, ma'am."
Not job; the "caterpillar pillar."
The proverbial ladder, lost its hold
when I saw from higher up
that butterflies die when wings get wet.
And speaking of wings,
could angels really want hot coffee and sex?
I saw that once in a movie-Wings of Desire
This one man-angel in a suit preferred,
No, lusted after a beautiful sad girl
and a Styrofoam cup full of hot coffee
instead of whispering spirit comforts
to the grieving living-
instead of brushing chips and boulders
off mortal shoulders. He actually gave up
distant eternal consolations
for orgasmic pain and bitter!
Well, if it's good enough for angels,
And if like Candide, victory gardens are all
we humans can safely till
in this best of all possible worlds,
Then, I'll settle for a little nip
and a wink after the plow.
Published in Concho River Review
And a God of unknown origin and ragged persuasion
swept upon Nina again, convicting her mission
with a presence more menacing than stringent
smoke following her, more terrifying than the
Aye-aye* crouching on the edge of darkness, waiting
till the circle where she stooped and stared
into the fire flickered and smoldered into ash.
She knows the hungry eyes of the Aye-aye
determined toward the blackening blaze;
she hears the terrible ears twitch beyond
his rat face, and she accepts the Way
of long-pointed claws and sharp incisors.
Smoke and stench drench her will. She's tired.
Now, violet hope, like madras, bleeds to gray
after too many washes. She'd failed to stop
anything: beatings of Brother after he'd wet
and wept and prayed, the rape of a sister, leaned
yellow dressed, open-legged against the bus;
to stop that even after Bergen-Belsen. Cleansing
slaughters swept Poland, Bosnia, Darfur,
and oh...oh so much and no more!
She was no bodhisattva* dripping ambrosia to hell;
no Dalai Lama laughing, calling on kindness still.
Why hadn't she or the blessed Aye-aye already
gnawed the claws from Karadzic and her father?
Judgment rages now in the claw of a rat sniffing,
twitching, scratching in the bracken.
Nina's heart weighs a thousand, thousand pounds
of leaden nothing against a swallow's feather,
laid upon the scale.* And the Aye-aye waits.
Should she, like Jesus, who called for song
and dance after his Last Supper, rise and jig
before Golgotha, before the little Aye-aye
Published in Writing Texas
*3-feet long rodent-like creature in Madagascar; *Buddhist teacher; *Egyptian myth-a heart must weigh less than a feather to attain immortality to escape being eaten by a monster
What's left after we've all said and done...
is our baby, drooling open gummed glee
as she balances by belly, braced by unsteady
hands, flailing fists mid-air above my
mother eyes as both hold on for our dear lives.
And after the balancing act, we nuzzle noses
and necks. More sure of me then, she sleeps.
I sit and see. My belly, bloated still, sags
more empty than my arms. Needing sweet, I
sneak from no one now my Milky Way, no, my
Almond Joy. By bits, I scrape the thin
dark coat from the bar. I press and suck
sweet, sweet meat of angel flake. I savor slow.
I save the crunch of almonds, not one,
but two, for this worst of times and best....
Two joys...after all you've said and gone.
Selected in national competition by Josephine Jacobsen, published in Sow's Ear
My love and I confessed long love for hope
of flowers-their petals lifting, opening;
nectars spilling sweet fragrances, pollen blowing
free to rest in the laps of other blossomings.
He pulled a photograph from his mind's album
of once when he lay prone in a dewy grass
to snap the bloom before him, a keepsake
to take should recollection fail.
I pulled a poem from my morning walks
where sandy barren grounds astonished
with morning glories, mound clusters given,
even as fall blustered winter's coming!
We yessed the essence of blossoms
and our artful longing to sing each flower's song
long past such times when petals droop and fall.
As two tongues touched and turned,
we learned he meant daffodil (no host but two).
I meant morning glories; mine were fall blue
lifting deep violet eyes to most grey low skies.
His ruffled blossoms trumpeted golden closure
to winter's longing. And thus our miracle:
two lush green days sprang from us.
We sipped blue dew mornings and lapped aloud
nectars of warm gold sun.
Published by New Texas '98
Brainy and perceptive as a box of bolts,
Ed stopped roadside where he saw Lyla,
dragging a garbage can to the road.
He revved his blue "Dually" engine, and
grinning kid-proud as his thin arm reached
up to rest on window's hot metal edge,
he drawled, Hey, Lyla, like my new truck?
I git me one o' these ever four years....
Sure, she coughed, squinting against sun
glinting off the silver diesel pipe, chugging
oily puffs. Wow, she smiled, staring past
him at pale thistle rising and tie-vine
hugging the fence line like ragged Kleenex
nestling against grave green mounds.
I outrun a smart-alecky kid in a mustang
this mornin'! Sliding a slight crooked smirk,
he blustered: Baby, this horse can buck!
Then he winked, Want a ride?
She hadn't slept well the night before,
missing Jesse who'd only been gone...how long?
His whiskey-driven wheels caught soft shoulders
off Highway 59, shearing posts and a willow,
stopping cab down against a bloody wild hog.
She wanted to tell Ed to take his blue horse
and ride it right into the Trinity River.
Instead, she said, Guess I'd better get inside;
got beans on the stove and bread in the oven.
She bristled, turned thistle pink, tightened
the lid on the trash, and walked within
where she'd eat beans and bread alone.
Published in Poetry Society of Texas (PST) anthology of first place poems, Book of the Year
Only so many heart beats per life, I'm told,
no matter how old. Already, my third toe
curls on top of my second, and my heart
pounds so hard from loud sounds--door clicks,
clock ticks, crow calls, kitchen pans clanging,
bliss spilling from love uncontainable for beauty
of bluebirds, morning glories, my babies,
so wonderfully grown, all my sad sisters...you!
And then the knowing what I do--
loss, stooping behind the huckleberry bush.
Mama said before her heart gave way,
"Honey, I used to walk so well." Now, my heart
swells unwilling to stay rib-caged anymore.
How many seconds or second-steps count
before My Math Keeper totals my final score?
Yet, I do not dread death. In fact, I've learned
to like death eaters, those vultures and flies
dismantling, dispensing one creature, coarse-
haired and curled upon my path, startling gnarled,
tentative toes. Within three days, even the stench
was gone. Only black fuzz stuck to shrunken skin
clinging to his knave shaped bone. I study his
carcass as I pass, intrigued by death's brief last.
Today, I see three buzzards post upon the blunt
bare jut of a scrub oak. Still, I'll leave my dove
cote, limping, soothe-singing this plaintive song:
I've known not-love before I learned such love.
That's all I hate to leave before
my heart breaks too long.
Published in PST anthology Book of the Year
Like a Jesus eye peeking through a peephole,
you see her; she's standing there half naked,
round-bubbled, pounding on the door, bouncing
up and down, flapping unwings in side-straddle
hops and looking ridiculous. She's doing this
in her pink bra and panties, for crying out loud,
trying to get Jesus to let her into his Hilton suite
so they can sip Zen and green tea, burn a little
patchouli and listen to Ellington, duking it out
with Hooker and Joplin.
She gulps syncopation every chance she can.
And to do it with the Man would be wild.
Now, her friend Zee's been gone to Burleson
too damn long, and she's got to talk to somebody.
She don't really gulp syncopation,
she sips it like smooth hot Crown in a mug.
Mugs make her feel down home, kind of
aw shucks instead of oh shit or bootylicious,
which she wouldn't have said in front
of her grandma or Jesus.
Mugs remind her of a rough-hewn old table
for ten, benches flanking both sides and ends.
Grandma used to ask her to pass things like
potatoes or pepper-saying, Thanks for the
pepper or whatever, which was a funny way,
of getting what she was after. Grandma had faith.
But she's been gone longer than Zee.
The girl wishes He'd unlock the damn door,
unzip her brows and caress the thoughts
throbbing and lighting bad places in her brain.
This little queen of belief has been dethroned
by Katrina and a couple of blows to the belly.
And since she can't unzip her brows, she'd like
to rip her heart out, set it in the Man's hand
so he could rub it 'til it beats normal again.
You know how it is alone: mugs don't hold
enough Crown or tea to live on, so "Hey,
she says, Thanks for opening the door, J."
Published in Southern Poetry Anthology
Do you recall that night you crawled
into bed with us when you heard Mama-Cinna,
penned in the barn bawling for Copper
after they'd been separated?
Her low moaning "noooooo" rose over and over
from the curved heavy sag of belly and her aching
full-bloated teat, her long tongue untouching
alfalfa heaped into her trough.
(Honey, I'm telling you what I knew then,
Cinna's "Nooooooos" broke through the stall,
the corral, shattering my rest of the night.
And Copper panic-paced forth and back
thrusting his head through the slats toward
his mother's no-ing. His higher pitched "maaaaa"
"maaaaaa" went on all night.
I'll bet her great sad eyes tried, but could not
find one loose board nor hole to get to Copper
nor could they stop the dry-hay smell of dawn.
As we watched Bud cutting Copper from the crowd,
the cloud of dust stuck in our eyes, our nose...
our throats, and you just didn't get it-September...
the drought...December. Copper staggered
and entered the chute.
Honey, I've been up all night, and I'm hoarse
from bawling. We've got to find a hole
in this fence! Please call.
Published in PST Book of the Year
Like a creature crawling the rim of her cup,
a shadow shifted, and Ruth halted, startled
before she sipped. Tricks of mind slip often
now. And she wondered if this were the way
good minds go into that black good yonder.
Ruth had been planted behind her window
too long, marveling only at natural miracles-
the return from Mexico of painted buntings,
the unlikely resurrections of petunias in June,
forgiveness from others for her imperfection.
May I go slowly, she prayed, lingering here
a little longer to watch mischief grinning again
from my son's face as he conjures fantastic
stories, to see my daughters dwelling pregnant
and wild with life's meaningful possibilities.
They comprehend, but she does not, the new
things like power point, Facebook, blogging,
twittering, split-second clickings of digital
miracles. In fact, she'd been phased out
and had felt her growing obsolescence.
Some schools don't even put chalkboards
in classrooms anymore, she thought.
She couldn't comprehend either, how greed
could disconnect text from context or heart
or separate Google from truth. Ruth could
not hide from what she did not know.
She did understand transience and tangled webs,
for she'd watched a brimming spring-fed pond
dry to a cloudy eye during drought. And she'd
built and burned three houses down herself.
She had loved different people, knelt at
different graves, prayed at different altars.
Still, she thought, amused at her halted sip,
I'll take my leaving slow; I've always known
the Peace that comes from no control.
Published in PST anthology, Book of the Year
Not opal full of green and fire light,
nor rich as ruby red, not diamond-dazzling
nor mock-gemmed and gaudy-dangling
loud shouts of zirconia's superficial breath,
her truth is plain, "common as stone."
Once mountain, she eroded unremarkable,
modest as any rock along the road-
flat-hued, dull-rust, pale-coral, gray-tar,
jagged-edged, flat-faced, round-bubbled,
That is, until she weathered, fragmenting
so small, she granulated sand-
varying tones sugar-tan to Belizean black.
And the Way she lay along salt-coasts
or delta river banks, people gathered
to rest near her Mother-source.
She fed life to all, spilling sand hours and
silt to live-peas, corn, rice...men
bent in fields, alleys, temples, and even
executive desks charting corporate high rise.
Fearing unpretentious potential, some men
ground her down to sand, pressured her
into service, blasted her into glass
where she windowed and mirrored
the world's sad knowing eyes.
Once, a brave boy lifted a common stone
to slay a giant who kept coming on.
Where's that boy? Where's the rock?
Look down. Look down. The Way lives
small, yet floors and cradles us fragile all.
Published in Her Texas: Story, Image, Poem & Song
Wary, I watch the moon; daily, I dance the dawn
I lift my ruffled skirt, flame can-can to the wind.
I am Lantana; I sing the summer sun.
As petunias pale and faint from Louisiana sun,
I spread seed more raucous than Salvia's din;
Wary, I watch the moon and daily dance the dawn.
Some call me red death, soul-crazed horse alone.
Some sow my serrate sage for heart-sick friends.
Thus leaps Lantana to dance the summer sun.
Some plant, then weed me from their garden lawns
for gypsy-jumping pickets so uncontained.
So wary I watch the moon, but daily dance the dawn.
Some put me in pots, breed cabaret colors down
from fire-gold red to pinky wan, domestic's kin.
Loud Lantana, I sing with summer's sun.
Women sometimes fear my kind; even shun;
they spend winters sad. My seeds swell spring's sand
watching for the moon, slow-dancing toward the dawn
when I'll lift arias to blaze like summer sun.
Published in PST Book of the Year and A Texas Garden of Verses
Resigned to blinding sun, some bird flutes
longing here: Verismo, verismo, verismo
loud, tragic and bitter as Pagliacci's laughter.
Laugh, clown, laugh, keep smiling
though your love has been shattered!
Comic opera turns tragic, No, Pagliaccio,
(No, I'm not just a clown). Stabbing Nedda,
his wife, and Silvio, her lover. Rage kills love.
Laugh, Pagliacci, laugh!
Here, that bird song persists, but fulfillment
will not come to him even as she plaints
pianissimo, knowing the trilled need she will
never meet. She scratches limp-legged
among grasses, back feathers stripped
from too many couplings to trust the wooing hues,
brilliant displays, and passionate arias.
In some mysterious knowing and terrible irony,
she knows her eggs are too thin-shelled-fragile
from feeding on toxic corn to mate again.
As I know, I could have loved Lester Leblanc
on those black, mud-rutted back roads
of Pointe Coupee Parish if we had escaped
Papa's shotgun or Sister Juanita's eye.
Professor Hu found that 24,000 people died
prematurely from eating red meat
of sad-eyed cows fed by altered corn. And I eat
fish that eat the fish...that eat Styrofoam
and plastic floating off these oil-coated coasts.
The tragic score of a local opera crescendos
in wet-feathered death of baby chicks.
Laugh, Pagliacci, Laugh!
Lester and birds still call Verismo...verismo,
fluting all songs of longing for tragic lives lost.
La commedia e` finite! The comedy is finished.
Published in Writing Texas
*Verismo refers to a realistic, post-Romantic style opera such as Leoncavallo's Pagliacci
Upon milkweed's twig a Monarch
lifted and pumped vibrant wings
for eternal minutes. Fluttering a bit,
she moved like a stuttered shuffle,
wings still quite young.
Meanwhile Turtle stopped to watch,
rugged legs spread, claws planted
upon a moss-covered mound.
She could have shredded a tender leaf,
nibbled and sipped weed's milk-white sap,
or she could have eaten a larval-young
chrysalis attached beneath a leaf.
Instead, she rested on the green grace
of a knoll where she entered Monarch mind,
waking amid mint-tinted light,
moment, fresh, fragile, and fleeting
as dew-morning air.
Turtle was there.
Thing and thing: no division.
And though she knew
their mutual rising,
she did not long
for wings nor flight.
Those tender things
became her wings.
Published in This Great Turtle Heart