Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Poem a Day

A poem a day was a tall order
too tall, really.
The burden of proof was heavy
especially for a budding wordsmith,
whose skills are rusty
who has too many blank pages between then and now.

But a poem a day is easy
for the secret woman I am inside.
The woman who lives in the tiny apartment
above the Florentine plaza,
where the afternoon sun settles
in the loveliest spot
and she writes, uninterrupted,
until it is time to walk downstairs,
ask the woman in the café below
for a bottle of wine,
some cheese and prosciutto.

She sits still and silent,
letting her eyes rest
on the men and women passing her table.
She imagines the places they live,
the jobs they love or hate,
how their bodies look in various stages of undress,
what they whisper to their mothers,
children, landlords, lovers
at the end of the day.

A poem a day was too difficult here.
But the secret woman I am inside,
well, she memorizes the stories of strangers
while she eats her supper,
chews her words carefully
turning them over and over in her mouth,
taking the time to get the sounds just right
before she returns upstairs
to sleep.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Jubilant Countdown

If I was to choose
one moment in time
from these first nine years
then I would tell of how I loved you in Italy
where you clamored for more gelato,
a better seat on the bus,
breakfast of bacon,
one more minute to swim in the Adriatic Sea.
In Pisa,
where you beat your chest à la Johnny Weissmuller
and Buster Crabbes,
there was no mistaking
your intent.
Like a gusty wind pushing through the clothes,
your howl conveyed what you had stubbornly decided—
your opinions were clear.

Here is the truth
your rage makes me love you more.
You are alive with a fire for this world,
a flame I smothered in my own heart
long before you were born.
But on the ancient streets of Rome and Florence
you veraciously taught me
how to ignite it again.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Day 22

come into my cell
make yourself at home
slip through the bars,
dark and rusty
try not to snag your dress
on that sharp steel
that barbed wire there
shake loose your freedom
lean close and look
for a sliver of moon
outside my dusty window

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Circus

I remember an ear infection
when I was fifteen or so,
pain so terrible I whimpered
then gnashed my teeth
then screeched
like a wild thing.
I lay stretched out in the back seat
sure I wouldn’t make it
one mile further
sure I would lose my hearing
my outer ear no longer vibrating
no longer sending sounds
the nerve endings stretched to their absolute limits
my balance compromised,
turning my life upside down
until the prick of a needle
drained the pain into a cup.
life is like this
bringing us to the brink
again and again
forcing us to be acrobats
taking us to dizzying heights
spinning us
around and around
until we find ourselves standing on solid ground
once again.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Day

Sometimes this is love
as simple as a pancake
saying so much more

Saturday, February 13, 2010


How did Noah’s wife feel
after the flood?
The waters abated
puddles of mud left in their wake.
All of those animals
must have needed tending;
must have been hungry, thirsty, filthy,
with their braying and screeching,
kicking and shitting
wedged tight in that vessel.
When was the last time she had slept?

I imagine her spirits were buoyed
when the rains ceased,
when the dove returned
with the olive leaf held in its beak.
At her first glimpse of land
was she desperate to escape,
tearing at her clothes,
muttering to herself
not nearly as proud of her righteous husband
as she had been a year before
when god chose him
and sealed her fate, too.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

One More on Day 11

snow showers at night
branches of bamboo bent low
forcing us to slow


[Damn. Snow days. Made me miss a day. Oh, well. This one was a little bit of fun!]

From near the water's edge, I watch
a boy digging a hole in the sand.
Slowly, methodically
he shovels and scoops,
tossing some by the handful
over his shoulder.
I step closer.

The hole is wide and deep
and filled with salty water.
A whale hides near the bottom.
I ask the boy if I may dive in,
have a word with the whale.
He says it's okay with him
if I do.

The water is colder than I expected.
And the whale refuses
to answer my questions.
Silently swimming in circles
simply watching me
tread water,
until my arms are too tired to go on.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Day 9

Like a souffle, his smile collapsed.
He suddenly understood what she had been trying to say.
Her voice was so slight
And her gestures so flustered.
It took him nearly a year
To realize she was leaving.
In fact, she was already gone.

Monday, February 8, 2010

A Few of My Failures

Soccer, my dad was a coach and my sister a natural athlete; I had two
left feet and didn’t make the team.
And math word problems were so confusing. Mr. DeMarco always had
spittle in the corners of his mouth. I couldn’t concentrate
on all those numbers.
And being Laura’s friend. She was smarter than me, but shy and quiet.
I made Russell Nelson moon her on the playground at lunchtime and then
I never spoke to her again.
And keeping a diary, although I loved that little book with its Holly Hobbie
cover and tiny lock and key, I only wrote six entries the first year
and two the next. All the other pages are blank,
but I wrote about loving Ted Trainor. He rode his moped to my house
after school. He wrote me poems and cried when I broke his heart,
too afraid to tell him what was happening to me.
And having faith only meant that I liked singing the hymns
and the quiet rhythm of sitting and standing and sitting again.
But I couldn’t believe Jonah was able to breathe in the belly of that whale,
or that someone would choose to die for my nameless sins
thousands of years before I was born.
Then there were those babies; four of them, dead before fourteen weeks.
Scraping and scooping the lining of my uterus
in the sterile operating room
was not the same as eulogizing their lives,
standing next to an open grave.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Suddenly Everything Makes Sense*

Around 1988 I’m working as a waitress at a German restaurant on July 4th. The chef gets angry and walks out in the middle of dinner service. We are all panicking. I want to walk out, too, but we apologize to the customers and watch the fireworks over New York City from the picture window.

Around 1971 we live on Alberta Avenue next door to the Ruhf family. Ricky and his brothers have a secret clubhouse in the woods nearby. I like to spy on them. They accidentally burn it down with a cigarette they aren’t supposed to be smoking. I long for a big brother just like Ricky.

Around 1978 I find a sand dollar on the beach in Sea Bright. It’s late winter and much too cold to swim. We live in a tiny rental house on Ocean Avenue. We call it the cracker box. Mrs. Rooney lives next door and sells hot dogs from a Sabrett cart. I think the tiny bird-like shells inside the sand dollar are heartbreakingly beautiful.

Around 1985 I spend the summer taking care of another family’s children. Their mother, Meg, has breast cancer and loses her hair after chemotherapy treatments. My friend Michael mows their lawn and we play Wiffle ball with the girls. I make cheese sandwiches every day. A few years later Meg and Michael are dead.

Around 1975 my sister is dancing on the side of the tub while we are taking a bath. I tell her to stop or she will get hurt. She slips and knocks herself unconscious. She is drowning. My father does mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on the small pink carpet. He saves her life. I cry myself to sleep that night.

Around 1982 we drive to Virginia to stay with my grandparents. My dad plays Kenny Rogers on the eight-track player all the way there. I sit in the front seat so my sister and I won’t fight. I know all the words to "The Gambler".

Around 1976 my parents give us a tape recorder for Christmas. It has been recording our voices while we open our presents. When we play it back later my mother is screaming because I have opened the only gift she gets that year—a dress she doesn’t really like.

Around 1987 I shoplift shampoo and a lipstick from the Five and Dime. I carry it out in the front pocket of my raincoat. The sun is shining.

Around 1983 my cousin tells me my grandfather is an alcoholic. We are playing hide-and-go-seek. Suddenly everything makes sense.

Around 1978 my grandmother sits next to me on the bed and gives me Saltines and a cherry pop. I have a high fever and I am delirious. Her cool hand on my forehead and soft murmurings make me feel safer than I have ever felt in my life.

(*homage to Terence Winch and Deborah Harding, and many others I'm sure)

Friday, February 5, 2010

No time yesterday, 2 haiku for today

dark river water
floating with pale jellyfish
two girls on a raft

on a cold winter night
take leave of inhibitions
she watches me dance

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

February 3

He filled the tall glass again
with amber-colored liquid, tipped
back his head and drank
so quickly, I don't think
he could have swallowed.

I watched him swipe
the back of his hand across
his wet lips, and turn
unsteadily, toward me
his half-focused eyes staring
at the tiny patches of my bikini.

Reaching into his breast pocket,
"Here," he said, "go get yourself a cherry cola."
And so I ran barefoot
across the gravel lot,
knowing even at this early hour
the cold glass bottle would soothe me.

I drank it, slowly
watching the pigs,
rooting in the muck oblivious to me there,
peering through the slats
listening to the distant sound
of a combine in the field nearby.

Years later, we sat side by side
his sallow skin and rail thin thighs
next to mine, rocking
the porch swing slowly in the midday heat.
Reaching into his breast pocket,
"Here," he said, "you're a good girl."

And I knew my silence had soothed him.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


* I should have said this earlier, before I began this monthlong exercise, before I set my first poem before you, but here's the thing: I'm enthusiastic about this project, yet I'm more than a little scared that it will be too hard or that sometime in the middle of it, I'll get a bad case of nerves and forget my lines and the gong will sound and that will be the end of my experiment. But I'm going to try to write a poem a day for the month of February. Some of them may be okay and some of them may be terrible. None of them will be completely finished because I might not know much, but I do know that good poetry requires tireless revision and so what I write here is only the beginning of my process. It is only the first place I will write these lines, what happens to them next remains to be seen. But I am giving myself permission to write poetry, to try to write every day, and most of all to have fun.

And so begins Day 2.

The Largest Organ

My skin is just a layer
that protects organs and bones,
mere millimeters thick.
An insulator.
A regulator.
A communicator.
One glance at my ectodermal tissue
and even a stranger can easily tell
if I am well or sick,
afraid or embarrassed,
ugly or attractive.
But am I comfortable in this skin?
No one else may be able to see it
but the scar tissue is ropey and thick,
a furious red,
discolored and depigmented.
It wasn't a pot of scalding water
or a fire igniting the house around me,
but a slow burn
moving inch by inch
blanketing thousands of nerve endings
until I could feel

Monday, February 1, 2010

Day 1

Envisioning what to write,
how to fill up a page,
the perfect words to expel,
which story i will choose to tell;
i ponder the minutiae of my daily existence.

No one cares about my piles of dirty laundry or the groceries i didn't buy,
or the painting i didn't paint and the dishes piling up in my sink.
No one cares about the noses i wiped
the floors i swept
the bills i paid
my walk to the park with the dog
or the mail piling up on my desk,
tipping precariously near the edge,
daring me to add one more envelope.

No one cares about the clouds in my sky
the peach-colored glow I admired,
those silky purple undertones
and the darkest hints of gray where rain must have been collecting.

No one cares to hear the song
i have played over and over again
until it’s words became my mantra,
Say you’ll wait, say you won’t
Say you love me, say you don’t
I can make my own mistakes

Not even i care.

But what i have come to realize
is that maybe
picking up my pen
and putting all of this down in black and white
will remind someone
that it is these simple things
which band us all together.

We are not alone.

* lyrics from Before It Breaks, Brandi Carlile