Friday, December 30, 2011

Atlanta on a Thursday

I don't recognize the language.
it falls from his tongue like
gumballs or pebbles. The words
are round and smooth and
collect at his feet.

He is unusually tall, and his
ankle high boots undermine
his American jeans.

He is Starbucks and twelve
countries that I've never been to.

We're both heading to Cincinnati.
My transfer has been cancelled.
His, I'm sure, is right on time.

Midnight in Dusseldorf

There are rabbits in downtown Dusseldorf,
small coveys that pour out
onto well-manicured parks after the
gates have been locked.

Walking alone last night, I stopped
to watch a pair run circles around
a bench near the Rhine.

It is a curious infestation but
one that could be expected in this
gingerbread country where clocks
are the broken hands of giants,
where cobblestones are skulls of the dead.

Kayaking in Portugal

Kayaking along the Rio Montenegro
I saw purple flowers that
climbed walls like ants

and small beaches that
speckled the river's banks
like upturned fish.

The mountains on either
side wore a heavy coat of
green, and small cities

glittered on the mountains'
shoulders like sunlit broaches.

The sun was hot and scraped
its teeth against our skin.

The water was cold and
swept by quickly like a
midsummer Portuguese night.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


It is September, and the lake
is several yards from the pier.

The dirty water is mud and
bugs and a reflection of this

bone dry town. The people
are asleep in the dry lake bed,

holding their cracked heels and
dusty children. The trees and

dried up bougainvilleas will
burst into flames at any moment.

Somewhere, there is a cigarette,
a match, or an errant spark.

On it is written the ghastly history
of this soon unforgettable pyre.

Monday, September 5, 2011


Come let me take you
on a tour of this
patchwork campus.

On thin threads
we will bob and
weave through the
fabric of this place.

I will show you
every stitch of a student,
every hem of tradition.

We will walk from
square to square
on needled legs,

sewing our colors,
picking up where others
left off.

And one day,
years from now,
reclining and still,
we will pull
this campus over our
cold bones

and be warmed
by its quilted memories.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

DA 1060

I'm sharing a Dallas-bound
Delta flight with a pastor
and a salesman.

If this were the beginning of a
joke, I am sure that I
would be a rabbi.

The pastor is kind and
engaged and speaks of himself
in muted arrogance. it is
not a fault as much as it is
a hazard of his occupation.
Sheep seldom follow shepherds
that are sheepish.

The salesman is in a unique
balancing act between boasting
and confession. He tempers every
story with a plea for acceptance.
Every jewel he holds up to
the light, he carefully lays at
the feet of the pastor.

I am far from their
conversation, the beard
offering a certain purchased distance
from middle-age, conservative America.

I wonder, if in the same conversation,
I would quickly show my better side.
"I'm returning form a mission trip."
"I've been to your church of 635"
"I also know Jesus"

Or would I tell him that me
Bible is in my checked luggage,
and I carry it around like a weight?

Would I tell him that I don't
trust him or his designer shoes?

Confessions of a Scaredy-Cat

I killed a grasshopper.
It was slender and green
and landed next to me.

I was scared of what
it would fel like, its
little legs clawing at
my cupped hands.

So, I killed it
with a shoe.
I collected its remains
with tissue paper and
trashed it next to an
empty box of cookies.

I hope this poem
serves as a proper burial.

On Seeing a Young Ballet Dancer on a Transatlantic Flight

Long, lithe arms that
hang like windless flags,

shoulders rolled back, set
like teacups on a high shelf,

feet, in first position,
in basketball shoes,

in a body, that for
the first time, makes

me think I'm dieing.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Bauby in Madison Square Park

It is ten o’clock in the evening,
and I have just finished reading
Bauby’s small kite of a memoir.

The winds of Madison Square Park
have been strong enough to keep the toy afloat,
and now, as its last blinked words are read, the
canvas, cross, and carefully knotted tail
fall carelessly to my feet.

As I look up, I see an art installation,
some decapitated Madonna without child,
French royalty or the American poor.

To my left the carnival lights
of a local dive are pulling in travelers
that leave with milkshakes, burgers, and
a sense of the authentic.

Perhaps more authentic, is the
elderly black man who holds the bench
beside mine like a paperweight,
a bottle cap, or a lost shoe.

He is searching through his belongings
with a flashlight that reminds
me of my grandfather, and I wonder
if he would be as curious as me,

curious why the black man has a shopping cart
and no receipts and a pregnant suitcase with
no ticket out of this New York park.

A mosquito bites my thumb and I
shoo it away, thinking about how
Bauby held on so mummified but
feeling everything. I turn again to
my homeless neighbor, wondering
how he does the same.

St George's, New York City

The stained glass of St. George’s
has all the jeweled colors of an
Amish quilt, and the wooden pews
sigh psalms as the congregation sits.

The chandeliers that hang are overgrown
hummingbird feeders, and it is not
uncommon to see the quick wings
and hovering of this New York crowd.

At the front of the church there are
two great cities of pipe organs that
rise like reclaimed civilizations on
the left and right of the altar.

In what Catholics would call the sacristy,
there is a cerulean sky with descending
stars. An epiphany hangs in the apse like
a mace, an ornament, an unmoving
pendulum for this great clock of faith.

And not to be missed, in shorts and a
blue t-shirt, I am here in my quilted
skin and woven beard, an echo of those
who have been before, fanfare for
those who will come after.

I am here, a prayer tied with my tongue,
hidden in the marrow of these ribs
that like the heavy wooden beams above me
support this broken but hopeful body.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Solving New York

For the Gershons

From the rooftop terrace of this Brooklyn apartment
you can see all of Manhattan at once.

At this distance, the geometry of the city
is elementary, a gross estimation like the
Niels Bohr model of an atom or
Empedocles and his four great elements.

It is all sharp corners and great
tables of incandescent rectangles.
It is precise, calculated, and proportionate.
It reads like a novel.

But in the foreground, caught somewhere between
this balcony and the East River, is an old water tower,
perched like a great bird on a neighboring building.

The tower is curved and unbeautiful, its conical hat and
angled legs are a more complicated mathematics,
requiring exponentials, trigonometry, and that most tasty constant π.

And even closer, I notice the people around me,
their asymptotic conversations, the slopes of their speech,
the great equations of their nods, and gestures, and hands,
and hair- the bends of their noble, lithe necks,

and I think that surely these imperfections, these unsolvable equations,
these incalculable calculi are as rooted in logic as the prismic skyline.

And while it is certainly easier to solve the one variable equation
of this city, I hope those attempting to find a greater solution consider

the equation of the tongue, the volume of community, the weight of alone,
the variable of home.


There are fireflies in DC
that blink and buzz and
amble north of Capitol Hill.

For some, they are warnings,
little Paul Reveres, insect continentals,
who have seen the British of
our child nations, next enemy.

For some they are decoration,
Christmas bulbs or slow neon
confetti used to celebrate the
warm summers of this European city.

And for some they are science,
a forgettable chemistry locked
away in the glowing abdomen
of an otherwise unimpressive bug.

but for me, they are lighthouses,
small fires in this noble city,
not to warn of the treacherous rocks ahead,
but to show us sea-tossed Americans
that among the waves, there still,
is land.

Poet in the making

For the quiet girl on the DC Metro

She is not a poet
at least not the high collared
suicidal poets of the 19th century.

She does not care for iambs
or the sweet feet of pentameter.

She is a woven girl, who
carries her pen like a
flower. Her stem spins
lines like broken-legged spiders,

and her webs are catching
the small bees of words
that buzz from the hive
of her auburn heart.

She is not a poet.
She is, instead, a windmill
a waterfall, an open field,
a soldier of fortune,
a prayer, a sieve,
a poem.


Tonight, my niece tells me,
the moon is closer than normal.

A learned seven-year-old, she attempts
to explain some elementary astrophysics,

but her oration on planetary motion
is cut short by my sister’s offer of ice cream.

And while tomorrow’s greatest astronomer
does a quick conical volume calculation

to see if her baby sister has more strawberry
swirl than she, my eyes are drawn back

to the moon and its pock-marked complexion.
It looks heavy in the helium sky, a ball,
a balloon, a plate, an egg. Also, a marshmallow,
an eye, a pregnant spider, those metaphors
with which we are less familiar:

a cup of milk, a snow crab, a blanched olive,
an uncovered knee, a hole, a bald man in prayer.

As my nieces spin and slide on their linoleum
kitchen floor, I step out into the Tennessee night.
I reach my hand into the cool mid-March breeze.
I stretch my fingers as far as they will go
knowing that tonight I am as close as I have
ever been to touching the moon and all its brightness.

And depending on the next steps of sweet Eva,
and the incredible gravity of strawberry swirl, it may be
the closest I’ll ever come.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Prayer to St. Lucy

Daughter of Eutychia,

let me tear out my eyes,

and with bloody hands,

set them on your painted plate,

Daughter of Eutychia,

let me too be consumed

by flames, my pink flesh,

a trumpet to my enemies.

Daughter of Eutychia,

let my innocence be heavy

enough that when the oxen pull,

I too will be a weight that

cannot be moved.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Response to Ms. Woolf

To write fiction, Virginia Woolf once wrote,
a woman needs money and a room of her own.

To write poetry, I think, a woman needs
a broken tea cup and some jam.

To write plays, I presume, a woman needs
the silhouette of a snake and an orange balloon.

To write essays, she needs only a long-haired
cat and night's open palm.

To write epitaphs, it follows, she needs
knitting tools and a gallon jug.

And to write fiction, Virginia Woolf
forgot to mention, you need cake,
opium, gorilla fur, and a ball of twine,

Ode to Crawfish

A forty pound colony of Louisiana
crawfish just arrived
via FedEx in a white, styrofoam Mayflower.

JD spreads the unsuspecting pilgrims
on the back porch of this East Texas lake house.
He cleans them methodically.

As he sprays, the crawfish writhe and spin;
they raise their red claws to the sky.

In poses of surrender or exhaltation, they are washed
and gathered and reboxed in preparation
for their ten gallon death.

Even now, as JD fills the pot with
water, the crawfish reach and stretch against
the sides fo their styrofoam cell.

Soon they will be moved by handfuls into
a spicy pyre where they will be come red and

We will eat them with corn, potatoes,
a healthy share of local beer, and a

I hope we speak of democracy, peace,
honor, or love- those most dangerous,
most difficult subjects- those subjects
worthy of such a sacrifice.

New England Woods

The woods of New England
are not like the woods of the south.

In the south, we have large
groves of oaks whose antebellum
roots still sprawl where plantation
homes once burned.

In the south, we have yellow
pine forests whose needled
beds hide coral snakes
and small town teenage trysts.

In the south, we have swamps
whose mix of moss and fog
help ghosts and alligators
both appear and disappear without warning.

But in the north, you have
Irving Washington filling
your bundles of sticks with our
child nation's greatest stories.

You have Robert Frost, covering
your empty acreage with snow

You have Arthur Miller letting
loose witches into your barren woods.

And driving, as I am now,
on the slow road from New York
to Bethesda, I can't help but
see your fictions swirl about
dead branches, like the fall
we wish we had.


for Josh Kain

You drink your vente-créme de caramel-macciato with organic milk and cinnamon whip. Sip it gingerly as you open your books, as you let all the words fall out. Pick them back up and carry them reverently, the idle props of your one-man tribute to ennui.

I’ll have a small cup of stiff, black coffee. I’ll wade into the neighboring river as the sun crawls up the sky. I’ll whip my line back and forth, the whistle of which will be the only sound God did not make.


In the Upper-west side
my friend has an apartment.

It is a postage stamp
on this envelope of a city,

a grape in this large horn-of-plenty,

but it is hers, and she lives
in it unapologetically.

The light wood floors
cover the ground like
some oaken quilt,
some unsolvable geometry lesson,
or the tessellating rugs of Alhambra.

The walls are vanilla pudding
and the silver radiator drops from the ceiling
like some bizarre utensil
with which to eat it.

Outside the open window,
the purchased symphony of the city plays.

Nigerian nannies push small white
children in rattling strollers.
Students at a nearby school laugh and scream
and lay the foundations of the edificial lives.
The busses and taxis honk and squeal down Broadway.
Wind shakes the leafless branches of this city’s
concrete trees.

Somewhere, church bells chime
with the hour—the little choir, a small
reminder of the God who still dwells
in these mechanical places.

And a woman, long out of the limelight,
competes with this metropolitan orchestra.
She walks up and down vocal scales
as a mezzo-soprano. Her vibrato vibrates
this small, forgotten opera house,

and in our warm vanilla box seats,
we close our eyes, lean our heads back
and applaud,

our prima donna’s most devoted fans,
tasting small thimbles of joy
in this ocean of a city.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


you have fooled no one


I stepped out
last night after
my family had
gone to sleep.

There was already
frost on the windows;
so, I took
my father’s coat.

It had been
many years since
I last wore his
heavy clothes.

Always a blanket
or tent as a child,
my father’s shirts
and jackets would
swallow us whole.

As I took into the
December night, however,
the sleeves fell short,
the shoulders hugged mine.

And I realized that
it was not the coat
that would overwhelm me
as I grew older,

it was the man.


it is a heavy night
a metallic blue
a wind that blows like billowing sheets
a cold pocket watch from a grandparent long dead
a still horse
a silver dollar moon

and the trees shake like impatient children

it is a heavy night
a line from Frost
a loaded gun


I went to the beach for Thanksgiving.
My family, a small band of nomads,
brought popcorn, pop tarts and lemonade
gravy and we sat, as we always do

watching the children as they rise and spin
and tremble with adolescence.

I went to the beach for Thanksgiving
because in the quiet hours I could
sneak down to the sandy shore and
scribble these half-written words,

pulling small pieces of bread out of my pockets
and hoping the small bird of a poem would come.

I went to the beach for Thanksgiving
because it is immeasurable, and I,
artificially large, needed to remember
that I am thankful.


I am, once again, drawn into its vastness,
how its rolling waves are a watery canopy,
how beneath there wakes a still unconquered dragon.

I do not think we are deceived by the
ocean’s great depth of wide stretch.
I think we are afraid, rightfully afraid,
at how something so un-owned can still stir.


At the gym today
I noticed that the
treadmills all face
the mirrors.

Strange, as most of
us beating the bouncy
pavement are most comfortable
running from reflections.