Dorothy Prizes Awarded for 2012



Leslie Elizabeth Adams of Saltillo, Mississippi for 
Each Thaw Now, the Trees Unravel; Detail: White Wall; The Aviary, Thabor
Michelle Y. Burke of Cincinnati, Ohio for 
Today the Horse;A Life
Nina Riggs of Greensboro, North Carolina for 
Summer House; Communion; In The Dark
Brittney Scott of Richmond, Virginia for 
Schema; The Place Where My Dreams Still Happen; The Traveler
Ali Shapiro of Ann Arbor, Michigan for 
Neolithic Revolution; Fetch; Goodbye, Goodnight
Sam Taylor of Wichita, Kansas for 
American Mystic; Mountain Cottage; First Taxi
Josh Booton of Portland, Oregon for 
Ode to a Toy Train; Trees or Memories; Sidework
Jenny George of Santa Fe, New Mexico for 
Not Prayer; Reprieve; Everything Is Restored
Tess Jolly of Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex, England for 
Washing Line; After the Hip Operation; Swans
Kerry Kwock of Milton, New York for 
Sonogram; Litany; Swallows
Rebecca Macijeski of Lincoln, Nebraska for 
How; Melon; After Beethoven
Ameerah Arjanee of Rose-Hill, Mauritius for 
Temple; Study Time; Votive for
the Absent God
Ruth Awad of Carbondale, Illinois for 
The Keeper of Allah’s Hidden Names; Hunt; Sabra and Shatila Massacre
Michael Boccardo of High Point, North Carolina for
Fable for 
Boys Who Chase Tornadoes; What No One Told me About Autumn
Jodie Childers of Flushing, New York for
 Pallbearers; At the family Plot; In the Hollow
Brieghan Gardner of Nottingham, New Hampshire for 
Yes and No; October; Still Life with Wind
Rochelle Hurt of Chapel Hill, North Carolina for 
Elegy for
a Dogwood Tree: Worthington, Ohio; Confession; Elsewhere
Courtney Kampa of Oak Hill, Virginia for 
Mercy; Annunciation; White Dogs
Tracey Knapp of San Francisco, California for 
The Only One You’ll Ever; Apology; Emergency Exit
Hannah Oberman-Breindel of Madison, Wisconsin for 
A Version of the End of the World; Nothing Is A Metaphor, Even Though Everything Can Be Read As A Metaphor; Kid Sister
Matthew Thorburn of Riverdale, New York for 
The Morning; Two Chinese Men Arrested for
Stealing A Bridge
Anders Carlson-Wee of Edina, Minnesota for 
The Low Passions; Living; Volunteer
Weston Cutter of Fort Wayne, Indiana for 
Welcome to Dirt; expectant unsonnet; American Lessons
Adam Fell of Madison, Wisconsin for 
Car Fall Toward The Clearing; Red Electricities; Defense Department
Dana Koster of Modesto, California for 
The Earwig; The Wolf at the Door; Binary
Brittany Perham of San Francisco, California for
 Teaching my Brother Sign Language in the I.C.U.; American History; Costume
Honorable Mention
Quan Barry of Madison, Wisconsin for 
Someone once said we were put on this earth to witness and testify
Jeremy Bass of Brookly, New York for 
Fletcher Road; Anniversary; Easter Saturday
Brittany Cavallaro  of Milwaukee, Wisconsin for 
His Last Bow; Myself As Altar; Trust  
C. Doyle of Altoona, Pennsylvania for 
For Flannery At Andalusia; Death of a Living Statue
Rebecca Dunham of Bayside, Wisconsin for 
To Winter; Self-Portrait As Convulsion; The Fall Of Manna
K.A. Hays of Lewisburg, Pennsylvania for 
Petition; To the Moth in the Phlox; In Heat
Emily Ruth Hazel of Ridgewood, New York for 
Something to Celebrate; Upon This Rock; On the Shoreline of a Promise
Bryana Johnson of Dallas, Texas for 
Fourteen Reasons Not To Jump; Mulberry Gap; From Outside
Nate Liederbach of Eugene, Oregon for 
We Are Not Karamozov; Done Trying; Our Garments, Spotless  Debbie Lim of Annandale, New South Wales, Australia for
On Finding Seahorses; The Pool; Dandelion
Sandra Lim of Cambridge, Massachusetts for 
Poppy; The Hive; Horse
Crystal Simone Smith of Durham, North Carolina for 
Life As a Machine; King Baby; Greeting
Tess Taylor of El Cerrito, California for 
Then Time; Little Farm; Song With Sequoia and  Australopithecus


Our thanks to everyone who entered and
congratulations to our winners!


Winning Poems




Work currently withheld

Study Time

Show me your equations,

swiftly-kissed numbers and signs

changing their clothes between brackets,

as if there were magic between a curved

wall and an empty space. Your verbs

detaching themselves from the shame

of their marked suffixes, adding colors

and hisses of snakes like bohemians

stuck between lines. In old times in old cities

in new bodies, there is in the middle

of Van Gogh's icy blue eyes, an explosion.


I will rewrite chemistry on your life-lines,

electric palm curling organically to accept

ninety-two small Greek names from which

my love and your love, or rather, the millions

of prisons making up my heart and your heart

decompose to compose a poem of stars

which never burn their atoms. Show me

your single shining face, lost among

temples of encyclopaedias. Every word

off your trembling lip is a god of the pantheon,

falling and falling again.




We return to this place:
sometimes with the pigeons,
sometimes with the wind.
Sometimes in the old man's cart
that trundles from a faraway village.
Sometimes with the child
with kohl-lined eyes in the prison
of his mother's arms. 


This is the temple in which
the footprints erase themselves
with each prayer,
each drop of oil
offered to a goddess
with a large bosom
and small eyes.

We walk into it, 


What interpretation can we give to the faint scent of incense?
What interpretation can we give to the changing of seasons,
the coming and going of pilgrims, the drinking of water
and the bowing on the floor?
To the blessings given and the sadnesses refused

by the goddess
with a large bosom
and small eyes.

Only the incense,
water, oil, feet,
bow, ground,
salt, rice,



Votive for the Absent God 

Poem, accept the gift of my half-formed desire,
the cherry tomato I left on the cutting board
in the sun-lit kitchen, the stray golden thread
I pulled from my mother's embroidered dress,
the small wound on my thumb where it scraped
against the garden wall. This is where the bluebells
are; the honeysuckles; the pale-lipped lilies; the 

drying geraniums; all subtle flowers. Out there, 

I leave a round saucer of seeds for the birds, 

but I have never seen them. I go back inside;
I make tea; I cut things for mother which she
might cook to make soup. Sometimes, I
try wearing something else than my skin.
No dresses fit, not my mother's, not mine.
My body is tender, fat, inexperienced.




Sabra and Shatila Massacre

          refugee camps in Beirut, Lebanon, 1982


         “The first thing I saw were horses, dead horses behind around where that white building is…and I thought to myself, why would anyone kill a horse?” –Robert Fisk,         journalist in Lebanon 



When I can’t look any longer at the animal, shot down, 

I close my eyes and draw it to its feet. 


There was the broken teapot and two women, their clothes

torn open, and an infant.



A woman with half-singed hair runs through the camp,
a single snap, her breath like a sizzled wick,
her hair like harp strings the wind plucks. 


The music makes my feet brick-heavy

as they scale the mound, thinking of all the steps
I’ve taken before and hate myself for wasting

as the dead horses stampede, 

as the woman joins their dust-fused wake.



Then the hill sunk under my feet like a sigh.

How else do you say it—I stood on them,

what seemed a tarp-drawn embankment,

a hummock of corpses. Quicksand. 

Unbearably soft.



White building, throat necklaced
with clothesline, each scarf beats with a stolen pulse.


Too many to count.

The whole land nailed under that gallop.


The Keeper of Allah’s Hidden Names


When I looked up, the clouds muted the bulb of moonlight

or they wisped like scarves around the neck of a woman,

          that perfume between light and darkness,

and I was still counting.


          I counted the white-clothed canopies pinned to the mountainside, 

blustering there
          as though they could drip down the stone-wall


like water and wash away.

That water jeweled with blood. 

          Your names like the sea’s broken glass.


I was counting when 

you looked down on your animals

          who leaned into your breath with wonder

at the wind stinging through their ribs,


     was counting when you pulled the moon down into the sea, a pearl
on the tongue of an animal

          too stupid to swallow your name and keep it there,


was counting from the cliffs every syllable

of light and water and leaf and bone,

          braying your names like an incantation 

against the loneliness of knowing you.


Tripoli, Lebanon


I listen for the wind yowling like a wounded dog, its burdened octave

nosing through the bullet-pocked palm trees.   

I listen for the animal sealed in the basement. The grind of its teeth. 
          Survival. Hunger at the bottom of a well.


And when cold edges in from the splintered windows,
it’s my boots skimming the tile, my breath webbing the mirror. 

A mouth of light
          pointing like a compass needle.


I press my ear to the door, hear the grain’s slight heartbeat.

          I hear tree roots spidering, their reaching, their thirst.    

Hear footsteps lumber. I turn your name over like a stone in my mouth.



What No One Told Me About Autumn


       Why it boils over without apology.  Why 

lawns lining every home erupt 


        in the night, fevered by some unnamable sorrow.  

Why the sky hides so often, a blister 


        I’ve fingered since childhood.  

When it uses words like mercy 


        and regret, I lose myself in the backyard 

the way a match loses its grip on the dark.  


        Here, between two pines, I might hear 

what was once the gossip of sheets 


        my mother snapped against a line, 

father’s shirts pinned shoulder 


        to shoulder, collars flared, buttons with nothing 

to clutch.  I think of the crickets who will later spark 


        the air with their duplicitous refrain,

how I will follow them, barefoot,


        moss dusting my heels.  And for what?  

Tell me that if I look back now, 


        I won’t see how each grief solders us

to the next:  a house clapped shut,


        gagged, leaning into its hollowed bones.  

Leaves, battered by wind, seized 


        between the tines of an abandoned rake.  

Their ceaseless falling.  How they wait 


        and wait to become tinder, then smoke, 

then ash.  How I cannot change it.



Fable For Boys Who Chase Tornadoes


Even from birth, it is said that sky bonds 

              with a certain kind of child.  For instance, this one:  

       his eyes like cellar doors sprung, each iris 


a spiraling dervish.  Bundled, his hair is the shade

of hysteria beneath a blanket’s scalloped hem—erratic,                                                   always escaping.  Think ash.  Think vellum, or wool 


raveling its dense skeins down his collar, curls 

               that will drag shoulders broadened 

        by the eve of his thirteenth birthday.  


Alone, he’ll cross lands flat as patchwork, drifting

               east, the sun a spill of whiskey scorching his shadow 

        against the earth.  Over the years he will begin 


to forget his mother, father, the debris 

               of their smiles as they waved goodbye, 

        both arms buckled around the others’ waist.  


He is left only to guess at the siblings 

               who may fill his place—a sister, all elbows

        and scraped knees locked around the siren 


of a rusted gate, or twins, brothers 

               dirt-streaked and thundering through thickets 

        of wisteria.  In ritual, he still exists.  Charms 


strung at their throat, wrist.  

               For protection:  clover bunched above windows, 

        the splintered lip of a vacant door.  Nights, 


one small voice reaches for the others, 

               a leaf wavering across the room, Will the sky ever return 

        him homeCan he find us on the map of his hand?  


They fear the days blotted by clouds,

               but know without a photograph this is all

        they have of him.  Swab of cheek, shadow thick.


Lips a rippled cumulus splitting the horizon.   

               They hold hands, knuckles steepled, and recite hymns 

        that tug at their throats like birds wrenching worms 


free from an arid and unyielding

               world.  A world that trades prayers for magic, 

        logic for spells.  They have yet to know


that nothing is holier than the body, the atlas 

               of its undoing:  skin, breath, bone.  All of it dust

        blown into the pocket of a God they cannot touch.




Ode to a Toy Train

Such care to construct with hair-thin screws

the American-red driving wheels, 

three cabins cast all in chrome.  

As if movement held a home

a house could not.  As if such work 

for the sake of leisure weren’t work at all, 

and the tea-kettle call

of the hand-rubbed whistle a lament

more hours could not be spent so well.

And so twelve windows cut 

from beveled glass, inviting passengers 

to watch the world pass, 

persuading me to press an eye and see 

the shellac shining from each 

set table, the napkins folded into flowers.

How many hours to paint 

the landscape of a driftwood beach

and hang it straight 

on its impossible nail?  One could fail 

a thousand times and feel

perfection in having finally done it. 

As the conductor must, 

his shoulders flecked with soot, 

balancing his shovelful of coal forever

as he stares into the flames.  

Even the tender box smolders like the dream  

of a life left two towns back.  


To watch it grapple along the track— 

the whir of gears, of cogs packed 

tight as feathers—is to be filled

with a sense of humungousness, the world

gone suddenly small.  As if 

the freight of the world were nothing 

much at all.  As if the tiny hand which urges 

each car onward along the rails

were not my son’s but my father’s,

his fingers stilled and steady, the tremors 

hammered back to true.  But he is not a train, 

only a man teetering to lift a train, 

to turn it over in his hands then set it back 

on its track and shuffle off somewhere. 

If I stand there, as though waiting 

for something that must surely come, I wait 

as a man waits for a train.  

I wait for the word Parkinson’s 

to slip from my mind, a long black train

leaving its station, leaving me behind 

in the living room of my father’s house, 

with a handful of track to lay

and my son’s laughter as the engine  

clears the final rail and rolls a little while on,

spurred by some slight ghost of motion

even after the tracks are gone.



Trees or Memories

How even night breeds light

with time, the eye’s dim


wattage dialed up, pitch black

sapped back to almost day.  


Say a name, any name 

enough, and watch that face


recede toward formlessness.

And so to call out so often


is now to call to nothing, 

anything: a silver dollar


slipped inside a pocket, the lit

candle rehearsing its one 


thought, a dead man’s arms

folded neatly as a love note.


It’s for you.  It reads: the dead 

dead long enough live 


again.  Trees or memories.

One life leavened, folded into 


the next.  Feather tucked 

into feather, so that the air


might be held a moment again. 

Up or in.  A breath folded across 


the tongue, sung or softly

spoken, a name, a note.  It says: 


A dark road goes on forever.  

It says: If you are reading this


there must be light enough.




Sweet skill of the miniscule: 

a month sketching eyelashes, 


three years rehearsing the light

in late June on the skin of 


a roughed-up half-rouged pear

in an earthen bowl.  Picasso


perfecting his blues—azure, 

midnight, Aegean, true—because


one or two would not do.  

Because mood plays more


in the crook of the neckbones

than the silhouetted sea. 


The shadow-work in Degas’

lurkers, the dancer’s toes


turned just so, just enough

to lever that left leg held forever 


in arabesque.  Angles for angels.

Such believable knees.  


Those inflections of flesh, 

chiaroscuro of scars, as yours, 


the scar on your left knee nearly

exactly the shape of Paraguay, 


of some undiscovered country

where you and I and a few


million strangers toil to conceive

one small good thing, 


and call it love, and keep it ever

so small, so small we barely 


believe it exists, so small  

we can carry it with us always.



A Life


Each afternoon he took his pipe

and led his goats beyond the pasture

to a neighbor’s field behind his farm—

not exactly his but not exactly not.


As the goats clipped the tall grasses,

he sat in the chair he never failed

to bring. Sometimes he read, most often

not. The vetch climbed the goldenrod,


the dandelions turned from gold

to globe, and every day he went,

thinking to himself how good it was

to be almost but not entirely alone. 




Today the Horse


broke from my grip as I led

him from barn to arena. This had 

never happened before. I stood 

dumbfounded as he galumphed

across the meadow, saddled and bridled,

ducking his head to tear mouthfuls 

of spring grass from the field. 

The temptation of it all too much

for him. He stepped on his reins,

and I thought, either the reins will break

or he’ll slice his tongue. I watched

as the reins fell in two soft pieces. 

I’d stayed out too late drinking 

the night before, and I was unprepared 

for the sudden rear and heave 

of all that horse muscle. At the bar,

I’d been caught up in the gentle

attentiveness with which a friend

brought his ex-wife her ginger ale

and made sure she was happy, holding

the door as she left and asking 

if she wanted him to walk her to her car.

At one point, she’d told me

she’d always regretted not going

to medical school. It was what her parents

had wanted, and perhaps the world needed

more doctors who cared about people.

The exes moved around each other

with the quiet assurance of those

who have shared close living quarters.

If I could have, I would have wished

that softness out into the world

like pollen that covers everything.

I’d stayed out later than I should have,

and now the horse was halfway 

across the meadow to the hedgerow,

delighted to have the run

of the overgrown field, his bit

turning green from grassy froth,

the remains of his reins curled

like sunning snakes in the long grass.

I approached him slowly, looped half 

a rein through his bridle, and led 

his thousand pounds back to the barn. 

He followed, a frayed strap 

of leather between us coordinating 

our movements, matching, momentarily, 

his animal purpose to mine.





Anders Carlson-Wee


For a couple of years I volunteered 

at the prosthetics center in the south wing 

of St. Mary's Memorial. Every Thursday 

I pushed the lab equipment up against 

the walls, mopped the floor, moved it back.  

I was basically a janitor, but they called 

me a Lab Assistant, trying to make it 

sound important. All the patients who 

came in were missing something. Usually 

it was an arm or a leg. A clean loss.  

A stub that still moved. The kind of thing 

you would think of. But other times 

it wasn't. This one guy had skin

where his nostrils should be. A fire maybe.  

This girl was missing three fingers and part 

of her palm. Probably an accident 

with a handgun, but she was so young.  

I would mop the floor and try to guess 

what had happened to everyone. Watch 

as they practiced walking across the room 

with silicone toes. Listen carefully 

as they dropped spoons on the clean floor 

from experimental hands.



The Low Passions

The Lord came down because God wasn’t enough. 

He lies on sodden cardboard behind bushes 

in the churchyard. Wrapped in faded red. A sleeping bag

he found or traded for. Dark stains like clouds 

before a downpour. The stone wall beside him rising, 

always rising, the edges of stone going blunt 

where the choirboy climbs. He opens his mouth,

but nothing goes in and nothing comes out.

Like the sideshow man who long ago lost

his right testicle to the crossbar of a Huffy.

He peddles the leftover pain. The stitches clipped 

a week later by his father, the fiberglass bathtub 

running with color, the puffy new scar,

the crooked look of the pitted half-sack.  

He tells me you only need one nut, and I want 

to believe him. I want to believe he can still

get it up. I want to believe he has daughters, sons, 

a grandchild on the way, a wife at home 

in a blue apron baking. But why this day-old bread 

from the dumpster, this stash of hollow bottles

in the buckthorn, this wrinkled can of Pabst?

The Lord came down because God wasn’t enough.

Because the childless man draws the bathwater

and cries. Because the choirboy never sings 

as he climbs. Because the bread has all molded

and the mouths are all open. Open to the clotting air.

Homeless, anything helps. Anything. Anything you can 

spare. God bless you, God bless you, God bless. God, 

Lord God, God God, good God, good Lord very good God.




I get everything I need for free.  

These boots came from the factory 

dumpster on the far side of town.  

This hat was molding on the kitchen 

floor in the foreclosed home 

I picked through. This coat, this 

backpack, this brand-name headlamp.  

I got this cornmeal behind the grocery 

store, this flat bread behind the bakery, 

this french press in the alleyway 

next to the coffee shop in uptown. 

This bible in a bum camp, 

this banjo in a trashcan, this headless 

mannequin in a free-pile outside Honest 

Ed's Antiques. The British call it 

skipping. The Brazilians call it living, 

call it vida. Vida fora de nada. Life 

out of nothing. I bike past the butcher's 

on Pike and find a bag full of pigs.  

None of them whole. A few sets 

of hooves, a half torso, two heads, 

another head with no nose, a leg, a pile 

of coiled tails slowly uncoiling 

like white worms taken out of a hole.  

Most of it going musty, the muscle 

falling away from the fascia, 

the skin drained of color and feeling 

like withered pumpkin. But some 

of it might be good. A pair of milky 

gloves is clumped up and tangled 

among the little hairless tails.  

I dig them out. I blow to check 

for holes. I begin sorting the pigs.


At the Family Plot

The mound is still fresh

where her husband’s body rests.


She lies next to it,

cold October dirt on her skirt,


as if she’s ready to sink into the earth

she hasn’t finished  paying for yet. 


For now, she just wants to take a short nap

with her husband,


mother, father, brother—

The gold has worn off their headstones,


She’ll repaint them all one day

when she wakes up.


In the Hollow

We were born in the crease of a map.

You won’t find us, generations smudged

and broken from over folding.


Pointing out where you've been,

and where you'd like to go, you won't find us,

for fingers only run from bold to bold.


Impatiently unfolding, side of the road,

wind blowing, you won't find us,

we are not a place, for orienting selves. 


We were born in the crease of a map,

crevice between once pointed mountains 

now just hills, still eroding.



“Traditionally, the sons don’t carry the coffin,”

the funeral director instructs the family

in the proper emotional etiquette.


“The oldest son’s role is to support his mother.”

The widow adjusts a button on her husband’s overalls.

 “They’d like to do it anyway.” 


She doesn’t look up from the casket,

as the brothers place mementoes inside,

a root of wild ginseng, a single bullet shell, a feather.


They are experienced in this line of work.

Their solid bodies have found frequent employment

carrying men who have died too soon.


Their backs can handle this burden—

It is the weight of the living

that is so much harder to bear.



Welcome to Dirt

The body is an emergency machine. The body

is what happens once desire's

found succor to ride + dusty miles to cover +

a stream to drink from + after all that, desire

will have discovered what it needs to rescue + this

is how the body becomes, why the small ratio

between holes + fingers, height + hearing range.

I watched my wife cry as the plane shook + thought

of the plants we'd left unwatered

at home because the body's a forgetting machine

with hair, because the body too is a single

obsessive answer to the question what to do

with all this water? The plane

shook and shook like a fat man laughing, like

the green flap of fabric on my wife's winter coat

as we pushed our way, lakeside, to some party

or place I can no longer recall because the body

is deja vu. The body

is a watch the clock of the heart straps on

  as accessory + the body is some

uncrunchable sum of desperate minutes. The plane

shook. My wife beside me was crying. Prayers

were dug for through veins because the body is

a relatively intuitive container for tricky path-

ways. The body is a vessel minutes pass through

like leaves cascading from letting-go autumn trees

      through the empty lot at street's end

        of the street I grew up on

+ when the plane touched down + the landing

gear held my wife's eyes said all all our bodies

      felt because the body is a wind-up toy +

its only line I want more. The way the ground

suddenly looked after we'd wondered if we'd ever

      get to gently press our stupid feet against

its neck again. The way the sacred is revealed

in the skimpy everyday, the smallest just-looking

glance, how the body is the opposite of an x

  -marked spot, not the map but

the worn folds of the map, the shape the route

reatains between consultations.


expectant unsonnet

we'll name her happenstance. or wait-and-see.

we'll name her storm-we'll-now-be-stuck-within

forever. at the lake

i tell the dog

go get the stick because

it's just a thing—

not fulfilling, not like the tomatoes

ellen waits for, in a deck chair, our kid

inside her kicking, me bringing her fruit


or vegetables. whichever. ask me if


i care, the name, a shape we give our tongues

so that we may call this of-us something.

the dog retrieves the stick, shakes off the lake,

i throw the stick again + off he goes,

sure of exactly what he's pursuing.

we'll name her everything we cannot say.


American Lessons

Tomato plants tipping over from their too-

      much growth in August wind,

branch ends redly waving like irritated hands

  or ornaments

on holiday trees, all this in rain forecasters

call derecho, wet pounding ground

like a locked-out lover, like picked-on kid

   w/bully at his back, the shake + shiv of it, sky

gone tupperware, deep leftoverblue, if you

  are of the midwest this was youth:

summer fun traded for trots downstairs, dad grabbing

      the beat-up battery-powered radio

+ you hoping nobody'd notice the big flashlight

nearly dead from the hours

            you spent pressing it against flesh

           hoping yield, hoping vision, that enough

lumination would or could overwhelm the dark

      you knew wasn't all that deep in

or down, urge to squash frogs while barefoot, urge

to set wet wrigling worms on dry sidewalk

+ watch their writhing till it faded

like firecracker smoke, then a wave

of hail finding galvanized trashcans you left out

because rocks + how the stopsign offers

its dull dings in exchange for

your pitches, we'd play Uno, Go Fish, neither parent

       eyeing the cracked window or scolding me

for all I left to the mercy of elements: either wind hit

+ discomfitted landscape or trashcans

stayed put @ driveway's end because because,

       because storm +past that who knows,

because what light we flash into dark

          whispering succumb is or will never be

enough, because now the sky's gone pink with post

                   -storm wonder as I pick a path

through fallen fruit, everything wet + smelling sweet

    as inevitability.




Adam Fell

Car Fall Toward The Clearing

Near Poynette, our waxwings fail.

Snow sets on winded kites, frozen lake 

creaking, clinging waveless below us

to its boughs of concrete breakers,

its woven bits of sidewalk, its snowed-in sandbars.

On the bridge, our mute engineering gives us away;

our car tracing the cold, gray-breasted

kestrel of highway. We park in the vacant

lot; the sky scarce, its tumbling 

throat threshed too lush, we are gathered 

like unnested petrol in the clammy palms of the clouds, 

the trembling glass of the shoreline’s mirror.

We follow the snowmobile tracks on to the ice,

out to a center spilt birch, flightless, 

yet starling, we auger a hole in the water,

its dark eyelet healing slowly, slowly 

clotting thin again with slushed gray.

We take the solitary hawks of our hearts out,

and chill them in the same water to survive.



Defense Department

There is the place in the trees where men stand

to kill deer; past the storm fence, past the snow

depreciating in banks near the Beltline.

Two doe there now, bowed at stalk, 

scuff their snouts in the wrecklings of soy. 

They ignore the proud husks of our houses,

the cars panting through the salted, winter core,

the new snow drifting like shredded documents.

Seven weeks without work

and still this gaunt light, this dawn wind 

wraps our skinned roofs in white gauze.

Still the same kids walking, their jackets soaked,

zippers stuck, dripping progress in the snow.

Outside school, a last lope of them smoke

near the door; kids set hushed from the knife drawer,

not grown enough to grist, crumbs of gray 

snow gathering in the seams of their jackets.

I sop the entrance rug with the boot-slush 

of a world that is its own camouflage. 

I track what’s left of our fields through the hall.

Seven weeks without work and still, thank god, 

here is the part of each morning that knows 

I am as much grain as these kids, as much dripping

pant-cuff beneath desk, that knows the fading warmth

of my quiet engine will join them 

in fogging the windows of the classroom with life.



Red Electricities

It is the glacial span of the disordinary places 

we are born into that grind us to crawl 

inside the cinder-glown covers of each other, 

that make us create ever new concoctions 

of bourbon. Are you corporeal enough

to reach out your hand to us tonight? 

To tell us how many hours of darkness 

you are made of, how many hours of light? 


It’s ok. Take your time. Unbalance. Balance. 

We all blink awake at the center 

of the same frozen lake and must go forward. 

The shoreline littered with remote outposts, 

a distance of fires running before our deepest cables, 

already fraying, crackling with the tangled signals 

of far off, flirting, flare-eyed kids.

We all blink awake and drift on their red electricities;

their bonfires waving, but not wavering, like ours.

No matter how distant we grow, no matter how old,

no matter the surplus or deficit or dystopia we leave them, 

the lights of our children burr to us, gleam us forward,

and, if we’re lucky, will never let go.



At first, standing in the 

back yard with leaves 

falling in all directions,

it seems the sky 

is bluer today than usual, 


the terrestrial world 

composed of colored paper, 

a symphony of paper falling,

shifting in the wind.


But the sky has not changed.


The whole universe

is a simple matter 

of contrast: one thing

juxtaposed with another


changes both. The bluer the sky,

the brighter the trees burn,

and vice versa. 


The house 

is just a small box

interrupting miles of woods

and the woods are a house without walls.


Still Life with Wind

After a long winter of snow 

drifting, a phantom hill 

appears in the front yard.


It can’t be climbed; I

sink waist deep in it

trying. The dried leaves 


on the beech trees 

all tilt the same way

(yes, it matters—East)

though the air is still,

and the pines still lean.


This time of year,

the rest of the landscape 

locked in ice, birds 

become units of time.


And then one afternoon, walking

through the frozen woods, there’s

that moment devoid of birds.



Yes and No

Misreading the cover of a National Geographic

I think there is an article on “How Planets Mate”.

The word, of course, is plants but the photograph 

is of an unnamed planet,


swirled red and gold 

on its shadowed surface,

backlit with the purple glow 

of celestial mist. No wonder 


my mind floods with explosions, 

great meetings of heat and light 

electric in the vast emptiness. 


For surely it would be a violent 

process, a cataclysmic kind of love

to bring forth the offspring pictured.


Standing in the grocery store, I am suddenly 

overcome with lust, unable to remember  

potatoes and artichokes, butter or light bulbs 


or any of the things I thought 

I needed when I left to come here,

unable to remember where I parked the car.


Across the middle of the cover, on the dark 

part of the planet, is the title that actually goes 

with the photo, the one I missed at first.

Are We Alone? it asks in bold letters. 

I can’t decide on an answer.




Jenny George

Everything Is Restored
   For Ronan

He swallows the last spoonful 

of prunes, their soft rapture 

in his mouth. Then the jar 

is washed under play of light, 

then the boy’s mouth 

is wiped with a cloth. 

He squalls for a moment, then 

stops. Everything is restored.

Chime of spoon in the sink. 

The boy is lifted out of his seat, 

legs swimming in the slow 

element. He is a small seal. 

The kitchen ebbs and flows, 

sleek afternoon sunshine.


I want to end the poem here, 

with the boy just now placed 

in his crib, just now slipping 

into the silvery minnows 

of his dreams, a disorder of shine, 

particles of motion flickering 

beneath the surface.

I want to end it

before harm comes to him. 


Harm will come. It’s the kind of knowledge

that ruptures and won’t

repair—an ocean that keeps

on breaking. 


The day moves with the gradual logic 

of drowning. Evening fills the house. 

Oh, where are you? Where are you going?

The mother folds up the ocean

and shuts it in a cupboard.

It’s how all great dramas end: 

everything is restored except safety. 


Not Prayer 

An eggshell of ice on the pond 

     this morning. 

But by ten, it’s liquid black again 

     under a clear sun.

Small fish scissoring below the surface.

     The cold comes like a breath 

of smoke over the farms, then vanishes. 

     The next night, a little closer.

Mushrooms shrivel and leave their nightgowns 

     on the orchard floor. 

I hope I’m alive when I die. 

     I’d like to hear the corridors 

between the fruit trees 

     filling with falling snow.




Dawn drifts out of the blue earth.

A herd of deer move over the field, one shared dream 

of grasses and wind. 

The small stones of their hooves in the stony field. 


I’ve exhausted my cruelty. 

I’ve arrived at myself again.

The sun builds a slow house inside my house, 

touching the stilled curtains, the bottoms of cups 

left on the table.


Before the insects start to grind their million bodies, 

before impulse scatters the deer into the trees, 

before desire—

there’s a rest. 

The dawn and the day observe each other.


Already my brain is retrieving its alphabets.

Already light is filling the unmangled world.



Ohio, my love, it was a lie—my claim 

that I’d never stood in a wheat field, never 

held an ear of corn in my hand, slippery 


kernels like buttons between eager fingers.

I’m sorry I said I saw only gray 

bones of pavement under rust-licked faces. 


Ohio, I hid my face from you when I left,


because in truth, I was born on a tilled plot 

of my mother’s corn-fed sorrow, harvested 

and suckled by yellow funnels of wind.


And in truth, there was a wheat field, sharp 

with empty stalks, soft with fingers.

In truth, there were many.


I had put them all away, but lately 

I’ve been combing through them at night. 

I braid their brittle sheaths, finding more


and more of them empty.

Some crumble in my hands.

That’s how sorry I am. 



Elegy for a Dogwood Tree: Worthington, Ohio


Again, the old dream of Ohio—I am trying to forgive 

myself for it: the sagging window in my little sister’s room, 

glass heavy with the shadow of our grandfather’s hands, 


gnarled and huge on her body, the pane’s reflection shifting 

on her cheek, the flailing of the dogwood’s silent arms 

transposed on her face, empty beneath its skin like a leather sack—


she’d left it already.  She’d swum deeper than I knew. 

On the phone, I tell her I never forgot her face full of frantic 

branches, or my own, dumb at her bedroom door that day, 


my useless shame. Or her voice, like a tongueless bell being hit 

when she told me, years later, that she knew I was there—

that she had seen my reflection in the window. Some nights, 


I dream the world falls through my fingers, leaving 

only traces of meaning there like sap in the morning, 

my empty hands stuck to one another, a useless prayer. 


I dare to ask her about forgiveness, and she tells me 

the time-hollowed dogwood outside our old house—the one 

suspected long-dead—was carted away last week in chunks.


Among the refuse on the bed of the truck was one bloom, 

still stuck to its crumpled branch, she says, a tiny shock 

of white—doomed, but bright against the mass of ashen wood. 



The cats blink at us all night, clocks 

        without numbers. Ohio’s violet morning


light tells them to listen for the soft clink 

        of pebbles in a dish. Your sleeping hands, 


half-curled, form two fleshy boats that float 

        my body not to you, but to your body.


I’m leaving, and I know you think I’m greedy,

        carting my body away like this—


newly sutured, shrinking into the animal 

        snarl and cinch of sickness, refusing 


the bow of your big hands, your plans

        left billowing in the lonely wind of not


being needed. Your sleeping hands ask me 

        what can be made of this new disease 


without their offerings of cut hyacinth, clean 

        bed sheets? But the body speaks 


another tongue entirely. I am only a wall of skin, 

        damming a river of blood, ready to be let run 


and run. And what good is skin like mine, held 

        up to the violent glint of scalpels, needles—


tools made for helping lift so quickly the flesh 

        from the body like wax paper, crumpled 


then into the sterile blue of some plastic dish.

        They have carved all the need out of me.  


Consider the cats, who were born indoors. 

        The tidy pellets of dry food and the corner 


of a bed are all they know of need. But without it,

        they will leave—elsewhere, 


there are miles of breathable, useless green.



Released from hospital, I followed the road downhill 

past ordinary shops, market traders with colouring books

and punnets of blood-red strawberries, 

a Big Issue vendor trying to sell me his last, 

Easter chicks and painted eggs arranged in windows 

ghosted by faces that vanished and rose.

Where high street opened onto quay,

lobster pots were piled against an old stone wall, 

further on boats were huddled, shifting flank to flank


and from a page of sea three fairy-tale swans 

rose into the sky - wings spreading and closing 

as tides surged then broke, littered the sand with shells. 

Air was moving through my lungs again 

after straining all night propped on useless pillows,

the sun breathed on everyday water 

igniting swans’ reflections - flight feathered gold.







was the game we played, squeezing hands

during the Our Father 

at 10:30 Mass. The winner: whoever hurt longest 

in silence. Only the small muscles

of sisters. The brittle glow 

of her hair, its morning smell of butter 

and eggs. Glasses hooked around my ears, lenses 

thick as Oreos. Learning compassion 

must be begged for. But what we knew 

of begging was singing

orphans in musicals. And all I knew of need

was the dollar Richard Barry gave me

to tell people I was his girlfriend,

folded in my pocket though the collection basket

had passed. All I grasped of her hands 

at that age was their color: green-white, 

sticky, bruised. Like squeezing a pear. 

Her body bent over the pew, driven to sound 

but kept quiet. Call it ruthless, or resistless. 

Blame it on the edges of our playground, 

where gentleness was just a lack 

of something stronger. Or the way deliver us

sounded in Latin. I thought belief could 

be touched, her pulse quickening in my hands. 

I have not forgotten what it looked like.



White Dogs


Even now, the danger is forgetting how it matters—

                   matters he’s become a story you tell yourself, 

       or rather, retell, 

which is to say, less the telling, and more, ever, 

an ache in its direction: a story

he stands waiting to hear, and you want to tell it 

  without having any part in it, and he can smell it 

on you, this shift from pheromones to a guilt

that daubed its thin perfume behind the ears. 

Insufficient, the merely irresistible. His eyes—the distant towns and small cities 

of your body, unlit; Let’s not   Let’s not

a stammering extremely sure 

you have no idea what it is you don’t want, the saltiness 

         of words of love and the instinct not to, 

                of what beats 

and is beaten, which is to say, the heart, which says, as usual, 

we have ourselves a problem. Slumped and buttoned, quiet

     as sacks of meat. Don’t look at me 

like that, all shadow-bitten, like one of those white dogs

a person can make of his hands.





There was a glass on the windowsill.  I broke it.

A song you liked about a paddleboat, a baby boy.  

I refused to sing it.  I did not eat the eggs you made, 

your brittle toast.  I feared I wouldn’t like the taste 

and so I chose not to act.  I’m actively sorry.  

I cannot hold you.  There are cats on your mattress 

to console you.  When you woke up on the train

your backpack was gone again.  It’s probably okay 

to blame me. There is a storm cloud stirring 

over Toledo for which I am likely accountable.  

And also for the splinters in your fist, the bitchy fence

that bore my resemblance.  There is a lamppost 

leaning towards the ground, its light long gone.

A moth that has given up.  The month 

of June is polluted with the disappointment 

of empty bottles, the spoiled hope of plump 

tomatoes.  It will be hard for you to ever feel 

full again.  It will be hard for you to forgive me.



The Only One You’ll Ever

Darling, I have made you an omelet.
I have taken out the trash for you.

I will not wake you.  I will walk the dog
for you and for you, I will wait

in the car while you run into the store—
you’ll just be a minute— and ten minutes

later I still love you.  I love your cold
hands up my shirt when you get home

from work and I love that you work
at the bagel shop.  I love your bagels.

You smell like scallions and garlic
and your shoes are the shoes

of a humble man.  Your brown dusty shoes
next to my brown dusty shoes

at the foot of our bed, the untied laugh
of shoes.  We laugh in bed when the dog

licks our toes in the morning, and I laugh
when you speak into my bare chest

in a Darth Vader voice and tell me you love me.
You tell me you love me when we fight

about the thermostat or who spent more on groceries
and I fight a little less with you, I soften

and cry, and when I cry, you stop
your yelling.  You stop smiling when I tell you

what to do or how to fold the towels, and I
am working on that.  You are working on

chivalry and I appreciate your efforts.  You open
my car door on the way to the Dollar Store and I feel like

a fucking princess.  It takes very little
to please me, and I am pleased

that you have acknowledged my new red dress.  
You also look very nice, a little wild, always

combing your hair against its natural part,
your flamboyant exclamation of hair.

I say, “Let’s touch base later about dinner”
and you say, “I’ll always touch

your base.”  We drink beer in the park
and eat ice cream in the dark.  Together,

we peel mangoes.  Together, we get out of
the car to look at the fat orange

moon dipping itself into the dark fondue of trees,
the sky so vast, it silences us.  Sometimes I worry 


when we’re this quiet.  “We’re in this together,”

I say, and you say, “How about we just be quiet

for a minute.”  How about you just count
the stars, and I will connect the dots 


between them.



Emergency Exit

Out on the fire

escape the rainwater

darts between the iron slats

then falls in larger form

upon the black

umbrellas that clot

the crosswalks.


Taxis crash

through the runoff

and heave

their muddied bodies

to the curbs, to the streets

and curbs again.


The fuse is blown and so


no spark to enflame

us or need to let the ladder

down. It’s something of

a hush, but don’t call this

silence—for which chord

would you choose to choke

among the others?


The sirens desist.

Let this last light fall

away, it’s winter

whimper sad as some

mouthless dirge,

all moan and tears.




Binary Stars


In the moment of upsuck, quiet eye 

of the storm that was your mouth 

gawping open 

               in another 

                             endless howl

I thought every tender part of me 

had broken.  Replaced with 

        something wild

that even then 

would not let me

set you down.  


Westley.  I speak your name here

so you will know me

in your first months: 

shade of myself.  Flickering

in and out of view.


I didn’t want a daughter, only 

a son.  I could never wish this on you.




A flurry of red hairs 

pooled in the drain – 

what remained 

of my loveliness 

sloughing off, 

a death knell.


It was not 

the first time 

my hair fell 

free of me.  

For years after 

your grandmother died 

I pulled it out.


When you were 

four weeks old, 

I cried in a salon.  

Told the hairdresser: 

cut it all off.




At 11:53 that horrible nurse 

dumped you on my chest. 

Westley, my firstborn boy,

       I saw 

       I’d given birth 

       to a small stranger.


A stocky thing 

       with my eyes, 

blue-tinged and mewling.


I could feel      all the anger 

go into me, could calmly

flay a man

for not supporting your head.




I was selfish.  I wished you to look 

like Justin:

a thatch 

of dark hair, 


mole under 

black lashes.  


Or my mother, thin-

lipped and slim, blonde 

               tendrils of her 

                      born back. 


But the features you drew from me 

were all my father: 

elfin ears that stick out 

at the tip, double-cowlick, 

even the twice-jointed thumbs 

that scared us at first.  

My father, who never called:

you wore him like a curse.

Even your eyes 

are really his

               staring strangely,

a mirror within a mirror 

spiraling through history. 




There were times I was primordial, barely 

lifting us two from the slime, the muck, 

tripping from couch to kitchen 

and back.            Trapped 

       and hopeless, 


suction tubes to my breasts.  


Human, animal, extraterrestrial – 

how does any life exist?

How have any mothers 

done this 

before me?  

Love is something you and I

have stumbled on, Westley.  

A disease that needed time 

to gestate.  We just are.

Impossibly loud, skin 

to skin – binary stars.


The Earwig

Down in the mud she hollows a grotto no bigger

than an ear, lays her eggs in the darkness and quivers

over them, incessantly circling her clutch

until my spade descends to scatter the nest.

I want to take her doting as a lesson, remember 

the way her pincers repulse me even as she uses them 

to carry her young, fastidiously cleaning each one of fungi 

and the strangeness I had exposed them to.

In seven days, the nymphs will emerge translucent

and horrible, molting darker and larger with each instar,

devouring the food she regurgitates: my wisteria 

and red lettuce, the dahlias I raise and stake each year.  

And if I am generous, in the spirit of motherhood, 

I will leave them all for the chickens.



The Wolf at the Door

Your father says you’ve all got a bit of the werewolf

in you, and continues shoveling.  He drawls the word werewolf


until I swear I see it arc out from his lips – or else 

the heat is playing tricks on me.  Turning pumpkin seeds to wolf’s


teeth.  Sweat curls the hairs on your neck as you rupture the earth

beside him, ignoring our conversation, the lone wolf 


as always.   I try to see the beast rippling beneath the skin 

of this old man, but the wrong celestial body bears down on us.  Wolves


need moonlight like these rows need water.  Like your father needs to 

disappear from the house.  And before, I never thought werewolf


when he would irrigate at dusk, but now the image of his pelt

reflected in those flooded fields comes unbidden.  The wolf


in him calling to coyotes in the distance.  Flaring with 

the temper you remember from childhood, when the wolf


could hardly be kept from the door.  But your own temper comes only

as a snarl, and you turn away from me – docile as you ever were.


These poems will be posted when the author provides them.


After Beethoven

When I put my violin away

and cover it with its velvet cloth,

I think of old Ludwig,

his hair sweeping into its cliché

of wildness.

I consider my fingers, tired

from all their articulating,

and put them to sleep in my pocket.

My violin in its long black case

waits at the corner of my room,

while Beethoven sleeps permanently

in some soft corner of Austria.

Though they’ll be cooking dinner soon,

awakening to hold a knife and slice lemons,

my fingers, calloused from pressing strings,

still take the shapes of sonatas.



How in the morning the sunlight steals brightness from my bagel

and bathes the kitchen table in the cool white of cream cheese.


And how the quietness and wintering of my breakfast in the attic room

with the windows overlooking the staggered rakes of the trees

edging my property.


And how the confusion of the birds nesting there

invites a questioning of winter and birds, the politeness of each other

to let the other one know its forwarding address until April.


And how the exact shade of my tea in its ceramic cup

is the color the ground has returned to

underneath the brilliant blank gramophone of snow.


And how morning seems the perfect time for list-making.

How the loose knit of my sleeves just touches

the beginnings of my fingers. How the roughness of beauty

and my own mind thinking thoughts

spreads onto the floor and into the cupboards.



I want the sound of my knife slicing through 

to the hollow of seeds at the center,

juice running out all over the board. I want 

to tell of the rind’s smooth fingernail holding the fruit. 

Here I go again. Elevating melons. All I want

is to eat a melon. All of it

unless there’s someone who’ll share it with me.

That’s what I really want. Someone

to share a melon with. Someone to help me observe

the gradient in the slices, the thin green

chasing into the almost-white in the middle. No.

Someone to tell me it’s only a melon

and then, but it is the best melon.


A Version of the End of the World

Late at night, we bike through lower Manhattan, 

weaving around parked cars, sirens coursing 

through our bodies. I’m scared but don’t 

show it. This is how we play. Here are the rules 

and here is how to break them: bike faster

than you think you should. Keep the chain 

oiled. Always allow for a better route. Wait 

to cross the street, but on the other side is something 

beautiful. A tree grows out of a decaying building,

leaves through the shattered pain. Our shadows 

elongate on the bridge, mine nearly 

touching yours. Your shadow doesn’t have teeth. 

Pigeons navigate by the earth’s magnetic field, 

their biological compass. And mine? Home 

is the bicycle lock, its heavy chains, 

the rain-soaked sneakers, fevered eyes, 

the one-last-time gasp that pulls my body into yours 

because we forget then that we ever needed to solve 

this distance. The orange-eddied light 

of a street lamp, the girl on your arm. These 

are my constellations. Mocking 

moons. One day, someone will pour water 

on this city. The buildings will crumble, 

each apartment, a life raft. Then we will slosh 

towards each other holding our hearts above 

our heads, searching for that beautiful 

something in the wreckage.



Kid Sister

She arrives in her ex-boyfriend’s sweatshirt carrying a backpack twice the size

        of her torso.


How was the flight, I say.


The parents didn’t think I’d be able to travel alone, she says. But I’m great at airports—

       like it’s the one true story of her life.


It’s so flat here, she says. She has never been west of Pennsylvania. 


I was twelve when she was three. In Central Park, maples bending 

with the weight of spring, 


I tried to make her walk faster, putting my hand flat on her small back and pushing. 

She fell down—

                   gravel stamped into her chin, 

                                         a scrape the shape of California.


When she was fifteen, we rode the train to the end of the line, hiked

        the hills above the Hudson. When I put


my hand on her back, she said, Trust fall. 

                                      She swayed backwards into me. We both stayed upright.


We are driving now on 94-West. Winter makes everything the same color—

        here a silo. There, frozen wheat. Ragged poplars. 


She yelps when we pass a dead deer, its legs askew like bare branches. She has been a vegetarian since she was nine. 


Even the roaches, emerging from city sewers every summer

         were safe. 


She swept them away with a broom.


It might be my right to say, Love hard. You’re beautiful. 

Don’t slam any door. Roll the windows down.

        Go slow.


Late afternoon, the sky a deep, stubborn blue. Sunlight spilling onto the fields, 

        everything golden. 


When you trust someone’s driving, you can sleep the whole ride, 

                                                           she says.


Then she closes her eyes.



Nothing Is A Metaphor, Even Though Everything Can Be Read As A Metaphor

The way the skeletal house in Romance, Wisconsin (unincorporated) 

slouches into itself, the beams sliding to meet the walls 


to meet the floor, but it still stands. How I ran 

past the lake yesterday, and maybe it was the way 


the thick clouds broke open just above the horizon line 

into a yellowing blue, or it was the ducks that straddled 


the lake’s surface, all in a row. It wasn’t 

that I was running, which I always did, long before 


you started chasing me. Your mother once used the word zaftig 

and I want to apply it to the clouds. At the farmer’s market 


this morning a woman was wearing your school’s sweatshirt. 

I can’t open my mouth wide enough to eat an apple, 


so I keep slicing smaller pieces. The scab on my hand 

looks like a heart. I have your stuffed arm, the Casio watch 


on its wrist still keeps east coast time. The man 

across from me on the bus coughs like he has something 


lodged in his boots, and if the world righted itself, 

you’d be home when I got there, roasting beets.


And did I mention that it’s fall now? Even the spiders 

recognize the change. They’re all moving faster. Sunset


is an hour later here, even if later is relative, 

and I’m learning to play the harmonica, 


so there’s something to be said about inhaling 

and exhaling, but always it’s the music that I remember.


American History

A light on the ocean, a ship, the land

holding the margin of the water.

Soon, beaches are named, coastlines

gathered into soft maps to fold across the knees.

A whole winter passes, and another,

and out of darkness come more boats,

unloaded and stripped, left skeletal

in the inlets, while the sky opens

to a new set of stars. Houses are

set down, houses house. A colony.

Later this coming will be imagined

the same way as any other:

the Garden, let’s say, and Adam and Eve

are bright bodies on some shore 

of green, as green as the one we dreamt

for the settlers because who can distinguish

branch from branch? In the end

here could be anywhere. A bird passing over

is so like the gray sky it is lost.

Still, we stay through another winter,

clothe ourselves, light our first fires.    



Teaching My Brother Sign Language in the I.C.U.

House: Shape of a house’s roof and walls


You make the house from the air,

you make the house around the heart.

You build with your hands from the roof down,

the walls holding the lungs, the walls holding 

the trachea, the bile in the stomach. 

Outside I’ve fixed a universe, 

flat and white as a tablecloth. 

Maybe there is snow in the grass,

maybe there is snow in the trees. 




Toilet: Also bathroom, lavatory, restroom, washroom


They won’t let you go.

Nurse brings a plastic urinal.

No, you sign.

Nurse draws the curtain, slippery hiss and stop.




Darkness: Hands shade the eyes from light


With eyes closed, breathing

is the divided sound the ocean makes.

The ocean is close and can’t be heard.




Music: Demonstrates the rhythm


de-de da. de-de da.

this is not a heart beat.

de-de da. de-de da.

infusion pumps sound 

around the bed.

silence can be de-de da 

achieved de-de da 

by a button marked 

de-de da with a red bell

we aren’t allowed de-de da

to touch. de-de da. de-de da.

sometimes Nurse doesn’t come at all.




Empty, Naked: Indicates a vacant space


Three days and everything is filled.

The ambulance bay, the highway.

There are so many entrances into the woods.

Today you might keep walking.

A deer will come to the dark patch beneath the apple tree 

and bend her head to eat where the snow is less. 




Scream: The hand seems to take a loud sound from the mouth and direct it outward




In the Dark


Candles, another good bottle 

brought to the cleared table, swarm 

of children darting in the backyard.


The bat had to be mad 

to enter during the evening’s buggiest hours 

to inch along the molding 


and flatten in the curtain folds until—

dishes dried, kids tucked—it swooped 

from the stairwell into one 


of the boys’ rooms. Aimless chase, 

and we cornered it down in the mudroom, 

but then it disappeared 


into the infinite nowhere of our clutter, 

immortal just like that—toxic poop 

and imperceptible fatal bite in every 


deep cupboard, every stack of towels, 

every tool bag. Three nights we stood shifts 

in the darkening yard. I held the rake 


for courage and beheld the stage, 

the lit mudroom, waiting for a flutter, 

a fleck of brown, a flicker of certainty 


to confirm location, manner,

existence. All around, the loud lawn 

like an unsettled audience—crickets 


and cicadas, restless catcalls jeering 

the old show. Watched or not, this crowd 

gathers again and again. Night is a belly 


of bugs and the free bats leave 

their roosts in trees and chimneys, 

signaling flight with ultrasonic clicks, 


a neutral, hollow sound—

surprisingly un-mammalian—the sound 

of thought, the sound that asks you 


not to pull apart the pieces of night—

a snake’s rattle, but much slower, 

the freewheel on a bicycle coasting downhill, 


an invisible child dragging 

a stick along a fence, the lullaby 

I concocted for our infant son 


those million nights of his waking—

the flag says thwap thwap thwap, 

the fan says clickity clack, the lights go 


blinkity blinkity blinkity blinkity blinkity 

black—a song I never sang very gently, 

but with a kind of conviction.





On Sundays, after the service, by the back door, 

the pastor at St. Paul’s Lutheran leaves out 

for the birds what remains of the communion bread. 

And our old hound loves to eat more than Earth 

loves a sinner—watch him tongue his empty dish 

around the front porch like a prayer. So when 

he tows me tripping past polite conversation 

on the green to the blessed spot, his trembling legs, 

his quaking collar, the unhurried sun, the bread—

the fresh, crusty loaves, their holy grain—devoured 

almost before it has been touched—where is the strength 

to tighten the leash? We are beasts of appetite—

guiltless and famished, willing and sane—

and to want and to offer are almost the same.


Summer House

Here the dull knives here the picnic dishes the vined teacups
the white sheets on the line that work the air of the cooler days 

like sails like lost souls like wings that need more imagining
filling the yard huffing and brimming here the seventy-year-old

antlers the glass buoys the miniature cairns of white pebbles
yellowed paperbacks checkers frayed semaphore flags 

the tightly furled nests in the eaves of barn swallows here
the swallow swooping whirling screeching frantic to return

to the four wet beaks here the tall grasses the path out
to the gravestone like a trick map like a prank like an incomplete

thought here the dip in the lawn where the groom found the bride
here the fever of remembering—here the work we do we love to do—

here the baby in my mother’s lap drifting through his dream
of the whine of an outboard here on the porch the sweet globe

of a plum here the tooth that pierces the peel like a door
burst open like a flood like an afterlife here the children

engulfing the house in a game of sardines each one tucked tighter
into the pooled dark of the closet until a single child is left

to enter the room calling out sensing in the hush that the rest
have found each other her hand lingering on the doorknob.




The Place Where My Dreams Still Happen

In your last living minute,

after sending a bullet 

through your temple 

to lodge below your shell-shaped ear—

you are five again,

chasing the Ohio river’s curve, 

free from our mother’s clasping hand.

Two pennies, two pebbles,

and a spoon slap against your thigh.

Overwhelmed, pockets heavy, 

you tip into the swelling 

blue water. The sun dives 

into the horizon. The end 

of a long cloudless day. 





Pleasure disappoints, possibility never. 




The dog and I run smooth

as pistons, two cogs

in the fetch machine, one task

each: mine, to throw

the ball into the field; hers

to bring it back to me.


Or we’re scientists, and this

is our field work, testing

the fetch hypothesis: If retrieving increases

the energy of the retriever, perpetual 

motion is possible…


Or we’re two sides of an endless argument:

me saying, Get rid of this ball!

her saying No, let’s keep it.


No--that that would mean

she wins when I quit,

arm aching, the ball

in my pocket—and this

is her least favorite moment.


Never mind the lure

of the silver bowl towered

with kibble. Dinner 

doesn’t last, so neither 

does hunger. So neither 

does the pleasure. 


So fetch is her answer

to the riddle of desire—

this game where I give her exactly what she wants

and she still never has to stop chasing it.


Goodbye, Goodnight

Sunday you ask for a map of my body: 

Include tattoos, bruises, scars. 

Oil drips into the bay, a tiny planet

ringed blue-purple, the brilliant star

before it vanishes. I find a new junkyard,

shattered teak and barnacled steel, a tangled heap 

of rusty road signs, a rowboat overflowing

with bicycle wheels. Everything I see

I want to describe to you. Instead of things

there are words for things. And there’s no way

to know that you mean what I mean 

when we look at the sky and say blue but 

we keep talking anyway, telling ourselves

the story of ourselves, until night

washes out into morning and the sunrise is only

one mile from everyone. The ducklings beg

for bread at my transom and I give them

the whole loaf. It sinks like a stone. I give them

a stone. I know it is good to be full

but it is also good to be hungry, and I am,

for your skin, for your voice, for the mouth

it comes out of. Now that I miss you I’m

across the country. When I’m alone

nothing is relative. I’m learning

to talk with my hands, and they say the empty

shape of you, all the holds I found: your hipbone,

your shoulder blade, the arch of your foot

behind my head. But I can also say tree branch,

pilings, captain’s hat. I can also say

goodbye, goodnight. Don’t try to listen, just put

your hands on my hands, your thighs

on my thighs, your breath in my lungs. Your mouth

to my ear, but don’t whisper anything.

If you want something, ask 

but not out loud. My skin. Every scar. The sound

of the water underneath me. It’s all we have, and if

it were enough it would never be worth it.


Neolithic Revolution

I’m tired of the way love turns us into animals. 

I’m tired of roaring. I’m tired of you tearing

my flesh with your teeth, stalking me like prey

in the shower, lunging and growling; I’m tired 

of pawing, and panting, and hunting

and wagging. Of course at first it was thrilling. The we

have no words for this. The we are just

our bodies. But look at my cortex. Look


at my opposable thumbs. I want out

of this stew, I want to use tools, I want to develop 

agriculture and walk upright towards you through 

this field of corn that we planted, on purpose, because 

we were hungry, and human, and knew 

exactly what we were doing.




Sam Taylor

American Mystic

I stood with my dad at the edge of the woods.

Can you see already that it is night?

The forest behind our house humming with moths 

like an army yet to be summoned.

I can’t remember a single word we said,

or what constellation of big ideas I might have been

bent upon connecting, until one moment

when the conversation paused, or turned,

and our attention returned, like a breath

to the bulls-eye where we stood,

the last blab of pave, the final capillary

that dropped down from a tiny feeder road

called Pine Cone Circle and joined up eventually

with all the rig-swept interstates and big boxes

glittering somewhere in the night, each porchlit address.

Above us, a light in the second story window

where my mom must have been up late reading.

“This,” he said, and I knew at once

that he meant all of it, the black Honda Accord

parked a few feet away, as much as the starlight

filtering through the lace of poplars and pines

that fanned above the driveway; the vast and intricate array

of distant, throbbing cities no more or less 

than the tiny, folded wings of my sister asleep, 

“This”— he said it only once; a twin engine plane

was passing overhead, dragging its tail

a red blinking light among the pond of stars—

“is the event of God.”  And, all at once,

I disappeared, and every noun became a verb

that fused into a single flame 

burning absurdly bright and without cause,

with the now just uttered awe

of pure-impossible-thus-God 

and we were standing there, one bankless blaze

my dad in me, and I in him;

in the center, in the heart, in the muscle, in the meat:

Never, Never, Nothing, Now.


First Taxi

I stepped off the Greyhound into a light rain, streetlights 

slurred, just shy of the border, a line of taxis at the curb, 


waiting, right where my mother said they would be. 

I had never gone anywhere alone in my life.  And I guess 


I thought I was supposed to bargain. “How much to ride 

through the slow rain of my whole life?”  Twelve dollars.


“How much to step inside a painting that has waited 

since the day of my birth?”  Twelve dollars. 


Twenty-one, just out of college, the high school genius

with no job or prospects—afraid to talk to people—


If I looked half as lost as I felt, I was sure I’d be fleeced.

 “How much to tell her that I have forgiven her?” 


Twelve dollars. “That I have not, but I will.”  Still twelve. 

That was America, everything a fixed price.  He didn’t say 


“Empty your pockets, empty the pail of blueberries 

you picked with her when you were five, empty the beaches 


where she swam, sand by sand.”  I like to imagine 

I asked last, “How much to go to the International Motel?”


and he said ten.  But, really, I just quibbled, 

then checked with each cab in the queue.  All said twelve.


and I got in.  This was America.  And that was me.

Bargaining for a taxi to go see my dying mother.



Mountain Cottage, 

The Coldest Night of the Year

I dreamt I told my mom a secret

that had weighed my heart for years.  

We were standing in the kitchen 

of the last house before they split.

Bright kitchen. Tucked into the night’s

carbon like a jewel. She was leaning down 

with an oven mitt to take out

her famous artichoke dip.  It felt so good 

to tell her, the room so warm, I wondered

why I had not told her earlier.

Waking, I remembered she was dead.


Submission withheld at request of author