What a Poem Wants

Not photosynthesis
but some such science
breaks the diurnal flower’s
sleep seal
when the morning sun
crests the horizon
and warms
the petals
of the hoarded poem
each flange
of font
each curve
of letter language
Here is my life
unfurled. I cling to my words’
brief blossom
a lifeboat
an answer.


Response to Mary Oliver’s “Flare” from The Leaf and the Cloud: A Poem
(Da Capo Press, 2000)

The poem is not the world.
It isn’t even the first page of the world.

But the poem wants to flower, like a flower.
It knows that much.

It wants to open itself,
like the door of a little temple,
so that you might step inside and be cooled and refreshed,
and less yourself than part of everything.

—Mary Oliver

The Shadow

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long


One of the habits, or maybe disciplines, that you develop as a special needs parent is to look on the bright side, or at least, focus on the positives while rationalizing away what’s painful. Another of the habits is to be selective in how much of the shadow you are willing to show publicly. It’s a fine line between owning your emotions and being owned by them, but I suppose that’s what being an adult is largely about. I’m so proud of the kid that Noah has become, and I’m so relieved at his excitement at getting back to school. For how hard it is for Noah to learn, he loves learning.

For me, it was a hard, hard day. 6th grade should be an accomplishment– middle-school! tween! can you believe it? –but instead it’s a reminder that my 6th grader is a preschooler, and my preschooler is a 6th grader. And I think it’s important to…oh, I don’t know…sometimes show that it’s possible, but also a hell of a lot of work, to hold both the joy and the sorrow of my child’s life in my heart at one time.

All of us, at some point in our lives, confront loss of control over that which we desperately want, or at the very least, confront our inability to insure that the lives of those we love most will be as ideal as we wish for them. I hope Noah has a kick-ass 6th grade year, and I will, no doubt, figure out once again how to celebrate the ways that he gives so much more than he takes–which is really all we can ask of ourselves and our kids.

But today? Today is about making it through the hurt instead of denying that it’s there.

Zombie Star

There’s no way back believe me/
I’m writing you from there.

~Jorie Graham

I’ve been using you. I’ll fess up. I’ll play it as it lays. I’ve used you to feel significant again, to shine brighter than my own flat self. A penny no matter how tarnished gleams after time on the train track. A balloon is no fun without air. But now I feel myself slipping, just one last grain of sand slipping down the slick funnel, just one skyscraper lost in a horizon of metal and glass. Once the Chrysler Building was the shit, you know, the bees’ knees. Once it held significance. Now it is a hobby horse I still ride, a strawman I’ll argue as if I could win, if only I knew what I was arguing for. I feel small, there I’ve said it. I am dwarfed by the looming statues of twin monoliths: cancer and disability. I hate to say it but maybe I am Fitzgerald’s goddamn boat. (How many of the faint-hearted have claimed the same?) I am buffeted, and the green light, well I’m rowing against more than the current, more than the wind. I am rowing against anonymity. I heard love ride the air like an echo, and I chased it. I cupped it like water in my palm. Dare I say I am the rainbow that needs more than to be the treasure itself? I thought to have love was to be something at a time when I was nothing more than a plate for food, a table for the plate, the floor for the table, the earth for the floor. Settle it all upon me and I won’t shift, won’t tire. But take me for granted and I’ll forget I’m here. I’ll forget that maybe I was supposed to be dessert, if only someone had thought to take a bite. Still I will be sweet. I can hardly complain. There’s no telling what else could go wrong if I so much as make a peep. I am both the girl and the closet. The baby and the blanket. I am absence. I am the dark. And maybe it’s enough to be a thought, a star long extinguished and glinting only as memory. Careful. If you blink, I might miss me.

White Noise

You’ve gone quiet again, and I can hear
the neighbor’s dog barking and the rattle

of her old car’s tailpipe when she starts
it up and pulls away. The bank of windows

in the bedroom we no longer share lets in
much more sound than light. The thick leaves

of the big maple that leans over our roof
shades the heat, but does nothing for the noise.

Still your silence has me eavesdropping,
ear to the floorboards, for the slightest sound,

the whisper of your feet in thick socks,
the knock of your knuckle on the doorjamb,

the click of my doorknob turned. I listen
for some sign you are still here, maybe just

the clearing of your throat, maybe just
the whisper of the wind bending the blades

of grass you can no longer cut. Someone shouts
to her child, someone else starts his mower,

but now I hear the sluicing swirl of my blood,
the bulging beat of my heart behind my eyes.

Your has silence carved a space I begin to fill with
new sound. My desire a trumpet, my sadness a song.

That Day

How did we look that day?
Me slouched in green vinyl chair.
My husband, unknown to you,
straight-backed against a cool wall.
Noah curled up asleep like a tight
rosebud on my chest. How did he
at three fold up so tiny?

How did we look that day?
In dim lights and silence.
You all entering quietly, heads down,
paying your respects to the dream
of a safe and predictable life
for us and our son
that died yet again that day.

You hugged,
hushed assurances,
eyes glossed with tears
and too much knowledge.

How did we look that day?
Tucked behind a curtain
with metal rings that scratched
on metal rod when opened.
Me in my husband’s over-shirt
and last night’s make-up. Blue
circles under my eyes, sleep
corrupted by what we believed
was only the flu. We who stunk
of the sour-sweet smell
of our son’s sick body
and of our own fear.

How did we look that day
to the emergency technician
who arrived at our hotel room,
with turban and soft manner,
who took Noah’s vitals, tried
to insert a long needle
into our son’s pale foot
while he lay stiff as dead cats,
familiar to this farm girl.

How did we look that day
to the nervous
intern? To the distant doctor.
To the hotel staff who hovered,
left an ugly stuffed monkey
on the bed of our room
while we were at the hospital.

How did we look that day?
To your young daughters
who walked in behind you,
both shy and brave, who joined
our small cadre of watchers,
waiting for Noah to be strong
enough to walk, to leave.
Those two girls, old for their years,
because they have seen
too much, have blanketed other boys,
their brothers, who have seized,
with the calm ordinariness
of their presence.
(Mom, can we watch tv?)
Those beautiful girls who held
the hands of my thin-legged boy,
in draped hospital gown, as he
tremulously walked the halls,
IV pole trailing behind them
Like a chaperone.

How did we look that day?
To you whom we traveled
the country to meet, only to find
ourselves in a hospital,
being ourselves visited
by the finicky phantom
of seizures. The irony
is bittersweet, because I searched
you out, my friends, for just this,
to sit vigil with me
as my son survives seizures
that sneak up on him
just before a fever rises,
that threaten, like the tide,
to sink the fragile ship
we’ve only just put to water.

Only you know how we looked that day.
Because we looked too much like you.

In the Beginning

First, I tried ticks, their bloated bodies like blisters,
round bellies, black blood splats on the sidewalk, burst
by bicycle wheels. Then leeches, when I was ten, feet
damp in the well of the boat, water splatter as the motor
roared, slick bodies, slick, bold mouths groping, gaining
purchase. I couldn’t leave them long enough to bleed me

dry. Picking scabs only stung. Shaving legs with dull blades
run up my shin, skin shallow divots welled with wet, more
plasma than platelets, like runoff in the narrow ditches
framing the fallow fields of my father’s farm. I slid
a sharper blade along the inside of my thigh, coke-line fine,
skin paper-thin and soft like the belly of a bee. The blood

ran in rivulets, dingy windows streaked with clean. I lack
the courage to go further, palpate the pocket of my pelvis,
find the femoral vein and knife-slice it like a steak. Instead,
I write this poem, imagine I was proud, or foolish, dive deep
into this wreck, pick my bones, such meager meat. Still these
animal-lungs inflate the cage around my stupid tender heart.


Blame it on the years, she said.
I harden with each
page flip of the calendar.

I am strong but not
courageous, she said. I do not move,
instead endure. No shame

in withstanding the weather
beating rain, beating sun
Yet I yearn for

impact, she said. Expose me–

long lost under layers,
firmed sediment, pressed powder,
insidious sand–

to the wind. It takes more
than your pitying eyes
to crack me open–

she plead. Fuck me
like you want to
break me.