I grew up with a yard full of worthless
a ministry of rare Earth metals there was
a patch of grass to sometimes lay in
I’d reflect the sun never photosynthesizing
there is an unwell that swells in me whenever
I go home to Cleveland the gunsmoke clouds
always gathered above where the rabid dogs
would bark & I was raised beside inoperational
cars my father cranking the crowbar to lugnuts
of too many punctured tires no spares unused
a basement of bolts and lubricants white bottled
Dad spoke mechanics to me incomprehensible
tongue until a tire burst on a dead stretch
of highway the other day I had to pull over
and recall the broken way he explained things
(originally published in The Green Light, Spring 2020)
Death is in the shriveled blue and purple
hydrangea bouquet I gifted you. Kathy
bought the same, smaller, but they did not last
so much as linger. Mom calls me from Macy’s–
where she has sold colognes for thirty years–
and says she still struggles. But, on the phone,
I am drunk on a beach towel in a horse cemetery
where Juan Carlos and his team of red ride in
circles over forgotten bones, chasing a ghost-
white ball with a mallet through the empty space
between goalposts. In the first chukker, my sister–
who broke the news I somehow already knew
with a call in the dark of a dorm room– texts
me that she’s thinking of me today. At halftime,
when spectators are invited to flatten divots
on the field with their shoes, Kathy leaves
to help her family move, and the moment
she reverses her car from our tailgating spot,
I answer a call I am unaware of from my other
sister before seeing her text ask if I am okay,
that it sounded like I was in an accident
and drove into grass. No, I tell her, I am day-
drunk among ponies in the withering days
of summer. But what I don’t tell her is
on the way here, Kathy didn’t see the turquoise
minivan she nearly plunged into, and all we could
do as passengers was clutch the leather beneath
us as she sped full-throttle on thin and curvy roads
through the woods. We prayed to whatever tree
was nearest– birches in a blur– prayed the whole forest
to provide a signal to remind us we are, briefly, breathing.
(originally published in Sampsonia Way Magazine, Summer 2020)
First baseball game I’ve seen this season– game seven
of the World Series, Houston versus Washington. A sea
of orange in Texas. Scherzer versus Springer. Joe Buck
talks about muscle injections, pinched nerves, breaking
ball– full count. He says this series is full of big swings,
big emotions– isn’t that a normal week? Dad watched
every Cleveland game. Ever. For a summer I did,
too, but October is chillier than usual. Last week, we
buried my oldest brother. We used to play sports
games– Triple Play 2000, Gran Turismo– on the
basement’s cold, brown carpet, where all physics
hurtled toward inevitable destinations: a ball singing
through the air into a blurry glove, or tires spinning
through some grainy tunnel. We’d trade wins, half-
luck, but there was always a conclusion. Last year,
I held his hand in the hospital. He squeezed my
fingers and said what he couldn’t with his eyes.
Last week, he didn’t get the kidney he needed.
When Washington wins, I see men cry on each
other’s shoulders. When my brother dies, my brother
cries on my shoulder. I cry on his shoulder.
And when we look at each other,
we find someone we both miss.
(originally published in Knot Literary Magazine, Fall 2021)
Growing up with an Old Dad
meant he was always dying, inches
closer than the rest. Mine survived
the Great Depression to grant me
a shorter bridge to bloodshed
in our lineage, my father’s great-
great uncle Stonewall (the Confederate
general) and Andrew (the genocidal
President). I don’t want to be
that close in time to them. My years
must stretch as far as they can,
long enough to outlive that legacy.
(originally published in Impspired, Spring 2020)
What simulation’s numb you ask
if I want children this time
definitive we boil Kraft mac
and cheese. I toss our meager sweet
potatoes in oil and ramble about financial
self-worth the oven nearly at four hundred
degrees. I can’t stop petting your shoulder
the ashy cat roams in the loam of our love
our newly swept hardwood the house
our home for now so limited already
steam from the inside a pressure
cooker of different timelines. What river
these converging lives to seek meaning
in the biological job postings some of us
are born to call. My dad was sixty-one
when I was born my grandfather clock
ticks nonexistent. We have gorged in all
our broken cabinets to rustle the blue
plastic grocery bag pile. I can’t stand
to live another day preoccupied.
(originally published in Flights, Summer 2021)
My love, I want to show you this strange moon:
a quilted wine and blue, half the charcoal sky–
but you are playing a game, a Crash Bandicoot
offshoot where you are a humanoid frog who jumps
and spins across 3-D landscapes. I ask you please
come outside there is a nervous crowd gathering
for this cosmic anomaly. But no one dies because
I wake and recall my childhood summers spent
on the cold, brown, teddybear carpet of my basement,
hands on controller, eyes mesmerized by polygons.
My father would slowly descend the stairs then ask
me to walk with him– as he often did the last
years of his life– that there was a whole world
out there, the world, and if I would walk once
with him he would show me, please, just once.
(originally published in Vagabond City Lit, Summer 2019)
The summer shattered the year
Dad passed, and Mom’s grief
became the fall; to cope, she
wrote her first poetry, wrote
sheets of ice that turned to
winter months of seeking
meaning in icicles– living
alone, she praised the blades of
cold above her door, believing
Dad her angel sharp enough to
pierce the heart of loneliness.
There was no Thanksgiving
that year, no Christmas.
The frigid core of family–
she kept writing our story.
She would not let us forget.
(originally published in Z Publishing’s “America’s Emerging Poets Series: Midwest Edition,” 2018)
i carry infection in saliva
like a point of pride
see, my city reeks of bone
tall skeleton skyscrapers
i’m numb again
as dental drill enters me
year after year
what birthed my decays?
raised to desire new
wants every day
wanting even wanting
my dad worked at a ford factory
after the great depression
churned out a new kid
every few years
seasons of rust
spreading on steel
here’s the sunset
he’d wake us to say &
spend the days molding
rough hands on saw
that was satisfactory
for me oaks are cold towers &
grass not godmade
took a clump in my mouth
from the graveyard as a child &
i swear i tasted
but could not digest it
i’m but a skeleton
all life’s experiences
slip through me
the future with mom and dad
scooping fries at ponderosa &
we’d always go for seconds &
mint ice cream after
(originally published in Burningword Literary Journal, Fall 2018)
At thirteen I awoke to a man-sized bat
waving black-eyed wings at the edge of my bed.
Back then, I believed there were unexplainable things
in the universe. Dad would talk about guardian
angels when he meant luck explains
a kinship with the divine. He still
drove his motorcycle beyond
the age of seventy. He fell asleep
one time in the green countryside
and awoke to blurry shoelaces
of the trucker who slammed into him,
amazed my dad still alive
and the proof in scraped knee
and a busted motorcycle somehow still
operational then driven home. Dad attributed
this, like most things, to angels. I could have believed
for much longer. As a kid, I watched E.T. ride
a bicycle in the window in our lawn every day,
his brown eyes never noticing me. Always
when I pointed this presence to my sister,
he was past the point of seeing.
Soon I stopped believing.
(originally published in The Tau, Summer 2018)
Inconsequential some things I remember–
each World Series winner
of the past forty years or, say,
brushing my teeth last month, blood
in my spit, then finding the measured
infinity of my eyes in the mirror.
I forget most things about my father
Sure. I remember
the gray-red beard,
his crooked back, faded jeans.
The freshwater scent of Polo Blue.
And those brown, gentle eyes–
but his voice?
Mixture of sediment and tire
smoke rising from gravel,
a ‘55 Ford Thunderbird fading from view.
I started journaling to remember better
but now write poems under dim lamp on my desk.
(Years later, you know which
one. Gold, curvable neck. A thrift store.
But you’re still no good
with the finer details.)
A waterfall of my father. Illusions
of life doodle-sketched
in some spacey lobe of my mind.
I wonder: do I give myself enough
credit? What’s worth remembering?
I am inside a coffee shop, writing,
surrounded by people I won’t recall.
I look for a subject. A gray, old man sits
on the patio with book and beagle
yet never goes inside to buy anything.
I pay for him. I pay him
(originally published in Wizards in Space, 2018)