today was one of millions
of days I needed to be alone
a cloud of stars outshining
the world on the eve of its end
the dishwasher cycles through
around its own reality again
forget the parables
your knees are cold
here’s an elegy
so many mothers giving
to children we want
to please them
(originally published in The Magnolia Review, Summer 2018)
in the sunlight
of our driveway
I go inside
to tell Dad
a thing like
than a nuisance
but I keep
about that beetle
of a kind
of Goodale Park
and I thought
if I just dig
(originally published in Pouch, Fall 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)
Flowers & God–
you tell me, slipshod,
there’s an afterlife
in the party we’re cheersing
to tonight our whole life
with small glasses of Granddad’s,
noisemakers, & drinking
games. I’d like to drown
in something, listen to Gaelic
music like Dad used to
driving us from school with Pizza Hut
wafting from the trunk those
sunny afternoons. & now that you’ve
lost someone you’re willing to lose
your Bill Hicks-views-sense-
of-self-meaning like we all
funnel ethereal spirit into sky
& swig the rain with
drunken angels I know
you know you’re better than that.
I know you know once
the last attendee’s passed out
on the couch heavy breathing
lips purple you’d check
on him, too. You’d be alone
in the house you grew up in
with phone in your hand
calm and through the static of 911
racing to get the address out
the foaming of your mouth
and when a cop comes you
beg please don’t break this party up
and deny the red flashing lights
(originally published in 8 Poems, Summer 2018)
Pray to clogged brick, hardened
breathing. When I was young,
I believed in God and my mother
had good food waiting after school.
Rice and chicken, spinach
and pepper at the bottom of a soup.
Boiling then, now I drink water
in mason jars to wash away cheddar-
topped hot dogs I ate in some
destruction of the work Mom
put into me to get me here–
how she unclasped her hands
when I left for LA, let me fly
down the highway of fickle dreaming.
There was light at the end of that;
there’s a light at the end, still.
Now the intangible light swarms
my world, and I am too selfish
in my gluttony to eat it–
how a body can be full of light
but radiate a shadow of another,
one you had no part of in the making.
(originally published in Hessler Street Fair Poetry Anthology, Summer 2018)
The legend, according to my sister, goes
you lock yourself in the bathroom, turn off
the lights, say Bloody Mary, spin three times,
then voila! She appears, bloodied,
hands on her face screaming
à la Edvard Munch painting.
I obviously don’t believe in this but
do you have the courage to try?
Catholic school vacuumed religion right
out of me, but I blanket my head in bed
when I can’t explain a house’s creaking.
Believe me– if I believed
that I believed, this wouldn’t be
so scary. I’d ask God to help me.
Say I try this now.
Would a vision make me a believer?
Me, an adult in a bathroom,
chanting a name into the dark.
When my eyes finally opened,
I’d pray to anything– the bathtub,
the toilet, the sink, the sliver of
light beneath the door.
(originally published in We Are a Website, Spring 2018)
where they found
on the kitchen floor
hole in his heart
gun on steel barstool
on the drive to the wake
my aunt admits
the eldest son
when I meet him
the first thing he says is
someone stole my idea
when I wrote Dexter in the 90s
I always wanted to write
about serial killers
when searching the room
no foam erupts from
volcanoes of old couches
no fingerprints to find
his suicide does not add up
my aunt says again and again
examining scrubbed floors
for heavy footsteps to appear
when nothing else will
(originally published in #theslideshow, Winter 2018)
Every night Mom drowns
in loud TV next to dusty organ
bloomed with portraits. Family’s
family, including things:
the security system greets her
when returning from the store.
The red carpet, the torn couch,
the gunky dishwasher. Coming home
from work through a sea of dark Ohio
into a reverberating house of off-white
rooms so silent the garage door screams
shut. The floors don’t creak, they wail
and faucets cry. A cabinet full
of Cabernet. A corkscrew hangs,
rusted at the hinge.
(originally published in Oyster River Pages, Summer 2018)
Quantum physics have never been
more real than in this steaming
silver pot of Annie’s shells
and cheddar butter and milk
I’m cooking and the cat in our house
attacks crumpled-up balls
of paper yet sprints in fear
when a toilet is flushed. We are
all in orbit. You and me and
Earth and spoon in pot
mixing components into
tornado and I don’t know
where the melting butter
ends up nor the cheese
or where I’ll be in ten
years or a thousand
because our atoms
can diverge into
two paths any given
THE FIRST PATH
the one where you and I and most our friends and family are still alive
because ten years is a long time someone both of us love has died
it’s my father I see dandelions on the dead a suit and tie something
he never would have worn & your mother her silky dress and
Avon perfume wafting through the wake the frost her
permanent winter bed
THE SECOND PATH
the one where you and I and all our friends and family are still alive
because ten years is a long time someone both of us love will die
I see a bowl of ashes I see dead dandelions wilting on the stove
the steam carries souls up into my nose where I recall the heat
and depth of the Grand Canyon sun pressing against my
neck Dad in his thick glasses & sweat arms around me &
I pick up a stone & throw it over the edge
(originally published in The Courtship of Winds, 2019)
Dad knew which fuse box switch did what–
in this way, he chose for us the light and dark.
His hands blackened from cracking walnuts
over the years, hammering husks in the
night when the rest of us were sleeping,
loud whacks startling us temporarily awake then
drifting back into our own darknesses beneath familiar
stars. After his death, we found Dad’s walnuts
in barrels in the corner of his workshop alongside
spiders and memories we could not yet scrape.
My brother said, to honor him, we had to break
and eat each one, despite the bulk. That Dad lived
a rich life poor, that the taste might activate
memory’s accordion, careening us in and out
the past and present, turning life to death then life
again, discordant in its forlorn loudness.
(originally published in 3Elements Review, Spring 2018)