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)
When my father retired, he could not end
the work– sunrise blurred to sunset
sculpting trees within the canvas of our yard.
Soon, he said, you will wear my work
on your hands. But after he passed, my hands
would tremble leaning ladder onto tree,
snipping branches off the living
(originally published in U-Rights Magazine, Fall 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)
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)
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)
If I had musical talent
I wouldn’t write poems.
There’s no need
to lie. I couldn’t bring myself to try
when my parents thought
it’d be a good idea for me
to take piano lessons.
I had Game Boy eyes
and the Final Fantasy theme on repeat.
My dad had already explained
the difference between basin wrench
and torque. Wasted an afternoon
taping leaking pipes.
Like many of his time
he knew plumbing, mechanics,
then brought me into rooms with broken
machines. My mind was Mickey Mouse
spelling words and song,
not the kind to vivisect
a bird to learn the function.
All I knew were not even stories yet
and still my hands
sing few callouses.
(originally published in Pirene’s Fountain, Spring 2018)
That gray summer was spent buried
in fantasy novels beside my father’s grave.
It was rain in bitter heat, a whirlwind of pages
as my hands returned to oak, night lamp aglow.
Always I end in a nestle of branches and words,
longing to strip my faded jeans and unbathe,
ride a dragon into goldenrod, triangular
wings swallowing the neutral sky–
so often I shovel terrain in my mouth,
wishing time erode the sediment
that builds cities in my body,
skyscrapers in my throat.
(originally published in The Piedmont Journal of Poetry and Fiction, Winter 2017)
Heard the word son alone in the kitchen
of my childhood home.
His gravelly drawl was unmistakable.
I waited for him to say more, but
memories of my father are strangers
to each other. And every stranger
becomes a ghost passing
through another stranger’s life.
A wind tapped at the window,
wanted to say something, too.
When he was alive,
I did not listen
until I wanted
and I did not want
until he was silent
in a disposable suit.
I gave it a shot: pressed my ears
against the shingles, cold.
(originally published in In-flight Literary Magazine, Fall 2016)
I tell my girlfriend I love her
before we go to bed every night.
I tell her I love her in Vegas, in front
of slot machines spinning statistics,
neon colors blinding eyes beyond
our blur of vodka. I tell her I love her
before we fight in a tent on the beach
drunken under blankets and after that, too.
I don’t tell my mom I love her
on the phone when she’s alone
in her bedroom, when she cries
many nights because her twenty-
nine year marriage lives only in memories,
photographs, marginalia, in the musk
of dried sweat on forest-green cargos.
He had dragged an oak limb
after soft rain; now, crusted mud–
crevices alive in the treading
of boots– traces new footsteps
on less-traversed floors.
(originally published in Boston Accent Lit, Summer 2016)