My poetry chapbook, Grant Me the Tooth, is available now. I am deeply grateful to Nicci Mechler of Porkbelly Press, because my poems are now within a beautiful, hand-stitched book “to read & to hold.”
In this collection, I skate on a trail in Florida, through flatwoods savanna, seeking wisdom and courage from trees, insects, reptiles, birds and mammals. I learn how my body connects with nature, and I am granted the courage to face major surgery.
Thank you to the following publications who first published these poems within my chapbook: Rogue Agent Journal, "Alligator, Sleep," Urban Tree Festival, "Sound Bite," and Entropy magazine, "Recovery, Hawk."
Please enjoy select recordings of my work below. Thank you.
I snipped your leaf,
pinched without asking.
I didn’t know. You
make a sound when cut,
like crying, like pain, but this tone
is ultrasonic, a frequency above
my human hearing, a mysterious
voice like God. I want to know.
May I still look close? To see
each scale is a heart split
and stitched to the next, delicate
sets of two or three, each shoot, a feather,
holy leaf, diverse trinity, where hearts break
into tear-shapes–male cones and female globes
orbit like planets on each stem. Cedar,
if I am still, will the spider attach
her silk and your day-scent to me? Earth
spice. Clean lemon. May I breathe
as you tip in night-wind. Blue-green
marsh. Hint of salt, my skin. Muddy kid. Home.
Is this my memory or yours? Was there a swamp here?
More peat, more friends for you? My friend,
is your taproot lost? Are the stumps beside you kin?
Do you tremble when planes pass over?
Bounce at the sound of human children?
When finches nibble your fruit, does it hurt?
Who cut your crown? Did they think you could fall
on my house? Did they ask for atonement?
Oh beautiful, spacious Tree, is your answer bitter,
this pencil in my teeth? I am sorry. I will learn
how to touch, speak, be gentle with Thou.
Each leaf, the weight of lace, shining
as if dipped in beeswax, a coat to protect
from thirst, from dying. Here
are my fingers. For Thou, I am
listening. Dear Cedar,
May I stay?
Is your pulsing
I was looking up, green leaves
flickering, thought I was safe
in a moment, blue sky, when I fell.
That damn sycamore, beautiful
summer day tricked me into believing
I could walk without paying attention,
take for granted the warm ease
of bending limbs. That tree had
ideas, something to teach me
about a seed, cluster of cells dividing
into a stem that sprouts into a sapling, vulnerable,
a body needing a point to become
a root with enough space, able
to anchor, sway– or split
cement into crevices deep enough
to hook an ankle. That tree
wanted me to look at my scars,
remember how I was born
with a defect, dislocated
hip bone slipping out of socket–
how the head of my femur
was grafted with marrow
from my knee to make
my hip. On the sidewalk,
I was fragile, fallen, alive
and in pain–hot strikes radiated
from pith to skin, and then a cold-blue, heavy
arthritis, deep in my bones.
I would drag for years,
hollowing, a little less
every day, a life in slow motion.
My brother’s voice drifts thousands of miles from Tampa
to New York, through quarantine, to me.
He says, I lost my Lime. Damn Citrus Greening.
I hear a trade wind, sighing, just before a storm.
I think of my father’s grapefruit trees,
planes at night spraying malathion,
Rachel Carson, ospreys.
I ask him about his boat.
He says, I love being on the water. It’s quiet,
changes your perspective.
I hear a sea breeze, cooling, but with insects.
I bet, I answer, looking out my window,
Cedars windswept on the hillside, Maples rooted to rocks.
I am eating a clementine. I close my eyes. Chewing citrus
sounds like crunching snow. How can my teeth be my boots walking?
The sides of my tongue are cold and tart. This taste-language is
and invisible. Hands that spoke another language, brown hands
picked this fruit. Hands connected to a body, somebody worked the grove
to make a living, survive, like trees or the drowning girl
from the terrible song. This fruit is called clementine.
I want to change the lyrics, to say, Don’t you call her Darling,
as you watch her die. Don’t you call her yours.
I can change lyrics, write a poem, but I didn’t plant this fruit.
My brother says, When you come down, I’ll take you out.
I hear thunder. I’d like that.
I ask him about his yard.
He’s thinking about Magnolias.
Magnolias are ancient, before bees,
tough, surviving ice ages, continental drifts,
and the flowers are edible.
Starlings circling for days
peck at grass seed, lift to branches, skirting
limbs to eaves and back again, fluttering
jumpy, these birds, my legs one week after surgery.
I am told it is normal. Anesthesia can take days to leave the body.
It is metabolic restoration. I am warming up, but there is rash on my back,
possibly a reaction to bandage adhesive. I try aloe and calamine.
I smell like garlic and old candy. I am anxious, but today,
a hawk perches on a snag, the bare tree
decomposing upright in my backyard. It can stand like this for years.
Each stage of decay is useful: loose bark, a roost for bats; soft wood,
easy holes for beetle eggs; larvae, food for woodpeckers
and where the tree breaks at the top, a landing for birds of prey.
I stand at the sink. She stays.
I can’t let go. I am not strong enough yet. To balance,
to see her talons, I need both hands and binoculars.
For now, I grip the walker, pull my body into it, wait,
lift it a few inches, set it down in front of me, pull
my body into it again, and again, and again,
until the little cage that moves me is next to the sofa.
I sigh, lower my body down. She flies over the roof, lands on a pole.
I want her to dive
top speed, deadly raptor aiming, an angel
striking my hip, stunning my body.
It is not normal to wish for a hawk like this, but it’s been a week.
Hot welts are crawling toward my neck, a reaction
to adhesive, or in rare cases, pain killers. I want to laugh at the irony,
but my legs are shaking. I want to sleep. I want pink antihistamines to morph
into bees, every sting saving my life. I will call this normal.
I will call her, my hawk. She will quiet the starlings,
squeeze and subdue, pluck and eat clean to the bone,
clear to the metal, my hip, shining, waiting to swagger.
There is a passing
from my hand, holding a pen
over a blank page, waiting
for the sound of a poem
to Sister Ruth’s deathbed sigh, “This is a journey
I didn’t want to take yet, but I suppose it’s time.”
Knowing Sister Lauren sings ‘How Great Thou Art.’
Ruth’s students follow with ‘Amazing Grace.’
She looks to her brother, my father, beside her.
Spirit decides the time, and she is gone.
There is a passing
through hollow rooms, once Sylvia’s house
alive with accordion polkas, country strumming
from her son’s guitar, waltzes on violin
as her husband stands poised next to the piano.
I touch the weighted keys, her ghost settles
upon me, our fingers playing ‘Heart and Soul.’
Outside, laundry shimmies under clothespins.
A green, magnetic wind pulls it free, and Sylvia
leaves in a tornado, uproots the house, and flies.
There is a passing
between thin hands, blue life pulsing
on the surface, holding on
until the last rolling sigh becomes
the song that helps us disappear.
How much a sleeve, before it is a sleeve
resembles a plot line. Arm measured,
cloth cut, exposition begins at the wrist.
A French fold, added ruffle, or lace tells us
this is the story of a girl, and her mother
pinning fabric. One sliver at a time pulled
from her mouth, the action rises until
the elbow presents a conflict, an itch, a need
to move. Hold still, almost done. With the shoulder,
keep it square, put it to the wheel, offer it,
and it will all come together with a little shimmy.
Slide off. Careful now. The garment
falls into denouement… The seamstress,
alone at the kitchen table, follows the sun’s arc,
navigating a tissue paper map of arrows,
triangles, numbers, and words like simplicity.
However, from the girl’s point of view,
it is anything but simple. This is a story:
of scissors cleaving perfect lines through warp
and filling, a satisfied, crunching sound,
and a request to stand on a chair like a statue,
as her mother sculpts her into someone new.